Misunderstanding pushes phone bill to an ‘unusual level’ | Pricewatch reader queries

Plus: takeaway coffee campaign to help humanitarian crisis

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Andrew McGrath is a 23-year-old student from Limerick and he wrote to us looking for help in connection with a phone company and a bill pay contract dispute.

“I am on a contract with eMobile, and this summer just gone I went on a J1 visa to Berkeley, California,” he starts. “Prior to leaving on this trip I asked numerous times if I could have my contract frozen while I was away, which I was told was no problem and I was asked to ring up a couple of days before I went and they would sort everything. I had said I would pay the bill while I was away, as it is a fixed amount of €35. I knew the dangers of using phones abroad and essentially I wanted to keep my contract while keeping myself and eMobile happy,” he says.

He rang the company as arranged but his calls went unanswered. “I went on my trip and asked if I could have my phone unlocked so it would allow me to have an American sim card in the phone, thus preventing me from using the Irish number and the costs that would come with that,” he says.

“My brother and friend were in the same boat but when they requested to have their phone unlocked it was unlocked more or less straight away. There was no need for them to perform any task to unlock the phone. I was told my phone was unlocked and to wait up to 10 working days for this to be fully completed. Countless times I tried to place in an American sim card and the phone wouldn’t accept it; the same message was coming up telling me it was locked and an activation was required.”

He was left virtually without a phone because of this. He tried to only use his phone when it was absolutely necessary, such as when he got separated from his travelling group. “One day I received a message saying my bill had gone to an unusual level and that payment was needed or my services would be disconnected,” he continues.

The amount in question was €250. He contacted eMobile and asked why his bill hadn’t been frozen as he had requested. He also asked why the phone had not been unlocked and why they had let his bill roll over that many times before they thought to let him know.

“They offered me €20 credit to the bill, which I thought was laughable, and they informed me there is no such service as freezing a contract and they don’t know how I was told that. They kept ignoring any question I had and would try to take the money owed from my account until I eventually cancelled the direct debit and told them that I [was taking this step] until the matter is resolved. They sent me a letter issuing me a deadline of September 28th and [informed me that] after this deadline debt collectors would be coming to my address.

“They did eventually tell me my phone had been unlocked and how to perform the right unlocking task, but this was not until I was a few weeks home, which [counts] for nothing as I had already incurred the charges.”

We contacted the company and got the following statement: “eMobile no longer has a ‘suspend function’ for customers to take a break from their contract, and there is no record that Andrew McGrath was advised that it was an option. The customer did make a request to unlock his phone and should have been advised on this process in order to use his phone freely. If the customer made contact with our admin department at any time during his trip, they would have happily informed him how to proceed.

There are a number of calls, made over a number of bills, that contributed to his high bill. In some cases, calls are to UK landline numbers for over 16 minutes in duration, which Mr McGrath would be charged for even had he made them with an American sim card.

Under regular circumstances, this customer’s bill would be upheld, but given the extenuating circumstances we are happy to waive the €250 bill as a gesture of goodwill.”


Takeaway coffee campaign to help humanitarian crisis

This is less of a query and more of a public service announcement. In March the Artisan Parlour & Grocery in Ringsend, Dublin 4 launched a fund-raising initiative under the name #cupoflove. The aim of the campaign was to raise money and awareness for Yes Equality in the marriage referendum.

Through the campaign, the business donated 50 cent to Yes Equality from every take-out McCabe’s artisan coffee and Nik’s Tea that was sold up until the referendum. The small cafe raised hundreds of euro.

From Monday, September 14th, it is relaunching #cupoflove. “We believe there isn’t one person who hasn’t been touched by the Mediterranean refugee crisis,” says owner Venetia Quick. “And we would like to do our bit to help. So from today, 50 cent from every take-out coffee and tea will be donated to Oxfam Ireland and their Refugee Crisis Appeal. We are also asking other coffee shops to join in and support the campaign.”

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