Vodafone faces €20,000 bill for giving customers the ‘runaround’

Telco avoids conviction over customer service failures with €10,000 charitable donation

Vodafone failed to comply with a code of conduct and customers were ‘given the runaround’ when they tried to make complaints, a court heard. Photograph:  Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Vodafone failed to comply with a code of conduct and customers were ‘given the runaround’ when they tried to make complaints, a court heard. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

 

Vodafone failed to comply with a code of conduct and customers were “given the runaround” when they tried to make complaints, a court has heard.

The telecom firm was ordered to pay €10,000 in prosecution costs and to donate the same amount to charity by Judge Anthony Halpin on Tuesday.

It followed an investigation by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) into a high number of customer complaints in 2020, Dublin District Court heard.

ComReg compliance manager Miriam Kilraine told the court Vodafone customers were “given the runaround” when they attempted to log complaints. The telecom company failed to deal with them as required under the regulations, and stalled the complaints process.

Prosecution counsel Shelley Horan told the court it resulted in the watchdog bringing prosecutions against Vodafone under Regulations 27(1) and 27(2) of the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services)(Universal Service and Users’ Rights) Regulations 2011

ComReg issued seven summonses against Vodafone with two counts on each summons. Guilty pleas were entered to seven sample charges and the remaining seven were struck out.

Code of practice

A code of practice published in 2019 by ComReg stated the service provider must log the complaint at first point of contact, and acknowledge it with a reference number within two working days.

Afterwards the company has 10 working days to deal with an issue before ComReg will get involved.

The regulator became concerned that customers were told their complaints could only be logged over the phone with one of the firm’s customer service supervisors, not at first point of contact. They could not get a complaint reference number until the supervisor called them back, Ms Kilraine said.

A sample of cases from May to November 2020 were taken by ComReg. In all of them, customers were not able to log a complaint at first point of contact when they called up, and in most cases they were never provided a reference number.

Supervisors were not available or did not phone customers back. This frustrated ComReg’s ability to intervene.

The cases before the court involved seven customers who had contacted Vodafone numerous times with various complaints. Vodafone had prior convictions resulting in fines arising from prosecutions by ComReg and also the Data Protection Commission, the court heard.

Defending

Defence solicitor Michael Twomey asked for Vodafone to be given a chance to avoid another court conviction. He asked Judge Halpin to note its cooperation and that there was agreement to contribute €10,000 to ComReg’s costs.

The guilty plea spared the seven complainants having to give evidence. It was accepted that the response to the regulations was inadequate, he said.

Complaints have dropped and processes have been updated, the solicitor told the court. He also submitted that the offences were on the lower end of the spectrum.

Judge Halpin said significant resources had been allocated by Vodafone in ensuring these issues do not arise and there had been genuine remorse. He noted the firm’s heads of legal and regulations were present for the hearing.

The number of complaints was minuscule given Vodafone’s amount of customers. However, the complaints were genuine, he said.

He told Vodafone’s solicitor he would apply the Probation of Offenders Act, which constitutes a dismissal, if the company gives €10,000 to the Little Flower Penny Dinners charity which helps the underprivileged in Dublin’s south inner city.

He also ordered the firm to pay the €10,000 toward prosecution costs and adjourned the case until October 7th next.