What does the ‘enforcement action’ on Vodafone mean? And what can you actually now cancel?
Today, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission served an ‘enforcement notice’ on Vodafone.
The regulatory body says that Vodafone wasn’t adequately informing its customers about their right to cancel contracts under EU distance-selling laws.
So what does an ‘enforcement action’ mean? And what can you actually now cancel as a result of the action?
The semi-state body says that “customers who bought goods or services online from Vodafone in the past twelve months and who now wish to cancel their contract can find details of how to do so in the customer notices section of the Vodafone website”.
You mean that if I bought an iPhone 6 two months ago for €100 on a 24-month contract but want to break that contract, I can just “cancel” the contract?
There’s a new iPhone out next month and lots of people could suddenly develop consumer outrage by the lack of consumer information on Vodafone.ie’s website to -- ahem -- cancel their contract and get the newer model for a subsidised price.
Without directly addressing these Commission claims, Vodafone has issued some guidelines on cancelling contracts involving iPhones and 24-month contracts.
“Where you have used the products or services supplied to you to avail of mobile services before the expiry of the cooling off period you will be liable for any diminished value of the products or services,” it says, several layers deep into the website.
How much is this worth? If you unseal, unbox and temporarily use a €700 iPhone, does this mean you owe the operator €100 if you send it back? Or €200?
Other things can’t be cancelled at all, as Vodafone makes clear.
“Please note that the right to cancel does not apply in the following circumstances,” it says.
“Service contracts, after the service has been fully performed where the performance began with your prior express consent and acknowledgement that the right to cancel the contract would be lost once the contract had been fully performed by Vodafone”
“Contracts for the supply of goods that are clearly personalised.”
“Contracts for the supply of goods that are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly.”
“Contracts for the supply of sealed goods that are not suitable for return for health protection and hygiene reasons and were unsealed after delivery.”
“Contracts for the supply of goods that are, according to their nature, inseparably mixed with other items after their delivery.”
“Contracts where the consumer has specifically requested a visit from the trader for the purpose of carrying out urgent repairs or maintenance.”
“Contracts for the supply of sealed audio or sealed video recordings or sealed computer software that were unsealed after delivery.”
Some of these make concrete sense. But there appears to be a grey area between what your operator is obliged to honour in terms of cancellation conditions and what the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is suggesting on the issue.
As for the 'enforcement' itself, there is no fine or sanction. Nor does Vodafone have to inform its customers about their cancellation rights on any normally browsed part of the website.
It appears only to mean that if Vodafone (or any other company served with a similar ‘enforcement’ notice) buries it somewhere back in the marshlands of its foggy web regions, we can tick off a consumer victory.
It feels a little hollow. The notice in question is not on the front of Vodafone.ie. It is not on any secondary page in Vodafone.ie. It is not in the ‘most asked questions’ section or the ‘help and support’ section.
Instead, you have to go down to the bottom left corner of the website, click on ‘About Vodafone’, ‘News And Press Releases’ or ‘Terms And Conditions’, look for a sub-tab called ‘Customer Notifications’ and then look past the top notice item to a small tab relating to the issue.
In other words, almost no customer will ever see that unless they’re forensically trawling through the entire site.
As to why the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission thinks that this is a satisfactory “enforcement” of consumer law, let alone one worthy of issuing national press releases on, most people will be none the wiser.
This is not to suggest that the Commission shouldn’t be making this kind of intervention on behalf of consumers.