EE customers were overcharged for calling customer services as Ofcom dishes out another huge penalty
EE has been handed a £2.7 million fine by regulator Ofcom for “fundamental billing mistakes” that saw 40,000 subscribers overcharged to the tune of £250,000 for calling the operator’s customer service number.
Ofcom said the “carelessness” and “negligence” of Britain’s largest mobile network contributed to the scale of two separate incidents, and claimed EE did not do enough to track down customers who were owed money.
In one incident, EE charged 32,145 customers who called ‘150’ as if they were dialling the United States. This meant that rather than being charged 19 a minute, they were paying £1.20, resulting in a combined £245,700 excess.
EE billing fine
The second incident affected 7,647 subscribers who were charged for contacting 150 while dialling from within the EU. This was despite the fact EE has scrapped such fees from 18 November 2015.
The regulator said that EE had wrongly concluded it could not identify affected customers and was not going to refund users until Ofcom’s intervention.
Instead, the company wanted to donate the money to charity. EE is still unable to find 6,905 customers and £62,000 will be donated to a good cause – however Ofcom still wants EE to attempt to find every subscriber affected.
“EE didn’t take enough care to ensure that its customers were billed accurately. This ended up costing customers thousands of pounds, which is completely unacceptable,” said Lindsey Fussell, director of Ofcom’s consumer group.
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“We monitor how phone companies bill their customers, and will not tolerate careless mistakes. Any company that breaks Ofcom’s rules should expect similar consequences.”
EE’s fine was reduced by 10 percent because of its willingness to enter into a settlement, but still dwarfs the £1 million penalty it received for mishandling complaints last year.
“We accept these findings and apologise unreservedly to those customers affected by these technical billing issues between 2014 & 2015,” an EE spokesperson told Silicon.
“We have put measures in place to prevent this from happening again, and have contacted the majority of customers to apologise and provide a full refund. For those customers that we could not identify, we donated the remaining excess fees to charitable causes in line with Ofcom’s guidelines.”
Vodafone was fined £4.6 million in October – the biggest ever penalty issued by Ofcom – because of “serious and sustained” breaches of consumer rules that saw customers paying for services they never received.
Analysts say Ofcom’s recent activity should serve as a message to operators.
“EE originally stated they couldn’t identify all of the people it overcharged – and indeed they still haven’t,” added Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.
“Whilst the Ofcom intervention has resulted in most of the customers now being reimbursed, it is especially disappointing to see that EE wasn’t able to do this from the outset, and only made headway after the regulator intervened. It is also disappointing to learn that some customers – maybe unknowingly – are still out of pocket.
“Many customers will simply assume their monthly bills will be correct – however, as this case shows, mistakes can happen.”
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