/ Technology

The Orange saga – complaining isn’t getting us anywhere

Orange’s price rise has unleashed a huge amount of consumer anger, and the mobile operator now has the dubious honour of being in our top 10 most-commented Convos. So what are we concerned about at Which?

What’s so striking is just how annoyed Orange customers are to find that their mobile phone contract is not, as they thought, a fixed sum for a fixed period.

While it’s all a bit embarrassing to have your existing customers so unhappy, it seems that Orange won’t be changing its mind, even though it might be a bit red faced. At least, not unless people power persuades it to.

Like many other companies, Orange faces rising costs due to these tricky economic times and it’s having to pass this on to its customers through increased prices. But this episode has raised some questions we don’t yet have all the answers to. Here are some of the ones we’re trying to get to the bottom of here at Which?

1. How many were clearly told that their contract allows price rises?

Very few it would seem. To be told after the event that the T&Cs allow for a price rise just creates greater annoyance, since the vast majority of customers probably thought their contract was for a fixed price for a fixed term.

When we spoke to Orange about this, we pressed it to ensure that:

  • Future price rises are better communicated – preferably not only by text.
  • And sales agents alert customers to the small print which states their contract may not necessarily be at a fixed price.

Only time will tell whether mobile companies will offer genuinely fixed price contracts. But, from your reaction, it sounds like this is what you want and expect (though a 30-day rolling contract is another option some operators offer, which lets you switch more easily.)

2. Just what is the point of CISAS?

CISAS is Orange’s independent complaints handling body, as approved by Ofcom. However, it has told many of you that it has no remit to deal with complaints about ‘business decisions’.

I was particularly amazed to see CISAS referring commenter Mike’s complaint to Citizens Advice. Surely that’s passing the buck. Some information on its website would have been helpful, but after a week its ‘News’ page is still blank!

Now, it’s true that CISAS can’t consider a consumer complaint until Orange’s internal complaints handling process has been exhausted, or if you’ve not heard anything for eight weeks (whichever comes first). However, it’s been unhelpful (to put it mildly) to have Ofcom referring customers to CISAS but then have CISAS say it can’t do anything. That does not sound like joined up working!

3. Has Orange broken Ofcom’s rules or not?

Our lawyers have confirmed that Orange’s T&Cs do enable it to increase prices within RPI, though the wording of their standard contract could be clearer (something Orange has promised us it would look into).

However, what exactly is Ofcom’s view on whether it’s right to increase prices for existing customers on an agreed contract? We’ve asked and we’re awaiting a reply.

By the same token, could we ever expect an operator to reduce prices for existing customers? Somehow I doubt it, but maybe there’s an example out there that we don’t know about.

The gist of this issue is summed up by the comments about whether a mobile phone contract is like buying a loaf of bread or not. It seems we, the consumers, think our contracts are for a set time and price. But they, the mobile operators, think it’s like a loaf of bread (or should I say it’s like an orange) where the price can change. We wait to see what Ofcom thinks.

[UPDATE 08/11/2011 4PM] We have been in touch with Ofcom and it has now told us it will not be taking complaints against Orange any further:

‘Having assessed the complaints against the relevant consumer legislation, Ofcom has decided, on the evidence available, not to proceed with an investigation at this time as [Orange’s] price rise is not likely to be a breach of current legislation.’

You can read the full statement in Rob Reid’s comment, or by visiting our Which? Tech Daily blog.

Before Orange’s price rise, did you know mobile contracts weren’t at a fixed price?

No, I didn’t realise they could increase prices (94%, 977 Votes)

Yes, I knew they weren’t at a fixed price (6%, 58 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,036

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Comments

I’m puzzled. Orange offers T&Cs that allow it to increase prices within RPI and customers complain. What do they have to complain about?. It might be disappointing, but Orange is not ripping-off its customers. At the time they take out a contract they need to read the T&Cs and should ask whether prices can be increased.

In real terms the price is, year on year, being reduced very slightly.

