/ 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
Annie says:
10 December 2011

Like so many others – I’ll be voting with my feet when my Orange contract is up in a few months time.

Sarah says:
10 December 2011

Well I shall be voting with my feet when my contract ends! I feel let down and think that the customer service from Orange is appalling. It enrages me that they deem it acceptable to send me a text! How very dare they!!!

Tabster says:
11 December 2011

Well over a week later and I still can’t get into my online Orange account to check my personal information. Fed up with Orange and I’m fed up with having to keep phoning them. The whole set-up is failing / has failed me.

Raymond Mcgee says:
15 December 2011

They are all a bunch of crooks . I have dumped my phone and orange . If one does it the others will follow . The whole system of things is corupt and getting worse . same with line rental and and the companies who put the price up when it suits them after signing a year contract
just have to walk the walk untill they get the message . A cheap phone and pay as you go with somone you can dump anytime the best option Greed is overtaking the whole planet . sickening

karen Crowley says:
12 December 2011

Is’nt it against the law to state a price without putting an asterisk or
dagger next to it, which leads you to the section on the 2.5pt type,
that state they can change the price when they feel like it?

As I wasn’t informed that orange had the right to change my payments.

If this asterisk was next to the price I would have asked why. I
certainly wouldn’t have gone with the contract. What is stopping them
putting the price up again?

Anon the mouse says:
12 December 2011

Well I have a definitive answer from Orange…..Reworded cut and paste and if you don’t like it, “Test Case” it.

It was announced today that inflation has fallen will orange reduce their charges accordingly. I think not. Having emailed Olaf swantee last week I got a reply signed allegedly by him firstly stating that if they did not implement this price hike their business would be in potential danger he then started to try and sell me a lower tariff if I signed up for another 24 months i sent a reply questioning not only the legality but the morality of their actions also pointed out the irony of falling profits of 5% year on year because of poor customer service and migrating customers compared to price increases of 4.3% if you can’t keep customers, charge the ones you do have more to compensate? surprise surprise no reply from him or with regard to my written complaint. Have received my PAC code and about to walk. Will argue the cancellation charge all the way to court. A loyal customer since they were Hutchinson telecom nearly 20 years . Will never return.

Andy d says:
14 December 2011

copy of complaint letter currently with orange:

To Whom It may Concern – Formal Notice of Complaint (AGAIN!!!)

Without Prejudice

With regard to:
Orange Account *******, Tel *********** and Orange Account *******, Tel ***********

And pursuant to complaints with Ofcom, Complaint Reference 119337901, and Consumer Direct (OFT), Reference 4563145

Please be aware of the following which has been confirmed to me personally by Ofcom, CISAS, and Consumer Direct, and is publicly available on numerous consumer forums…

With regard to the proposed imposition of a price increase in relation to core contract charges:

1. While Orange are within their rights as per terms and conditions to increase pricing at the discretion of Orange, It has been confirmed by CISAS and OFCOM, publicly in the case of Ofcom that under General Condition 9.6 as mandated under Ofcom’s charter as stipulated in the Communications Act 2003, Orange are required where there is material detriment to offer along with a minimum of 30 days notice a legally protected right of exit WITH OUT PENALTY. This is not optional. Orange cannot opt in or out of this. Ofcom have also confirmed that without full access to complete financial records for every single affected customer Orange cannot legally stipulate what is material detriment. Material Detriment is not actually defined in the regulation and I have been told by Ofcom that their position is any change that results in customers paying more is material detriment. As such my multiple requests to exit my contract inline with this regulation and Orange’s repeated refusal to accept that request are causing a breach of Ofcom Regulations and by extension the Communications Act 2003 which defines those regulations. Furthermore by making the blanket determination that there is no material detriment Orange are either using illegally obtained customer data under the Data Protection Act as I know I haven’t given you access to my financial records, or you are making a blanket judgement call on the financial wellbeing of every affected customer with no information at all arguably breaching those customers human rights and making decisions about customers that Orange have no right, remit or capability to make and decisions that actually fall under the scope of the Financial services authority which means Orange are also acting beyond their licence to trade.

2. In the course of dealing with this matter I have attempted repeatedly to raise a complaint with Orange in accordance with the Orange Complaints Code of Practice, as published on your website which invites contact by phone, email or letter. As of Wed 7th Dec, over a week from my original emailed complaint via your website, I was told by your Darlington Retention Team that the numerous instances of my complaints were not recorded on the system – although the fact I had contacted Orange was. This is after I was told by an advisor called Mohammed in your Delhi Call Centre that he was refusing to take my complaint and shouted at me to read my terms and conditions. This abuse, mismanagement and total disregard for your own Complaints Code of Practice has been confirmed by Ofcom to be in breach of General Condition 14.

