Pricewatch readers: Data debacle has Three customer wondering what she agreed to

‘I was told that as I placed the order over the phone, I would not be sent a contract’

A reader called Maria contacted us in connection with Three Mobile. "I entered into a contract 12 months ago when I moved into an apartment with two housemates," she says. "There are six months left on it. Our original agreement was a monthly charge of €29.99 per month for 61,440MB, deducted by direct debit.

“I received a discount of €10, compared with a usual cost €39.99 per month because I was a long-standing Three customer. Before purchase I made initial inquiries as to usage; I was assured in store and on the phone that if we used up the data usage allotted the supply would cut off.”

So Maria signed the contract over the phone, “but did not receive a contract by email or post. We were then shocked to discover that on three occasions in the past few months we were overcharged significantly.” In April they were billed €89.85 and in July €89.41. The August bill was €79.51.

When she asked Three, she was told she had gone over the data usage allotted and that a credit limit applied until she was cut off. “They said that a €50 limit (outside of our normal bill of €29.99) had been added on at the time of signing up. We had not been made aware of any such credit limit at the time of signing up, or at every time I called them to ask about why we had been cut off.”


Discretionary limit

Maria asked Three if she should have been told at the time of purchase. The company replied that the credit limit is discretionary and that certainty couldn’t be given as to the amount.

“When I contacted Three again about getting the contract in order to see what it contained regarding the credit limit, I was told that as I placed the order over the phone with its telesales team, I would not have been sent a contract.”

Three said that as the order over the phone was a verbal contract, she would have been advised to check the terms and conditions. She was also told that because it was a telesales order, she would have had 14 days to cancel the contract if she wasn’t satisfied. She was then directed to the company’s terms and conditions and told to look up credit limits.

“I’m at a loss to understand how a mobile company can sign you up for something you did not agree to and then deduct a significant sum by direct debit unbeknown to the account holder.”

We contacted Three and received the following statement.

“This customer signed up to an 18-month mobile broadband plan on November 10th, 2015, over the phone with one of our sales agents. All telesales calls are fully recorded, and, on completion of the order over the phone, an order confirmation email is sent to the customer.

“The call recording confirms that the customer agreed to a monthly charge of €29.99 for 60GB of data and it also confirms that the customer was advised that they had a 14-day cooling-off period. There is no record of the customer being advised that their service would terminate if they exceeded the 60GB allowance.”

Advised to call 1913

The statement continues: “In February 2016, the customer contacted our care team through the chat function on our website as their mobile broadband was not working. The record of this conversation shows that the care agent notified the customer that they had used their 60GB allowance and that she was now using her credit limit of €50. The customer wanted to speak to someone over the phone rather than through chat, so the care agent advised them to call 1913.

“The customer next contacted our care team by phone in July and August 2016, as their broadband had stopped working. The call records of both conversations show that the customer was advised that they had used their data allowance and exceeded their credit limit. The credit limit is in place to ensure that the customer does not continue to incur additional cost for their out-of-bundle use.

“Given this customer’s level of data use, we would recommend that they monitor their usage through the Three website or the My3 app. The customer can also contact us to discuss their credit limit. The customer was correctly charged for their out-of-bundle usage; however, as a goodwill gesture, we will credit any charge to date over the recurring monthly charge of €29.99, and we hope that the customer will be happy with this outcome.”

There's provenance and then there's providence
We received a lot of correspondence on the back of our piece on the provenance of products. Several readers expressed concern about the use of the Tricolour on dairy products from Northern Ireland. Another reader said she had repeatedly come across examples of restaurants misrepresenting maple syrup on menus.

“It turns out to be maple-flavoured golden syrup,” she said. “The first is a natural ingredient and the second is manufactured by man and full of sugar and chemical flavours. When I complain, staff look at me as if I am nuts.”

We also misrepresented the provenance of both Fruitfield Old Time Irish Marmalade and William Shaw's ham on last week's page. Both used to be made or were sourced overseas, but Valeo Foods have brought the production of Fruitfield jams and marmalades (and chef sauces, incidentally) home to Ireland – and deserve credit for it.

And William Shaw's ham, which used to be made with ham from across Europe, is now owned by Kerry Foods. All of Kerry Foods' cooked meat is sourced in the Republic and carries Bord Bia's Quality Assurance label. So that company deserves credit as well.

Pricewatch, on the other hand, should have known this and we appreciate the irony of writing an article giving out about retailers making mistakes and misrepresenting where food comes from – and then making mistakes and misrepresenting where food comes from in the piece.