I’m annoyed because the Terms are in a web page referenced only by one item of many lines of small print at the bottom of a four-page letter sent many days after my contract started in my case.

I’m also annoyed because the rise is happening less than a year after my contract is started, so the rise is much higher than 6-months’ worth of inflation. Remember also the high inflation number they are comparing their rise to includes the VAT rise which happened before I and many others started their contract.

Why is that puzzling?

“Orange is not ripping-off its customers. At the time they take out a contract they need to read the T&Cs and should ask whether prices can be increased.”

Sorry Tim, you are wrong.
If a term or condition of a contract, could place one of the parties at a disadvantage whilst the contract remains in force, prior to the sale, the parties MUST be given clear notice.
I have yet to read a single post, whereby an Orange customer was made aware of this term prior to the point of sale.
The onus is on the party drawing up the contract NOT the other party to it.

Contracts have been promoted to customers as XXX amount per month, by Orange and their affiliates. Not a single mention have I witnessed, of any warning about possible price rises being part of the contract terms and conditions.

Notice of any detriment or significant change in terms and conditions, must be communicated in writing (standard practice across all industries)
Within this notice period, the right to cancel must be raised.
Orange have failed to give a sufficient notice period (30 days), failed to notify customers in the correct manner, ie, in writing and to add insult to injury, Orange have instructed several posters on various forums and here on Which? that customers do not have the right to cancel if they disagree with price increases.

Not exactly rocket science Tim is it?

Would you be happy to buy an insurance for a new appliance, advertised at £10 per month for 12 months, sold to you at £10 per month for 12 months, but without any mention of the possibility that 6 months into your 12 month contract, the insurance company increase your premiums to £12 for the remaining 6 months using a clause in their small print?

you say, “Orange offers T&Cs that allow it to increase prices within RPI” but I’m afraid you’re wrong on this.

Orange’s Ts&Cs allow it to increase prices by, and I quote, “an amount equal to or less than the percentage increase in the All Items Index of Retail Prices published by the Central Statistical Office in the Monthly Digest of Statistics in any 12 month period;”.

The Central Statistical agency ceased to exist in 1996, the Monthly Digest of Statistics has not been published since that date. See more about this and make your complaint on this basis with the template letter available from http://www.tomforth.co.uk/orange

terryjones says:
13 December 2011

you sound as if you work for orange

I don’t mind a price increase, the issues are that I will be paying more for a network that already has class-leading under-performance, a phone that is full of bugs and increasing the price before the contract expires.

Seeing as most people are on long term contracts (due to increase in capability and cost of phones) then I am not surprised they are angry. When was the last time you heard of a smart phone for a 12 month contract?

Ofcom’s website lists Orange as joint top of a customer satisfaction survey that they did recently!

they didn’t survey me!

I could not agree with you more about ., what is the point of CISAS? It seems to me that their replys are automated, a complete waste of time and money.
Regarding Oranges increase, if enough customers vote with their feet they will not have gained. I for one will be playing my part.

Kevin - Torquay says:
16 December 2011

We all have got used to price increases, but 96% of people including myself who answered Which? poll thought the contract they signed with Orange was for a fixed price as well as a fixed period. It’s all very good to say it is mentioned in the small print of the contract, but should have been made much clearer. I also will be voting with my feet and in future will be unlikely to have a mobile on a contract as I have always had in the past but will have PAYG.

VOTE WITH YOUR FEET, LEAVE ORANGE, as soon as possible.

Anon the mouse says:
8 December 2011

Spot on summing up I think. Any word from the OFT on wether the term is fair or not?
OFT guidance on terms and UTCCR are that if the term is of detriment to the consumer they should be given prominence. How is hiding it in Terminations prominence?

“Our lawyers have confirmed that Orange’s T&Cs do enable it to increase prices within RPI, though the wording of their standard contract could be clearer ” if it’s not clear doesn’t it fall under UTCCR?

