Own-initiative investigation into Vodafone Limited ("Vodafone") in respect of compliance with General Condition 11 – Metering and Billing – as well as General Condition 14 – Codes of Practice and Dispute Resolution

09 November 2016

Complainant: Ofcom own-initiative investigation following complaints received from Vodafone consumers.
Investigation against: Vodafone Limited
Case opened: 11 June 2015
Case closed: 26 October 2016
Issue: Whether Vodafone has complied with its obligations under General Condition 11 and General Condition 14
Relevant Instrument: General Condition 11 (specifically 11.1) and General Condition 14 (specifically 14.4).

Update note: 9 November 2016

The Confirmation Decision issued to Vodafone Limited on 25 October 2016 can now be found under related content.

End of update note

Following our investigation, Ofcom decided to issue Vodafone with a notification under s96A of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) on 3 June 2016 as we had reasonable grounds to believe that it had contravened GC14 of the General Conditions between 1 January 2014 and 5 November 2015.

Vodafone provided written representations to Ofcom on 1 July 2016 in relation to the matters set out in the s96A notification. Ofcom and Vodafone entered into settlement discussions on these matters and on 24 October 2016 Vodafone wrote to Ofcom admitting its liability in relation to the nature, scope and duration of the contraventions.

Having considered Vodafone’s representations and admissions, Ofcom is satisfied that, between 1 January 2014 and 5 November 2015, Vodafone contravened GC 14.4 by having complaints handling procedures:

  1. that were not, as required by paragraph 3 of the Ofcom Approved Code of Practice for Complaints Handling (the “Ofcom Code”), effective to "ensure" the fair and timely resolution of complaints, to clearly established timeframes; and
  2. were not, as required by paragraph 4(d) of the Ofcom Code, effective to secure that a Written Notification of the consumer’s right to free Alternative Dispute Resolution was sent to customers if a complaint remained unresolved after 8 weeks and no relevant exceptions applied.

Therefore, on 25 October 2016, Ofcom issued Vodafone with a Confirmation Decision under section 96C of the Act.

The Confirmation Decision imposes a financial penalty of £925,000 on Vodafone in respect of its contravention of GC14.4 between 1 January 2014 and 5 November 2015. The penalty includes a discount that reflects Vodafone’s co-operation in settling this matter.

A non-confidential version of the Confirmation Decision is currently being prepared and will be published shortly.

Update note: 6 June 2016

Following an investigation, Ofcom has determined that there are reasonable grounds for believing that Vodafone contravened GC14 of the General Conditions between 1 January 2014 and 5 November 2015. Ofcom has therefore issued a Notification to Vodafone under section 96A of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”).

Specifically, Ofcom has reasonable grounds to believe that Vodafone contravened GC 14.4 by:

  1. not having procedures, as required by paragraph 3 of the Ofcom Approved Code of Practice for Complaints Handling (the “Code of Practice”), that were effective to “ensure” the fair and timely resolution of Complaints, to clearly established timeframes; and
  2. not securing, as required by paragraph 4(d) of the Code of Practice, that a Written Notification was sent to customers if a Complaint (as defined in the Code of Practice) remained unresolved after 8 weeks and no relevant exceptions applied

Vodafone now has an opportunity to make representations to Ofcom on the matters contained in the Notification before Ofcom makes a final decision in accordance with section 96C of the Act.

Update note: 9 February 2016

Ofcom has now concluded the part of this investigation that was looking at Vodafone’s billing procedures and compliance with General Condition 11.1. We are continuing to investigate Vodafone’s complaints handling procedures and compliance with General Condition 14.

Following a thorough assessment of the evidence gathered from Vodafone, Ofcom has decided not to take any further enforcement action at this stage in this investigation in connection with Vodafone’s compliance with General Condition 11.1.

In reaching this decision, and notwithstanding certain billing issues having been identified, we have taken into account the following factors:

  • that Vodafone had established processes and procedures in place to actively monitor billing issues, when they occur, and to fix them in a timely manner, including taking appropriate remedial action, where necessary; and
  • that, based on our assessment of the number of customers affected, Vodafone’s processes for correcting errors through amending subsequent bills and the monetary value being taken from the customer’s account, the level of harm actually incurred by customers appears to have been relatively low.

In light of the above, and consistent with our enforcement guidelines and our administrative prioritisation framework, Ofcom has decided not to proceed to issuing a notification of contravention of General Condition 11.1. Ofcom will continue to monitor complaints against Vodafone in regard to billing issues and we will not hesitate to open a new investigation should we consider there are sufficient grounds to believe that Vodafone is failing to comply with GC11.1.

Our investigation will now focus on Vodafone’s complaints handling procedures and whether Vodafone has complied with its obligations under General Condition 14.4.

End of Update note

Ofcom has opened this investigation into Vodafone’s compliance with GC11.1 and GC14.4 following complaints received from consumers.

General Condition 11.1 requires communications providers (CPs) to ensure that customers’ bills represent the true extent of the service actually provided.

General Condition 14.4 requires CPs to have and comply with complaints handling procedures that are transparent, accessible, effective, facilitate access to alternative dispute resolution and provide for appropriate record keeping.

Ofcom's investigation will examine whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that Vodafone has failed to comply with these obligations.

Case Leader: Geoff Brown (geoff.brown@ofcom.org.uk)
Case Reference: CW/01159/06/15