Ofcom fines EE £2.7m for overcharging customers

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has hit EE with a fine of £2.7 million for overcharging tens of thousands of customers.

The company was found to have overcharged around 40,000 customers for calls to EE’s own 150 customer services number in two separate breaches of a fundamental billing rule.

Firstly, subscribers who called the customer services number while roaming within the EU were charged the same rate as they would be for calling the US.

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Ofcom said the company charged customers £1.20 per minute, instead of the correct 19p per minute, with at least 32,145 customers affected, resulting in a total of £245,700 in extra charges.

The regulator also added that EE’s “carelessness or negligence” contributed to the billing errors, and that the company had decided not to reimburse the majority of affected customers until Ofcom intervened.

EE wrongly decided it couldn’t identify the people it overcharged and was proposing to give the extra money to charity, which would have left the affected subscribers out of pocket.

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The company was also found to have continued to bill a further 7,674 customers until 11 January, 2016 despite making calls or texts to the ‘150’ number free from within the EU from November 18, 2015.

Ofcom says customers in this case were overcharged £2,203.33, although EE is said to have taken “prompt action” on this occasion, providing full refunds to those affected.

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Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, 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.”

The £2.7 million fine, which must be paid to Ofcom within 20 working days, will be passed on to HM Treasury, and incorporates a 10% reduction to reflect EE’s agreement to enter into a formal settlement.

Thought the majority of customers have now been refunded, EE was unable to identify at least 6,905 customers, who are more than £60,000 out of pocket in total.

The telecoms company, which is owned by BT, has made a donation of just under £62,000 to charity in lieu of the payments owed to these customers.

On top of the charitable donation, Ofcom says it still requires EE to make further attempts to trace and refund every customer who was overcharged.

An EE spokesman told The Guardian: “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, and have contacted the majority of customers to apologise and provide a full refund.

“For those customers that we could not identify, we donated the remaining excess fees to charitable causes in line with Ofcom’s guidelines.

“Following Ofcom’s findings, we have made a number of additional improvements to our systems and policies to allow us to better support our customers in the rare occasion that billing issues do occur.”

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