3. I have had terms and conditions pushed in my face repeatedly by your call centre staff. They are saying that we have a cooling off period to read the terms and do something about it. Consumer Direct, the advisory arm of the Office of Fair Trading have confirmed that this is bogus because when purchasing in store there is no legal cooling off period, to wit your sales staff are required under the 1974 Consumer Credit Act to provide time to read the terms and conditions in depth. They do not. I was SPECIFICALLY told sign here (contract agreement) and your terms and conditions are on the website. I was not given the terms in writing. As such the credit agreement under pinning the contract agreement is unsound and questionable under the 1974 Consumer Credit Act and additionally the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

4. Furthermore the 1974 Consumer Credit Act stipulates categorically that the pricing terms must be explicitly detailed at point of sale. I was not told explicitly that Orange reserved the right to vary the contract price. This omission of information, at the point of sale, as part of the original sales process contravenes the 1974 Consumer Credit Act as the pricing structure and payment terms were not fully detailed. However this point also means that what was sold as a FIXED TERM FIXED PRICE package was in fact variable price and variable at the whim of Orange. As such the service package being sold was misrepresented, this again is questionable under Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 as your terms and condition render what was sold as fixed price package, variable in practice.

5. The above point illustrates the sale of my contract was unsound as the terms of the contract were misrepresented i.e. sold as fixed term but was in reality variable. As the contract terms were misrepresented at the point of sale, either by accident or design, that represents a further breach of Ofcom regulations pursuant to General Condition 23 as information of material importance to the operation of the contract and its pricing was not explicitly given at point of sale and this detrimented my ability to make an informed decision about the contract terms. As such the contract was, I believe, mis-sold. This misrepresentation is also an arguable breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Additionally as the contract was materially not as described at the point of sale this means the contract is also in breach of the 1979 sale of goods act and the subsequent legislation incorporating it which specifically states goods and services must be as described at point of sale. By rendering a fixed term contract package effectively variable this is a further contravention.

In light of the above 5 points, I believe the above demonstrates what represents breaches by Orange of your own Complaints Code of Practice, General Conditions 9.6 and General Condition 14 and General Condition 23 under Ofcom Regulations as chartered by the Communications Act 2003, the 1974 Consumer Credit Act, the 1979 Sale of Goods Act, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and arguably threatens breaches of either Data Protection Act 2002 or the European Human Rights Act.

With this in mind I have been provided diabolical service by your company during the period I have been dealing with this issue, which has not been limited to being repeated fed your very patronising standard line as to why Orange have acted so despicably to raise prices at this time. Indeed your staff at various point have lied to me blatantly, abused me verbally and been generally belligerent and rude and have refused to accept my complaint on a number of occasions facilitating Orange being generally obstructive in reaching a resolution in this matter and side stepping it’s legal responsibility to its customers and its own complaints processes.
After that experience I, and my wife who is also a contract holder and has had a similarly poor experience, require as per the previously mentioned, legally mandated rights under Ofcom General Condition 9.6 to exit our contracts at this time without penalty as this change in contract terms is a material detriment to us both. We require, within 14days, Porting Authorisation Codes to transfer our numbers to another provider. Failure to comply with this request will result, as per advice from Ofcom, CISAS and Consumer Direct based on the failure and outright refusal by Orange to comply with its statutory obligations, in legal action to take Orange to Court to have both contracts set aside.

We look forward to your response.

They have emailed to say that as they emailed that is a response to my complaints – the did not acknowledge the complaint in any comunication, they did not give complaints timescales, the did not provide ombudsman arbitration rights. All of which I beleive ir required under general condition 14. to date none of this has actually happened.

fyi – section 4.3.1 of the terms and conditions states orange gets the rpi data from the central statistical office. the cso hasn’t existed since 1996, moreover the texts were sent at the end of November with the indication of a 20 yr high in rpi. rpi had actually fallen in november for the second month on the trot according to Office of National Statistics, the 5.6 peak Orange refer to was actually in September. and the rate has been 5+ since May.

additionally business customers have had the price increase reversed according to some forums. This gives credance to one poster over on the consumer action group forums who is ex orange staff with contact in the organisation still who posted that the point of this is by attrition to drive domestic customers away from orange to allow them to speciallise as a business and executive service provider.

ANDY SUFFOLK says:
14 December 2011

Not good news then, I upgraded a year ago at what I was paying at the time, now will pay more just to keep oranges bottom line up, it remains to be seen whether orange reduce prices if inflation goes down & how often are the figures re evaluated??, Retentions better start recruiting or are Orange suffering from over capacity & need to loose some customers, Vote with your feet people, it seems the only thing that can be done

LizzieCarol says:
15 December 2011

Approx 12 days before I received the notification of increased monthly fees I had negotiated a new contract, because I had found a cheaper package with another company.
I was furious when I received the letter, even though I had 6 months at the old rate. After waiting for a manager from a call centre in UK to return my call, I rang again the following day and spoke to a manager in the call centre in India who not only removed the increase, but reduced my previous bill.

