Telecoms regulator Ofcom has fined Vodafone a huge £4,625,000 for what it calls “serious and sustained breaches of consumer protection rules” over a number of unresolved issues for pay-as-you-go customers.
Investigations into customer complaints found that 10,452 pay-as-you-go users had paid to top-up their phones but never saw the credit actually arrive on their SIM card. Over 17 months, between December 2013 and April 2015, they collectively lost £150,000. Ouch.
The issue arose because Vodafone was transferring to a new billing system - which it described as "complex", and involved moving almost a billion data fields - so it's understandable how it may have occurred. However, Ofcom said it found that the network "failed to act quickly enough to identify or address these problems".
Vodafone only looked into solving things after Ofcom had intervened, the regulator said, and failed to give its customers "sufficiently clear guidance" on their rights around the complaints process.
So, that's two fines overall: £3,700,000 for taking their customers' money but not providing a service in return, and £925,000 for its disappointing complaints handling process.
Now, Vodafone is taking steps to make things right again. It's refunded or re-credited all but 30 customers, made a £100,000 donation to various charities, given its IT system a good look-over, and "conducted a full internal review" of what happened. It's also made a major investment in its customer service department and is working with the Ombudsman going forward.
The network said in a statement: "This has been an unhappy episode for all of us at Vodafone: we know we let our customers down. We are determined to put everything right. We are also confident that our customers are already beginning to see the benefits of our substantial investment in new systems designed to meet their needs much more effectively in future."