Britain’s biggest mobile operator EE has been fined £2.7 million for overcharging more than 30,000 customers.
Between July 2014 and July 2015, the company added almost £250,000 to the bills of customers who called its 150 helpline while abroad in the European Union. They were incorrectly billed as though they had made a call to the United States and charged a rate of £1.20 a minute instead of 19p.
EE was fined more than 10 times the amount it overcharged as punishment for failing to refund affected customers until its regulator, Ofcom, stepped in. The company had previously maintained it was unable to trace individuals who had been mistakenly billed and suggested making a donation to charity instead.
However, an investigation by Ofcom found otherwise and blamed the error on the company’s ‘carelessness or negligence’.
Ofcom’s Lindsey Fussell said: 'EE didn’t take enough care to ensure that its customers were billed accurately. This ended up costing customers thousands of pounds, which is completely unacceptable.
'We monitor how phone companies bill their customers, and will not tolerate careless mistakes. Any company that breaks Ofcom’s rules should expect similar consequences.'
While EE has now refunded the majority of customers, another 6,905 individuals collectively owed more than £60,000 have not been identified. These are likely to be former customers who have moved to other networks.
Although the company has donated to charity the remainder of the outstanding sum it falsely charged, EE was also blasted by Ofcom for making a further error concerning its 150 helpline. From 18 November 2015 it should have been free to call or text the helpline from within the EU but the company subsequently billed nearly 8,000 customers up until 11 January 2016.
In total, they were forced to pay just over £2,000 more than they should have been. While in this case EE was proactive in issuing refunds, on average they were only for around 30p.
If you think you have been overcharged by EE for either of the issues raised above but haven’t already been refunded, here’s what you need to do:
An EE spokesman said: 'We accept these findings and apologise unreservedly to those customers affected by these technical billing issues between 2014 and 2015. We have put measures in place to prevent this from happening again.'
Complaining about your mobile phone provider
If you have any reason to believe you have been mistreated by your mobile phone provider, you should always contact the company in the first instance.
If your problem is not resolved within eight weeks, Ofcom advises you to request a ‘deadlock’ letter from the company and then take your complaint to an independent ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme’ (ADR), which can review your case and tell the company to pay claims of up to £10,000.
The regulator (which doesn’t investigate individual complaints) has two approved schemes that are free to use – CISAS and Ombudsman Services: Communications. To check which one your provider is a member of, click here.
Laura Whitcombe is knowledge and product editor at ThisisMoney.co.uk.