Rip off Britain rears its ugly head

A charity I’m working with called me yesterday to say that they had just had a call from the telecoms company they have a mobile phone contract with telling them their bill for this month had just gone over £10,000. The usual monthly cost of this mobile phone is £48 a month. To say they were shocked is a bit of an under estimation.


It transpires that what had happened was that someone in the office was having problems connecting their computer to the WiFi. A colleague helpfully suggested they use the mobile to connect, by tethering to a hotspot. They did that, but not realising how it worked they didn’t disconnect their phone and the computer was left on overnight backing up a drive to the cloud. Now that was silly, but it wasn’t a dramatic mistake in the scheme of things…or so you’d think. They apparently – and unwittingly – used between 20gb-30gb of data. It’s a fair amount but nothing too outrageous.

By the following morning the bill stood at £10,000.

That’s right. In just one evening, using just 30gb, they were being charged £10,000.

I pay £5 a month for 2gb of data. But if I paid £10 I could have unlimited data. Or if they’d bought an unlimited data supply for one day it probably would have been just a couple of pounds. They are effectively being charged £9,990 more for the data than if they might have been.

That is extortionate. Staggeringly, ridiculously extortionate.

Secondly, the fact that they allowed £10,000 of charges to be racked up in a single day – on a usual bill of less than £50 a month – is unbelievable. You might think perhaps they didn’t know the costs were mounting up, and it just ‘slipped beneath their radar’. Errr, no. They sent a text message to the phone around 2am saying that the limit on the data package had been exceeded and costs were being incurred. So they knew, but were perfectly happy to let the meter tick away and the costs go up.

They are essentially providing credit without any idea of whether the client can afford it. Unaffordable credit is something that has been in the news a fair amount recently, with numerous stories emerging of payday lenders giving credit at exorbitant levels of interest to people who cannot afford to pay.

Put together the extortionate charges – 1000 times the amount you might expect to pay – plus the unaffordable credit and it sounds an awful lot like the sort of insidious practice that the likes of Wonga have come under fire for.

My advice to the charity in question is to wait until the bill comes and then tell them not to pay and that you’ll see them at Ofcom. Oh and not to do it again – of course. I think they should offer to pay the price of one day’s unlimited data and not a penny more. The member of staff responsible has – as you would imagine – been incredibly stressed about the situation and a great deal of charitable time has already been wasted fretting over what happened. But, as a gesture of goodwill, I think the charity should say they will forgo any claim for distress caused and the costs of wasted charitable time spent sorting it out.

Perhaps the company in question will realise that what has happened and waive the bill. I have seen a similar situation – where a volunteer racked up a large bill calling premium rate numbers back in the early 90s – and the company took the amount of the bill when we complained. Maybe that’s what will happen here.

But I can’t believe this is an isolated case and I am sure that not everyone would be quite so prepared to challenge the charges and would end up paying.

A while back there was a lot of talk about ‘rip off Britain’. Although it’s been less talked about, it seems like it’s still going on.


Update 1st May 2015:

After a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing and a bit of a wait, BT (for they were the telecomms company concerned) have informed us that they are waiving all the data charges as a gesture of good will. I did have to point out that this was a charity and it was a mistake but they did come good in the end.

A happy ending after all.


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