The most complained about telecoms provider Vodafone has been fined £4.6m by Ofcom for “serious and sustained breaches of consumer protection rules”.
Ofcom undertook two investigations lasting 18 months. The first was started on June 15th 2015. Following its investigation, Ofcom decided to issue Vodafone with a notification under s96A of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) on 15 April 2016 as they had reasonable grounds to believe that it had contravened consumer law between 26 May 2011 and 28 September 2015.
Vodafone provided written representations to Ofcom on 1 July 2016. Ofcom and Vodafone entered into settlement discussions and on 24 October 2016 Vodafone wrote to Ofcom admitting its liability in relation to the nature, scope and duration of the contraventions.
In a second investigation, Ofcom were found not to have procedures, effective to “ensure” the fair and timely resolution of complaints, to clearly established timeframes; and not securing, a Written Notification (details of a dispute resolution scheme) was sent to customers if a Complaint remained unresolved after 8 weeks and no relevant exceptions applied. The investigation took place between 1 January 2014 and 5 November 2015 and Vodafone were fined £925,000.
As a result of these failings, two penalties have today been imposed against Vodafone: £3,700,000 for taking pay-as-you-go customers’ money without providing a service in return; and £925,000 for the flaws in its complaints handling processes.
The penalties incorporate a 7.5% reduction to reflect Vodafone’s agreement to enter into a formal settlement, which will save public money and resources. As part of this agreement, Vodafone admits the breaches. It has also reimbursed all customers who faced financial loss, but for 30 it could not identify, it made a donation of £100,000 to charity.
The money, which must be paid to Ofcom within 20 working days, will be passed on to HM Treasury.
The substantial fine sends out a message to telecoms companies that these breaches in consumer law, not ensuring adequate staff training and treating customers badly will not be tolerated. Telecoms companies need to up their game instead of continuing to be the bottom of the pile when it comes to customer service.
Marcus Williamson, editor of the website CEOemail.com which provides the email addresses for any CEO, has seen a rise over the last few years of people searching for telecoms CEOs. He says “I’ve seen a steady increase in people seeking to complain to the CEO of Vodafone when customer services has failed them. As a communications company they must work to improve their own customer communications, which are frequently unclear and confusing.“
So what do you do if you need to complain about a telecoms provider?
- Keep evidence and write wherever possible. Laws around recording calls are unclear and complicated so you may not be able to use them in court should you need to do so
- Refer to the correct consumer law. (Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that you are entitled to services to be carried out with reasonable skill and care. Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 covers mis-selling)
- Ensure you set a deadline for response and tell them what you will do if not satisfied
- Write to the CEO, who is unlikely to respond in person but the complaint will be escalated
- Ask for a deadlock letter. If the complaint is still not resolved then take the complaint to either of the Telecoms Ombudsmen: CISAS or Ombudsman Services
All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers everything you need to know about laws etc when complaining.
Vodafone were in the news earlier in the year: