A little more progress after I had my mobile phone account held up:
A letter from a Vodafone Customer Relations Specialist arrived this morning which did at least depart from the standard script used so far. They very carefully didn’t accept any liability but made some goodwill gestures instead, so I finally have my money back and should be properly invoiced from now on, at no extra charge. One thing they are still unwilling, or unable, to do is prevent the same situation being repeated. I’m quite happy with the ring tone that came with my phone, and I’m not interested in paying for an expensive call to find out if I’ve won a fabulous prize, so I would much rather block any future reverse charge SMS texts. The closest they offered was to block all SMS messages, both incoming and outgoing! Not exactly useful when I use texts more than phone calls on my mobile.
In many respects I think that existing laws should already protect customers if only the mobile phone companies accepted their liability. In particular, my contract is with Vodafone, not some 3rd party I have never interacted with, so they should be refunding me for services I have not requested. Given the unwillingness of Vodafone to take responsibility for the charges they are billing their customers for, and I suspect other companies are no different*, I wonder if a premium rate guarantee would be useful to increase the level of protection for consumers. Perhaps the following would be a good start:
- an option to accept or reject a message should be given before each reverse charge SMS is delivered (if this is not given, the company billing the recipient should be liable for providing an immediate refund)
- it should be possible to block all premium rate services on an account without affecting other services
- a proper invoice should be provided for any premium rate services at no extra cost
I would be very interested if you have any comments or suggestions.
* if there is a mobile network that does better than Vodafone, please let me know!
Update: was very pleased to receive another letter from my MP last night, who has also written to Ofcom. Looking forward to seeing how they respond.
17 Dec Update: another follow up letter from my MP who has received a teflon letter from Ofcom telling him that it’s a matter for PhonePay Plus, the premium rate industry body. No prizes for predicting what they’re going to say! I think Ofcom are missing the point that the mobile phone company are dodging their liability, regardless of what the companies sending these texts are doing. I also finally received the itemised bills Vodafone have been promising for so long. Unfortunately the bills are about as useful as a chocolate teapot; one of the text messages is so well hidden that I can’t find it, and the other is just labeled as a premium service, or something similar, with no indication of who sent it. I think I’ll be writing to Arun Sarin again since even the extra special call centre staff I now have the number for are completely uninterested.