Vodafone has been convicted and fined €11,500 and agreed to pay costs of €10,500 after it was prosecuted by the communications regulator in four cases where it either overcharged charged customers incorrectly.
The State's largest mobile phone operator was prosecuted by Comreg before Dublin District Court on Friday.
Giving evidence, Comreg compliance analyst Lorraine McCoy said one woman from Kilkenny who had attempted to cancel her mobile bill pay service with Vodafone said she “didn’t know whether to laugh or cry” after spending months trying to get the company to stop taking direct debits from her bank account.
The customer wrote letters indicating her frustration at having been on the phone to Vodafone for up to 40 minutes, the court heard.
Ms McCoy told Ronan Kennedy BL, prosecuting, that the issue continued for over a year. At one point, the consumer received a letter from Vodafone advising her that she owed the company money.
The court heard there was initial confusion as the woman had more than one product. Vodafone refunded the customer €366.45.
In another case, a customer who was being overcharged for his data on his mobile phone plan, was refunded €695.37, the court heard.
In a third case, an existing customer from Cavan was refunded €50.21 wrongly billed to his account after he cancelled a service.
In a fourth case before the court, a woman was charged for two landline numbers for a two-week period after she had switched service providers and asked Vodafone if she could keep her old number. She was refunded €101.06.
The court heard the company had previous convictions on foot of similar prosecutions by Comreg. It had also been prosecuted by the Data Protection Commissioner for unsolicited marketing communications, the court heard.
Ms McCoy agreed with Niall Buckley BL, defending, that the company had cooperated fully and had offered full redress to the consumers concerned. Vodafone had met Comreg in the past week in relation to the matters, the court heard.
Mr Buckley said published statistics showed complaints to Comreg about Vodafone had declined from 252 in the first quarter of 2016 to 158 in the second quarter of this year.
The company had also invested €120 million in a new IT system, which it was hoped would diminish some of these issues, and would roll that out early in 2018. It had also submitted a remedial plan to Comreg.
Error rather than systemic practice
Mr Buckley said Vodafone sincerely regretted the infractions and that its head of regulation was in court, reflecting the seriousness with which it viewed the issues. The company had also entered an early guilty plea.
He submitted that the offences were “not at the more serious end of the spectrum” but that they generally reflected individual instances of error rather than systemic practices.
Mr Buckley said the company was prepared to make a donation to a charity such as the ISPCC, but Judge John Brennan said that given the circumstances and the fact it was a large corporate entity, he was "not minded to go down that route".
The judge said he was noting both the mitigating and aggravating factors in each case, including that the first case had gone on for some time and that the consumer had been told she owed the company money. The amount involved was also “not insubstantial”, the judge said.
He said the aggravating circumstances included the previous convictions in the Comreg prosecutions of Vodafone. Judge Brennan said he would not take into account the previous convictions on foot of prosecutions by the Data Protection Commissioner as this was a Comreg matter.
He fined Vodafone a total of €11,500 on the four summonses, each of which contained two counts.