British telecoms regulator Ofcom has fined mobile network operator (MNO) EE GBP2.7 million for overcharging tens of thousands of its customers. The penalty, the watchdog said in a press release, followed an investigation into EE which found that it ‘broke a fundamental billing rule on two separate occasions’. Firstly, EE customers who called its ‘150’ customer services number while roaming within the EU were incorrectly charged as if they had called the United States; this mistake reportedly led to the cellco overcharging some 32,145 customers by around GBP245,700 in total. Secondly, despite making it free to call or text the ‘150’ number from within the EU from 18 November 2015, EE continued to bill 7,674 customers up until 11 January 2016. Ofcom said that its investigation had determined that, while EE had not set out to make money from its first error, it had decided not to reimburse the majority of affected customers until the regulator intervened. It was noted, however, that EE did take prompt action with regards to the second error, issuing full refunds to those affected.
As a result of its failings, Ofcom imposed the financial penalty on EE, which must be paid within 20 working days, and will be passed on to HM Treasury. The fine reportedly incorporates a 10% reduction to reflect EE’s agreement to enter into a formal settlement, while as part of this agreement the MNO has admitted to, and taken full responsibility for, the breaches. Ofcom recognises that the majority of customers have now been refunded.
Commenting on the matter, 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.’