/ Technology

How I fought my mobile phone company… and won

Complaining cartoon character

If you’ve ever complained to a communications company you’ll know it’s a pretty frustrating business. At least, it was for me when my son’s mobile bills more than quadrupled overnight with no explanation…

The story I have to tell is all about complaining about a mobile phone company – but the story could probably be replicated in almost any sector.

Last week, Ofcom published their latest data about the most complained about communication firms. As it happens, the company I was complaining about (which will remain nameless, but you may be able to put two and two together) weren’t one of the worst offenders named.

When is unlimited not unlimited?

My complaint related to my teenage son’s mobile phone. On his behalf (because he’s under 16) I took out a rolling monthly mobile contract – £10.21 for what seemed like a very good contract. So imagine my surprise when my son’s bill suddenly rocketed from £10.21 per month to £50.

When I investigated, it turned out he had exceeded the supposedly “unlimited” number of texts. No warning was given to him or me, he was just charged for all the excess texts. Of course I rang to check and was told he’d exceeded their ‘fair usage’ policy – a policy I’d neither seen nor heard of until then.

Stop the “can’t do” attitude

To stop it happening again, I suggested they set a credit limit on his phone number of £15 per month. I also asked them to alert him (or me) to when he was close to exceeding the contract terms, a bit like the warning on roaming charges. The response was a “can’t do” attitude.

They said their minimum credit limit was £50 (which is why my son’s phone eventually cut off) and, despite EU roaming charge information, they said they couldn’t alert a customer when they were close to breaching their contract. In short, there was nothing they could do to stop any of their customers running up a big bill – well, what a surprise!

I felt I was getting the brush off so I wrote to the famous founder – and got a very nice (but pointless) letter back saying he didn’t interfere in the day-to-day management of the mobile phone company.

This prompted me to email the firm one more time to say that I, as a parent, (and the bill payer) wanted to be able to control my son’s mobile phone bills and the firm was doing nothing to help me. I said I would complain to Ofcom. No response.

Time to escalate the complaint

So I went to the Ofcom website to find out what to do next. It took me a while to figure out that they were members of CICAS as, confusingly, there are two telecom complaints handling bodies.

I submitted an online complaint to CICAS, which was very straightforward, and found them to be highly efficient. I got an immediate acknowledgement and it took the mobile phone firm just a few days to ring me up personally to say they’d refund me the money I’d asked for.

So, persistence and determination paid off. Still, my mobile phone operator is no closer to allowing its customers to set their own minimum credit limit or warn them about breaching their contract. Looks like we may have to rely on the regulator Ofcom to make them do that, when it should really just be part of good customer service.

What’s your experience of complaining? Do you take it to the bitter end, give up along the way or just don’t bother?

How far do you take a complaint?

I go to the bitter end (69%, 73 Votes)

I get half way and give up (23%, 24 Votes)

I don’t bother (8%, 9 Votes)

Total Voters: 106

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paul says:
5 October 2011

Good man but the response was a disgrace as is their supposed inability to warn you when he is near the limit

I agree. They’re perfectly able to warn you when you’re approaching your limit – I’m with 3 and they text me when I am 75% way through my allowance and then again just before it runs out, so it must be possible. Other companies are just choosing not to, because most people wouldn’t bother/know how to go to the lengths that Mark has gone to.

My only complaints were with a BT landline – frankly the line was terrible and totally useless for Bulletin Boards (before the Internet) as it kept dropping the connection causing the Bulletin Board to go off line for others. They kept “fixing” it only for the line to go bad within two weeks – Luckily for me Cable and Wireless laid fibre optic cable and I became their first customer in my area. The line is still totally superb.

The other problem was once BT charged me for charged (collect?) calls from Ireland for several hundred pounds – But as I was working and the only occupants in my house for the calls were my three greyhounds (actually all whelped in Ireland) I refused to pay and informed them why – But I did pay the balance – They spent 12 months sending me numerous bills that I refused to pay – But this was not a Direct Debit so they never got hold of the money. BT is rubbish.

My old analogue mobile was cloned – a bill of £90 for one day’s calls – but Vodaphone stopped the connection – did not charge me – and offered a digital phone at no cost – but I decided I didn’t need such a tariff.

Carole says:
5 October 2011

I complained about Orange when they cut off both of my sons’ contract phones when they were “on tour” in Holland with a sports team. Even ‘though the ‘phones were registered in my name (because the boys were both U16) apparently children going abroad with a tri-band phone had to be notified in advance(?). By the time Orange had unblocked the handsets and enabled the calls again the kids were on a ferry returning to the UK.
The worst by far ‘though was CPW. They decided to phone me one evening on my mobile to offer me a renewal to my contract. I said repeatedly that I was in a train station and that I couldn’t hear the salesman, as well as being very happy with my terms and conditions and not wanting to change my handset in any case, but he started to read the “legalese” stuff to start up a new account. I shouted “No!” three times during this verbal tirade but he hung up! To stop this I cancelled the direct debit mandate. I then got a bill for over £100 – for withdrawing from the “new” contract and for running up call charges on some internal-billing tariff which only had free calls between 11pm and 5am. Then the handset stopped working – blocked! Every time I phoned from my [TalkTalk] landline I was charged over £1 per minute for an 0800 number. Their customer services staff are only given access to a screen that takes credit card details – they can not access account history or any other information. Several of their teenage “bunnies” said that I was “abusive” for asking them to find someone who COULD provide service! My complaint was escalated to “the office of Charles Dunstone” but those staff can not be ‘phoned directly or emailed – you have to send a snail mail letter off into the ether and eventually you get a cut and pasted standard reply that doesn’t answer any of the questions! {One of them even left voicemail calls on the BLOCKED handset’s number apparently!} CPW charged me £10 to send me a recording of the sales call. It backed up my version of events. It took 19 months for the Ombudsman and I to get the 24 month contract recinded – and twice I had to contact firms of bailiffs to explain the CPW had no right to refer my “debt” since the amount was still in the Ombudsman’s complaints process!

I took Orange to the small claims court when they refused to replace a phone bought from one of their shops which did not work properly. It was not until they had received the details that the case was to be heard, that they rang me and settled. Brinkmanship seemed to be their intention. I no longer use Orange at all.