Eir fined €23,500 for continually overcharging customers

Phone company had assured a court it had implemented measures to prevent problem happening again

 Comreg compliance analyst Una Milton after giving evidence in  Dublin District Court. Photograph: Courtpix

Comreg compliance analyst Una Milton after giving evidence in Dublin District Court. Photograph: Courtpix

 

Phone company Eir has been fined €23,500 for continually overcharging customers after it assured a court it had implemented measures to prevent the problem happening again.

Eir, formerly known as Eircom, pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court on Monday to offences under the Communications Regulation Act 2002. The prosecution was in connection with complaints by five people who went to industry watchdog Comreg after Eir’s customer service teams failed to resolve their problems.

One customer received debt collection letters, and was in hospital when he ended up getting disconnected; one was billed twice for the same service; another was prevented from staying in contact with her elderly mother in the UK; and another woman got cut-off as a result of what the company described in court as a “human error”.

Comreg compliance analyst Una Milton agreed with prosecution counsel Ronan Kennedy that the five cases before the court on Monday followed a prosecution in the same court last October in which Eir was fined €11,000.

Judge John Brennan noted in that prosecution, which also related to overcharging another group of five customers, the company had said the issues would be addressed and it would take measures to prevent it happening in the future.

New charges

Ms Milton told the court the first set of new charges, with three counts, related to a customer who had been with the telecom company since 1975. In June last year he signed up for a package for landline, internet and free off-peak calls to mobiles. He was to receive €8 and a €10 discounts in following months.

In November 2017 he received a bill which had charged him €62 for off-peak calls to his wife’s mobile number. When he complained he was offered a €40 refund but it was not explained why he had been charged for these calls.

The customer refused to pay for these calls, and in January he was informed by the company that his service would be restricted and he received letters from a debt collector looking for €14. He was disconnected for three weeks while he had been in hospital recovering from surgery.

The second complaint related to a customer with Eir for 10 years, and she signed up for landline and broadband last August. The package agreed was €57 a month, which was discounted to €47, but her first bill was €89. She complained and received a credit note .However, it occurred every month until February. Each time she had been promised the billing issue had been resolved, Ms Milton said.

The next case involved a customer who in December 2017 signed up to a broadband and mobile bundle at €101 with a discount of about €45 – a deal which was to run until November this year.However, the discount was not applied correctly, and she was charged €80 in her next bill. In January there was another €80 bill.

Frustrated

She complained to Comreg when her February bill came. Ms Milton said this customer was frustrated at having to complain a number of times to Eir, and felt “as if she was being passed from one department to another and no one was able to help her”.

The fourth complainant, an Eir customer for 30 years, had been double-billed for mobile phone services.

The fifth set of charges related to a woman living in a rural area who needed to be able to stay in contact with her elderly mother in the UK. In January 2017 she chose a deal with free unlimited calls to the UK. However, in October she was told this offer was being replaced with free 90 minutes of calls instead.

She was not happy with that, and when she contacted Eir she was assured her original package would remain. However, in December she was billed €216 for calls to the UK. She contacted Eir again, and was advised by a customer care agent that it had been an error and to ignore that bill – she did and it resulted in getting disconnected in January and she could not make any calls. She was then told there was €300 outstanding.

The court heard that the issues were resolved following queries by ComReg.

Eir had previous convictions in 2015 and 2017 for similar offences, Judge John Brennan noted, and he said that was an aggravating factor. He also noted the frustration it had caused the people affected by the errors.

Investigation

Pleading for leniency, defence counsel Joe Jeffers asked the court to note Eir had refunded the complainants, and had co-operated with the investigation. They had also stayed on as customers.

He said the company has put in place new ways of dealing with customer issues. The company’s head of customer advocacy, Audrey Lindsay, was present in court for the case and was also at the previous prosecution.

He said the issues before the court were the result of human errors. There had been a 45 per cent drop in customer-care calls received.

He also issued an apology on behalf of the company, which had agreed to pay prosecution costs.

He said Eir had 800 full-time customer-care agents and there was a high turnover of staff in that department. It was working on upskilling them, and had implemented an “interactive voice-recognition system” to redirect callers to a more experienced customer service agent on their third call.