Surely it would be clearer for all if it was under Changes to Contract.
It reads as though if they increase charges you terminate the contract, but it turns out there were hidden terms elsewhere. Talk about abusing the consumers good faith.

R Hartley says:
8 December 2011

Orange may arrogantly say they are operating within their right – well so am and I and several millions of others when we all leave at the end of our contracts. 4% today, big lost customer base tomorrow…

N Nsofor says:
8 December 2011

I am on a lengthy 2 year contract with at least 14 months left. I understand if they increase the tax on my fixed contracted bill in line with inflation but not the fixed amount.

If inflation reduces will orange reduce our bills, I do not think so. I will leave Orange for Tmobile when I get the chance.

John Eva says:
8 December 2011

Erm isnt T-Mobile and Orange are the same people? So they will still be getting your money if you move to T-Mobile.

Rosat says:
8 December 2011

Total disgraceful. Price increase not material detriment. this looks like a joke.
Hope orange will not gain by any new sales and loose all customers soon. My worry is do other providers such as Tmobile, o2 etc follow orange foot steps?

having previously worked for orange i am not surprised at all by any of the comments on this or the other pages about this topic. orange have been tailoring there contracts for several years mid term and every adjustment has been to the detriment of the customer.

I am also stuck in a 2 year contract that started at the end of April. was wondering if the clause orange are using is valid by the fact that for the last 15 years the RPI is calculated by the office of national statistics and not the central statistics office as it states in the clause. might be a long shot

since the merger with t mobile, orange have been trying to streamline in several ways. and from talking with former colleagues who still work at orange the feeling is that orange are trying to push the lower price plan customers to t mobile so that the orange brand can be used for business customers and the executive tarrifs.

If your going to vote with your feet then be wise to this and avoid t mobile, this is what the top brass at orange are trying to make happen

We have been in contact with Ofcom in an attempt to get some clarity on the action those of you affected by this rise can take. They have sent us the following statement. It is not great news I am afraid. They will not be taking complaints against Orange any further and advise customers to complain to Orange about the rises and if this fails CISAS:

“Ofcom has considered the complaints it has received about the recent rise in Orange’s prices and acknowledges that many consumers feel unhappy with these changes.

“However, having assessed the complaints against the relevant consumer legislation, Ofcom has decided, on the evidence available, not to proceed with an investigation at this time as this price rise is not likely to be a breach of current legislation.

“Whilst we do not believe that there is a case for us to investigate this general matter, whether or not individual consumers suffer material detriment will depend on the individual circumstances in each case, and customers can still contact Orange if they think they have or will suffer material detriment and be prepared to provide evidence to support their claim. Further, where a customer has concerns that Orange has not met its terms and conditions the relevant dispute resolution body, CISAS, may be able to consider this.

“We also note that the UK benefits from a competitive market for mobile services and would encourage consumers to consider their options. Ofcom accredits two mobile price comparison sites Mobilife and Billmonitor which can help consumers find the best deal for them. Consumers should, however, check whether any charges apply for leaving their contract early”.

Anon the mouse says:
8 December 2011

So Ofcom bottled it like a typical regulatory body then. After hundreds of complaints and evidence of Orange breaking the conditions that Ofcom set out clearly they pretend nothing is happening.

Bank charges reform happened because of someone challenging a bank in court themselves (regulator didn’t want to know)

So what I can see is if you want something doing then do it yourself as the “regulators” will watch and not get involved.

A total and utter disgrace!
A company (Orange) are in breach of a regulator’s (Ofcom) code/laws/direction – the regulator however, considers that the company has no case to answer?
“Ofcom has decided, on the evidence available, not to proceed with an investigation at this time as this price rise is not likely to be a breach of current legislation.”

HELLO OFCOM?
What about your own regulations?
What about all that taxpayer funding you receive each year?
Your job is to protect the public in this industry, how does this non decision fit with your remit?