As one who takes more than a passing interest in English contract
law in particular vis a vis consumer issues, I do hope aggrieved
parties qua litigants shall keep us posted of developments
(if they’re indeed going the whole hog).

My own views are set out in the various comments I’ve made
but I should be delighted if the Court were to adjudicate in favour
of the underdog, against the odds and if may add, settled law.

Material detriment is, as I’ve said, a matter of judicial
construction.

Best of luck

Anon the mouse says:
15 December 2011

I will keep people updated as it progresses.

So far I have sent a final email to them after the reworded cut and paste they replied with. As Ofcom aren’t investigating and I have stated to a director under unfair terms re UTCCR, it is down to Orange to provide a director response on if they feel it is an unfair term or not.

I have my total amount to put in to court from Orange. Should be interesting what happens.

As for Tom’s approach, on invalidating the term, I am watching with optimism. And if I receive no response by next week I will be submitting my court paperwork. No fee to pay for me 😀

michael rhodes says:
15 December 2011

I have been with Orange for 14 years . Recently , because i retired, i dropped from a £32 a month contract to a £7.50 a month one , with 100 minutes and unlimited texts on 12 month contract . Having recieved my bill, i am charged £12,50, limited texts, 24 month contract, and a sms delivery receipt of 0.009p . Orange are impossible to deal with , having tried many times . I want rid asap

Anon the mouse says:
15 December 2011

Oh look the RPI was 5.2% in November

Our view is reinforced by another clause (19.12) that states ‘we (Orange) may
replace any term that is not legally enforceable with a similar term’. As it happens,
we think this clause is very far reaching and, in certain circumstances, could be
challengeable as unfair too, however it is the kind of ‘catch all’ clause that can
appear in contracts to avoid the contract being found null and void on a technicality

Agree…have seen such type of clause fairly often in standard form contracts AND
other contracts… would love to see such terms being successfully challenged
AND/OR given clarification in law by way of a definitive (higher) judicial ruling.

Tabster says:
16 December 2011

I’ve ended up sending an eight page letter with a list of complaints, not only the price increase but the fact that when I phoned to complain I was given mis-information over the phone that if I’d agreed to would have cost me more than my current plan even with the price increase – yet the Customer Services rep had assured me the new plan would have cost less. Luckily my scepticism towards what information I’m given over the phone led me to not agreeing the new contract. An Operations Manager and another Orange Customer Services rep informed me that I had been given incorrect information. They expect their customers to know all the ins and outs of small print and contracts yet their won staff can’t provide correct information.

I’m also wondering just how many people know exactly how to complain as I was told the only way to make a complaint was via the phone as part of an escalation process whereby you get sent from one person to another. working your way up the hierarchy.
I was told by an Orange manager that any letters of complaint sent to the email address on the compalints procedure pdf will not be responded to as an official complaint so it was a waste of time sending an email yet it states on the pdf that you can complain via that email address.

Two weeks have passed and I still can’t get into my personal account to check my personal account information. They know it’s a problem with their webiste but they still haven’t fixed it after all this time.

Anon the mouse says:
16 December 2011

And the final final response from Orange is…..

Dear Anon,

Further to your recent emails.

We do not consider that this dispute falls within the remit of CISAS and will not be issuing a deadlock letter. As we have fully explained our position we will not be communicating further with you regarding this issue.

Whilst I understand this is not the response you had hoped, you are free to pursue independent advice.

Yours sincerely

Nodrog says:
19 December 2011

As far as I can see the solution is a simple one. In 3 months time when my contract ends I will no longer be an Orange customer. It would appear there are much better deals out there than Orange are offering anyway. If everyone votes with their feet it will be a slap in the face to Orange and also make any other companies think twice about increasing prices.

I will reconside my renewal when it comes up. As you say people power! vote with your “feet”.

ivesy says:
20 December 2011

When my contracts up i will never ever use them again.

Les Earle says:
21 December 2011

On the face of my contract there is certainty as to the parties, the product, the service, the period and it has the phrase ‘total monthly cost’. At the point of sale there was no verbal notice of a potential price increase.
Yes, I agreed to be be bound by the Terms and Conditions (covering over 7,000 words) but the section relevant to price increases is headed, ‘Terminating your contract because Orange has changed its terms’ and is alluded to as an exception which prevents me from terminating – it couldn’t be better hidden.
Roll-on the end of my contract.