Friday 19 January 2018

Phone giants fined for overcharging that left vulnerable customers ‘petrified’

Phone giants fined for overcharging that left vulnerable customers 'petrified'

Miriam Kilraine
Miriam Kilraine

Tom Tuite

EIRCOM and Vodafone have been convicted and fined for ripping off customers who were continuously overcharged on their bills.

The telecom giants - along with Three Ireland - pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court yesterday to charges under Section 45 of the Communications Act following an investigation by industry watchdog Comreg.

Vodafone was fined €10,000 and Eircom received fines totalling €21,000 after they each pleaded guilty to seven charges.

Three Ireland, which admitted three charges, will be spared a conviction and will get the Probation Act if it donates €15,000 to charity by September 28.

Judge John O'Neill singled out Eircom for strongest criticism, branding its code of practice a joke.

He said that when customers complained they were "pushed from Billy to Jack and they were ignored".

The judge said customers would have been upset, petrified, and "worried sick" when they received letters from debt collectors chasing them for money on behalf of Eircom.

In one case, Eircom used debt collectors to pursue an elderly man living in a nursing home after he had already cancelled his account in 2013, the court was told.

Vodafone overcharged another man who had suffered a serious injury in a fall and had cancelled his account, the court heard.

The customers were only refunded after Comreg got involved, the judge was told.

Prosecution counsel Christian Keeling said the firms' failures to deal with customer complaints in a timely and courteous manner was an aggravating factor.

Lawyers for all the companies said the cases related to human and system error and that all have set up new remediation plans to ensure the same problems won't happen again.

Comreg compliance analyst Miriam Kilraine said there were seven customer complaints in relation to Eircom, including one customer who was billed after asking to cancel the account in January 2014.

A debt collection company pursued the customer in a bid to secure payment.

The firm also failed to deliver a service to another consumer who had money debited from their account, it emerged.

Irish Independent

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