Sounds to me like Ofcom HAVE looked at Orange contracts and cleared them before Orange issued this price rise and – using their big expensive firm of solicitors (that we, the people, paid for) – got it spectacularly wrong!
In view of Ofcom’s ignorance for the people it pretends to represent, is it not the case that Ofcom themselves should be investigated?

Who are the people that sit on the board of Ofcom?
What links do the board of Ofcom have to the communications industry?
Do Ofcom have a vested interest or are they just trying to save face in light of a huge error?
How did the public get left with a regulator that won’t act, is not subject to the freedom of information act, refuses to reveal information and spends Millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money every year?

This Ofcom ruling has shown them for what they are, a joke!

Anon the mouse says:
8 December 2011

Completely agree,
If it wasn’t such a blatant disregard for Ofcoms regulations by Orange I could understand the weasling… abit.

Everyone can see how unfair and unknown this term was (The Which poll stands at 144 – 4 at this time). Ofcom haven’t done anything useful in years, and this only goes to show why.

9.6 has Material Detriment specified to stop people trying to cancel IF a company was to lower the price. However that isn’t the case here.

So long as notice of T&C before OR at the time when the contract
is made is brought to the party to be bound, such clauses in standard
form contracts embodied therein very frequently confer on the person
supplying the document a generous exemption from liability AND do
have contractual effect.

Little wonder Orange is so sure-footed on the stance they’ve
taken and seemingly intransigent!

If you really want to challenge the legality, you must bring a
claim in Court.

Anon the mouse says:
8 December 2011

Yup, File ready to go, just need Orange to refuse my cancellation first.

Ofgem not acting to stop energy companies extending complaint times by changing meters and taking weeks/months extra before a meter test is completed.
Ofcom refusing to act in the people’s interest when Orange do this.
Financial Ombudsman service refusing to rule against Financial services authority training companies on PPI refunds.

Just three quango examples, we were told, that would help the customer, Millions of pounds in funding every year, yet no action taken and not even subject to the freedom of information act.
Time to scrap “regulators” and return hefty powers to Trading Standards (whom themselves, now no longer act for customers) and government, that if fail to act, can be voted out at the ballot box.

Anon the mouse says:
9 December 2011

Trading Standards with power, now that takes me back. The fear in a company when they realised TS had informed you of your rights, and given you a direct number to ring them on if it wasn’t satisfactory. Bring em back, let these multimillion pound report generators go.

You forgot excessive banking charges, regulator backed out and it was down to a consumer to take the company to court.

Anon the mouse says:
9 December 2011

Ofcom’s statement is in direct contradiction with their website advice. http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/tell-us/telecoms/sales/mis-selling-mobile-phone-services/
http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/2009/09/mobile-mis-selling-crackdown/

Left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Sandra says:
9 December 2011

I’ve told Orange that I am cancelling my direct debit to them. If everone who feels that this price increase is morally wrong did the same, could Orange take us all to court? Or am I missing something?

Anon the mouse says:
9 December 2011

It isn’t advisable to stop paying them while it is in dispute. Debt collection, etc, will weaken your position. As it will look more like you are trying to avoid paying what you owe, rather than protesting against an unfair term.

“Our lawyers have confirmed that Orange’s T&Cs do enable it to increase prices within RPI”.

Really? Clause 4.3.1 refers to the “All Items Index of Retail Prices published by the Central Statistical Office in the Monthly Digest of Statistics”. The Central Statistical Office ceased to exist 1996, The Monthly Digest of Statistics was last published that year. This document does not exist and it almost certainly invalidates the clause. Orange are extremely worried about this and have stalled in responding to my complaints and the hundreds who’ve used my template letter since Monday.

Could your lawyers have another look please?

More info, debate and discussion about the clause 4.3.1 issues at http://www.tomforth.co.uk/orange

David says:
9 December 2011

“Ofcom also stressed that the mobile industry is a competitive market and customers should consider their options if they are unhappy with their operator.” Is it me, or have Ofcom completely missed the point here?? Orange are saying to their customers: “we’re putting up prices, and you have no choice but to accept this, at least until the fixed term of your contract expires.” Surely a fundamental requirement for a competetive market is that anytime a supplier puts their prices up, the customer has the right to walk away? But not, apparently, if the supplier is Orange and the regulator is Ofcom….

