Premium-rate phone firms investigated
Published 03/01/2012 | 05:00
MORE than 10,000 frustrated customers have contacted the phone regulator over premium-rate services.
Hundreds have gone on to pursue formal complaints -- but the government watchdog is refusing to name the companies concerned.
Telecoms regulator ComReg said more than 10,000 customers have contacted them over problems with premium-rate services last year, the vast majority of which related to expensive subscriptions.
Premium rates are charged for services such as receiving football results, horoscopes or ringtones over the phone.
Some consumers claim they did not sign up for these services -- which typically cost €1.50 to €2.50 per text to receive -- or that they cannot unsubscribe to stop receiving them.
ComReg said that it referred most consumers to the relevant service provider, but pursued cases where the customer did not get satisfaction.
Out of 548 complaints logged last year, 389 were resolved with ComReg's assistance, while the watchdog also actively monitored and investigated the sector itself.
"ComReg has a number of ongoing investigations into premium-rate services of which complaints have been made by consumers, but as yet the investigations have not concluded and no final decision has been made by ComReg," it said in response to a Freedom of Information request for details of complaints.
The regulator refused to release details of the companies against whom the complaints were received on the grounds it was too much work to separate customers' personal information from this.
This discreet approach contrasts with the UK, where the regulator Phonepayplus publishes fortnightly updates on complaint adjudications.
It also publishes a blacklist of premium-rate companies that have been banned from operating.
ComReg -- which took over regulation of the Irish premium-rate sector in July 2010 from industry watchdog Regtel -- said that it expected to publish a new code of conduct for the sector next month, and it would come into force within weeks after that.
This is expected to contain tough new provisions forcing premium-rate services to give customers precise details of the price and conditions involved, and requiring them to send a text agreeing to these before going ahead with a subscription.
ComReg has estimated that even the high volume of calls its gets from consumers about premium-rate services is the tip of the iceberg, with up to 100,000 customers a year actually experiencing difficulties.
Among these were a high number of child users.