Mobile phone companies have a bad reputation for complaint handling, from shockingly high bills, incorrect charges and billing errors to poor debt collection practices.
For example, Vodafone was fined £4.6million in 2016 for “serious and sustained breaches of consumer protection rules.”
Hopefully this fine will make Vodafone and the other mobile companies improve their complaints handling.
But if you have an issue with your mobile contract, what practical steps can you take now to resolve the problem? You don’t want to end up in the sort of complaints nightmare that the three customers in Vodafone billing chaos leaves mobile users disconnected and out of pocket reported.
First check your bill
If you get a phone bill that is higher then you expected, look at the details:
- are the calls incorrect – if you don’t think you made them, could someone else in your house have used your phone?
- do the charges for the calls sound wrong – are you being charged for calls or data you thought were included in your contract?
- if this a new contract, do you feel you were misled when it was sold to you?
- is the high total caused by extra services, premium rate numbers or roaming charges when you were abroad? If you have been on holiday in the EU, data and roaming charges should be capped.
If the bill seems correct but is more than you can afford, try to make an arrangement with the company to make monthly payments to this. Sometimes you can switch to a cheaper tariff which will cut your future bills.
What to do if the bill isn’t correct
I asked Helen Dewdney for her tips on what to do when you receive a mobile phone bill that is wrong. Helen is better known as The Complaining Cow – a consumer blogger, campaigner and author of How to Complain The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! Here is her advice:
Know your rights
You are entitled to services that are carried out with reasonable skill and care under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. If you receive a bill which is incorrect then it is in breach of this Act and therefore you are entitled to any refund and any out of pocket expenses. For example if the company has taken out a direct debit and you then go overdrawn the company must pay you the overdraft charges. The company must put you back into the same position that you were before the errors occurred.
Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading (Amendment) Regulations 2014 the retailer must ensure that customers understand what goods and services are being provided and ensure that there are no hidden costs. So if your bill contains any surprises and does not comply with requirements, you may not have to pay.
If you agree a contract not on the company premises, e.g. over the phone, you have the 14 day cooling off period under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 in which you can cancel. This includes changing your existing contract to a new one.
Always check your bill and your bank to ensure that any Direct Debit has been correctly paid. If not, write to your bank because if it is not correct you will be covered under the Direct Debit Guarantee and the bank will reimburse you. Don’t cancel any direct debits. This will confuse the issue and may affect your credit rating.
If your mobile problem is related to a faulty phone, network coverage or a mis-sold mobile contract, there is further information here.
Put in a complaint in writing
Contact the company as soon as you find out. Do this in writing, for example by email. Should you need to take further action you will need the evidence trail. The law about recording calls is complicated so this is not recommended.
Another good reason to complain in writing rather than on the phone is that you can often spend over half an hour on hold waiting for a phone call to customer services or complaints to be answered. Then you have to get through an unhelpful menu system, then explain your case, only to be told you need to speak to someone else :(
When you write:
- make it clear what happened, exactly which charges are wrong and that this is a complaint;
- be polite and objective and state what you will do if you do not receive a satisfactory response;
- name the law which the company is in breach to show you know your stuff!
- if your credit record has been affected (see Check your credit score ) ask for this to be corrected too.
If you still don’t get any satisfaction from customer services you can contact the CEO.
If the company doesn’t sort the problem
If you are still not satisfied, ask for a deadlock letter. This means that the company has to respond saying that it will not discuss your complaint further. If the case has been going on longer than 8 weeks (and really there are very few reasons why you might allow it to do so!) you do not need to request this letter.
You can then take your case to the Ombudsman. This will be either CISAS or the Communication Ombudsman. Your phone provider will be a member of only one of these schemes and you need to check to see which one.
Ofcom, the regulatory body for phone providers, cannot investigate individual complaints. However, you can inform them of a problem. If a significant number of people do this regarding the issue then it will investigate and take action.
Do not be fobbed off! Assert your legal rights and get what is legally YOURS!