If you’re wondering what ‘material detriment’ is, we asked our lawyers. It’s not clear cut:

‘What constitutes material detriment is uncertain. There are no hard and fast rules and while the detriment clearly needs to be more than trivial, what’s trivial for one person may be significant for another. As such the reality is that every situation would need to be assessed on its merits. Such an assessment would need to look at the relative size of the price rise, as well as the actual impact such a price rise has on an individual.’

Sorry if that doesn’t help too much – in the end it’s down to each individual case. So talk about your personal situation and how the price rise will affect you.

Patrick,

Does it not concern Which? that a regulator (in this case Ofcom) has set up regulation, that it cannot actually enforce?
This price rise will affect us all, as other companies will now see how ineffective Ofcom and Trading Standards are, then introduce their own price rises mid contract, in the same way that companies have done in other areas.
Who is standing up for people in all of this?

Anon the mouse says:
16 December 2011

Isn’t that test Financial Hardship rather than material detriment?

Material Detriment could also be written as Cash Loss. Does it cost you more for the same? If so then it is detrimental (ie, losing cash on it).
What your lawyer and Orange is proposing is Financial Hardship…. It is now unaffordable due to the increase.

eggsarnie says:
9 December 2011

what an utter farce !!!

Tabster says:
9 December 2011

I have complained to Orange, on more than one occasion, via the 150 phone number and was told that an official complaint had to go through an escalation process ie. the person I spoke to had to pass me over to his manager. I spoke to this manager and expressed my concerns and he then told me I needed to talk to an Operations Manager. He told me the Operations Manager would call me back within 24-48 hours – it’s now over 72 hours later and still no word.

I said I was also angry that I had been unable to access the Orange website for several days because of supposed technical problems and it not accepting my password – even when I phoned and was given a new password it still wouldn’t work. I explained that I wanted to check my personal account details so I had all necessary information at hand for a formal written complaint as I have no paperwork with any details. This is when I was informed that the paper contract I signed nearly 15 years ago had all the the pertinent information on. A contract I no longer have as I presumed each contract was essentially a new one with a different fixed pay monthly sum.

I told them that I have never in all those years as a loyal Orange customer been told that the monthly payment isn’t fixed and that I believe that Orange has a duty to inform their customers of this fact each time a contract comes up for renewal especially when a customer gets tied into such long contracts.

One of my other major concerns is that I am a very short way into a 24 month contract and within the time of this contract there is no reason why Orange can’t and won’t put up their prices again and because they have the arrogance and audacity to say what is and isn’t of material detriment to an individual their get out clause means I have no chance of terminating my contract.

I was also told during my first complaint and conversation with Orange customer services a week ago that I could sign up for the September 2011 equivalent of my existing contract. I was told that this would be cheaper because I wouldn’t have to pay the price rise. Because I no longer trust what I am told over the phone by Orange I declined. It’s lucky I did because during a subsequent phone call to 150 I was told that this other Orange person had mis-led me. I would not have been able to avoid paying the price increase and would have in fact ended up paying slightly more.

I can honestly say that I haven’t had any problems with Orange and I have been a loyal customer for nearly 15 years, but this price increase with no guarantees of there not being another in 12 months time and what I feel is a lack of transparency on the part of Orange means that as soon as I can I terminate my business with Orange I will. I no longer trust them as a company but I also think that this debacle sets a dangerous precedent for now and the future in terms of all fixed term contracts with all mobile providers.

Sara says:
12 January 2012

You are right about poor customer service, if you call 5 times with the same issue or question, you will get 5 different solutions or answers, this way i lost my old mobile number!

You forgot excessive banking charges, regulator backed out and it was
down to a consumer to take the company to court.
(Anon…)

Where did you get that?

