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Sunday 4 December 2016

Eircom and Vodafone firms fined for ripping off their customers

Miriam Kilraine, a compliance analyst with Comreg
Miriam Kilraine, a compliance analyst with Comreg

EIRCOM and Vodafone have been convicted and fined for ripping off customers who continuously received over-charged bills.

Following an investigation by industry watchdog Comreg, the telecom giants, along with Three Ireland, pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court to charges under Section 45 of the Communications Act.

Vodafone was fined €10,000 and Eircom received fines totalling €21,000 after they each pleaded guilty to seven charges. Three, which pleaded guilty to three charges, will be spared a conviction and will get the Probation Act if they donate €15,000 to charity by September 28 next.

Judge John O'Neill singled out Eircom for criticism, branding their code of practice a joke and he said that when customers complained they were "pushed from Billy to Jack and they were ignored".

He said customers would have been upset, petrified and "worried sick" when they received letters from debt collectors chasing them for money on behalf of Eircom. In one case, they used debt collectors to pursue an elderly man living in a nursing home after he had already cancelled his account, the court was told.

Vodafone over-charged another man who had suffered a serious injury in a fall and had cancelled his account.

failures

The customers were only refunded after Comreg got involved, the judge was told. Prosecution counsel Christian Keeling said the aggravating factors were the failures to deal with customer complaints in a timely and courteous manner.

Comreg compliance analyst Miriam Kilraine told the court there were seven customer complaints in relation to Eircom. One reported that they asked to cancel their account in January 2014 but they continued to be billed in the following months and a debt collection company pursued them.

In another instance, an elderly man living in a nursing home had also cancelled his account in 2013 but continued to get bills before a debt collection company was engaged by Eircom.

Lawyers for all the companies said the cases related to human and system error and the court was to note that they have all set up new plans to ensure these problems won't happen again.

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