Vodafone reviews Ofcom charges of PAYG billing, marketing rule breaches

Ofcom rounded out a tough few weeks for Vodafone UK by announcing it believes the operator breached consumer protection laws when billing for PAYG services between 2011 and 2015.

The UK media and telecoms regulator said an investigation of Vodafone's PAYG billing practices covering May 2011 to September 2015 offered "reasonable grounds for believing that Vodafone contravened" two key conditions covering communications service providers (CSPs), and therefore breached "relevant consumer protection legislation."

In a statement, Ofcom explained that it believes Vodafone breached general condition 11, which covers metering and billing, and general condition 23, which relates to the sales and marketing of mobile telephony services.

"Specifically, Ofcom has reasonable grounds to believe that Vodafone engaged in conduct contrary to the relevant conditions when selling pre-paid mobile telephony (PAYG) services to its PAYG customers and rendering bills to such customers that did not represent the true extent of the service actually provided to them," the regulator stated.

General condition 11 requires that CSPs do not bill end-users "unless every amount stated in that bill represents and does not exceed the true extent of any such service actually provided to the end-user in question," the statement explained. General condition 23 places obligations on mobile CSPs "regarding the ways in which they engage in sales and marketing activity" of mobile services.

The regulator will wait for Vodafone to respond to the results of its investigations before deciding on its next steps. The Financial Times noted that Ofcom has the power to fine a company up to 10 per cent of their turnover, but stated that the regulator was unlikely to push for the full penalty in this case.

A Vodafone spokesperson told FierceWireless:Europe that the operator has cooperated fully with Ofcom's investigation, and that it will now "be reviewing the Ofcom report in detail before deciding what representations to make."

Ofcom's announcement regarding the investigation into Vodafone's PAYG services comes less than a month after the regulator revealed that the operator topped the list of consumer complaints during the fourth quarter of 2015.

Vodafone clocked up 32 complaints per 100,000 customers -- well above the industry average of 10 per 100,000 -- Ofcom revealed.

Complaints lodged with the regulator by Vodafone's UK customers covered billing, pricing and charging, the operator's complaints handling processes, and faults, service or provisioning issues.

Which? this week revealed that Vodafone "was given the thumbs down across the board" in terms of the quality of its customer service in a regular survey conducted by the consumer champion.

For more:
- see Ofcom's statement on its Vodafone investigation
- read this Financial Times article
- view Ofcom's recent complaints report (PDF)

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