The Supreme Court in 2009 handed high street banks a landmark victory
over the Office of Fair Trading. The ruling, which concluded a series of trials
and appeals lasting two years, determined that the OFT could not challenge
overdraft charges because it does not have the power to decide whether
unauthorised charges are fair.

Anon the mouse says:
9 December 2011

“The case was sparked initially by the request of Stephen Hone, a law student from Plymouth, England, for a refund of charges by Abbey. He argued that under the UTCCR, all penalty charges had to truly reflect the cost of administering them. Hone believed that penalty charges which are higher than their administrative costs are illegal. After filing in small claims court against Abbey, Hone eventually recovered £5000 from the bank, although his original claim was for £840. The banks then sought a declaration that their charges for exceeding overdraft limits were not penalty clauses.” Which is where the 2 year battle started.

The supreme court ruling assessed the capability of the OFT to check the terms for fairness, not wether the terms were fair or not….. A good change of tactic by the banks after those loses at court/appeal/high court.

But it never ruled on wether the term was fair or not

The excellent efforts of Stephen stemmed from the then chairman of the British Bankers Association appearing before a parliamentary select committee and inadvertantly blurting out the truth.
Bank charge prices were arrived at, not from the individual account holder not paying a direct debit or going overdrawn, etc, but from the way each bank recovered the losses of money written off from the previous financial year. Estimating the number of charges expected, with the amount written off, was how many banks came to their individual charges price.
Thankfully, Stephen was alert to this and acted.
Personally I’d like to see people with Stephen’s application running a regulator.

It is also worth noting that our “new” supreme court came about months earlier, dismissed the claims of the regulator’s actions on a wrong point of law. Had the court found in favour, it was estimated that the banking industry would have been liable to pay back around £2 Billion, roughly the amount that our beloved ex government increased bank taxation by, months later in their budget statement!
Why the OFT actually persued the case and their expensive (taxpayer funded) legal staff missed this point, has never been explained. I did not see any big announcements when the OFT dropped it’s planned action on other points of law regarding the same issue?

Who is regulating the regulators?

Believe there was a case of a young barrister who in early 2009 brought a case
as litigant in person against his bank but lost.

Banks are still levying very/high charges in respect of unconsented overdrafts
incurred… in recent weeks, a guy was heard to complain at being charged
in excess of 700% interest.

One might have thought OFT might have pleaded in the alternative as to the
remedies they sought in the 2009 case against the banks…. or indeed
proceed on a completely different legal footing. Of course, in matters of litigation
there can be no certainty of a desired or any particular outcome.

I can believe the 700% interest still goes on, I have just won a refund for a friend with a high street bank account, which attempted to enforce £150 “unauthorised overdraft charges” for being just £7 overdrawn. Of course it was deemed to be “a goodwill gesture” and only reversed when a civil action was threatened after a 14 day waiting period.

Argonaut I think exactly the same thing regarding the OFT, to just drop the whole issue, especially after previous high court victories and being told that a case could be brought under a different point of law by the supreme court, I find very strange.
This problem will not go away, customers need protection and the regulators are failing miserably.
This is why, instead of “jobs for the boys” and former industry bigwigs, I want to see true consumer champions (not self promoting “experts”) sitting on regulatory boards and good people like yourself and Stephen.

In the case of OFT v Abbey National plc et al, I hold the eminent
silk briefed primarily responsible for not having foreseen
the arguments put forth did not wash with the Supreme Court
AND that NO OTHER (valid) points of law were apparently raised or pleaded
in the ALTERNATIVE that is quite usual along with evidence to be pleaded in
civil proceedings especially at appellate level seeking the broad remedies that
are in the power and the discretion of the Court so to grant. (Subject to any
correction as to anything I say on reading the judgment proper other side of
Christmas, to see why OFT failed so miserably in their pathetic attempt to
remedy a seemingly unconscionable wrong)…. bet the banks have been
laughing all the way to their banks since the landmark ruling!