Cancel your Orange contract - no answers, plenty of questions
UPDATE 12/08: Orange has now scrapped the ToS change following consumer upset and cancellations. Read full update and official statement here.
UPDATE 10/8: Ofcom have now responded to Bitterwallet's request for a statement on the current situation. You can read it here.
What's going on, then? Can you cancel your Orange contract or not? By their own terms and conditions, the answer is yes. If you call them however, the answer will be yes, maybe or absolutely not - although this may change throughout the duration of the call. There's no consistency in the reasons given either way. The whole thing is a mess and Orange are tying themselves in knots as they try to fob off their customers.
We've spoken to the Executive Office at Orange, and were told that customers must be eligible under specific criteria if they wish to cancel, although the office wasn't aware of what the criteria were. They said the retentions department are working off a spreadsheet that states whether a customer is eligible or not. When we asked where these criteria were recorded in the customer contract or Orange's Terms of Service, we were told they weren't, although that we should be aware that while customers are eligible to cancel under the terms and conditions (!) Orange are simply raising their call charges in line with other networks.
So on the one hand customers are eligible to cancel, but on the other it's only if Orange wants to let them. That pretty much sums up where we are at the moment. We're waiting to hear back from Orange for an official statement, and we've also asked Ofcom to comment too, given that operators are telling customers that Ofcom have rubber-stamped the changes.
We'll let you know when we hear back from either one, but in the meantime there is action you can take now. If you want to cancel but have so far been refused, please take note:
- it's approximately three weeks since Orange first began advising customers of the changes. As per their terms and conditions, after 30 days it will be presumed that customers accept the new charges. Even if you haven't been successful in cancelling your contract, you should formally state you refuse to agree to the new terms. Bitterwallet reader Lewis Roberts sent a great email to Orange (more below) - use this as your template and send it via this page on their website. Also send a copy to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, and by registered post to Orange Customer Service, Correspondence Department, PO Box 10, Bristol, BS32 4BQ.
- if you're getting nowhere with customer services, call Orange's executive office on 08000 790 134. Explain that regardless of your current usage, the changes Orange are making are outside of your plan, therefore you have a legal right to cancel and you are formally stating your refusal to accept the new Terms of Service. The customer service team here cannot help you - they'll refer you to the retentions department - but it means you are formally stating your refusal to agree to the terms (thanks to Kernal). As always, remain calm and polite.
- call Ofcom's advisory team on 020 7981 3040 or 0300 123 3333. They will only offer advice on the matter, give you a reference number and most likely refer you to CISAS - an independent dispute resolution service. Regardless, register your complaint with Ofcom - they are more likely to investigate the matter if they feel there is a widespread issue.
- if you have the time and inclination, you can ask Orange what's going on via Twitter. They may not repsond, but it again raises the profile of the issue.
Meanwhile, here are four questions we'd like Orange to answer:
Why did an Orange spokesperson go on the record and say all customers have the right to cancel?
Orange seemingly has a very short memory. Mobile News reported on this story at the end of July, which included this quote from an Orange spokesperson:
"Orange has increased its minimum call charge from 5p to 15p. So what this means is that if you go over your inclusive minutes, the first minute is now 15p and any other minute of that same call is as per your current out-of-bundle rates.
"Whilst our terms and conditions do allow customers to terminate their contract as a result of this change, we are confident that the majority of our customers will not be affected by this because of the nature of their talk plans and their usage."
So let's be clear on this: an Orange spokesperson told the press the majority of customers will not be affected because of their usage, but that the terms and conditions allow them to terminate their contract as a result.
We've spoke to Mobile News, and the quote is solid - these are Orange's own words. Are they attempting to reverse course because the changes have been highlighted by the likes of Bitterwallet and MSE, and so many people are attempting to cancel?
What's the deal with all this talk of lawyers and legal teams?
If this is a straight-forward change to Orange's agreed Terms of Service, why are the lawyers involved?
"I rang back to orange yesterday who said that they had had advice from their legal department saying that if I had not gone over my minutes in the previous 3 months I was no longer allowed to cancel and had to automatically accept the new terms and conditions." Laura
"Their legal team has looked through it and if you haven’t exceeded your allowance in the last 3 months from the date of the sent text then you can’t cancel. Apparently its been passed by Ofcom too." Aaron
"I went through all the points above very clearly and got in to a heated debate with Sue in the loyalty team who was as rude as she could possibly be and point blank refused to cancel the contract stating that their legal team have consulted with Ofcom who have advised them that they don’t have to cancel any contracts." Lewis
"After talking to 2 advisers and then a manager and literally being talked over, by a very angry manager, they flat out refused to cancel and told me if i wanted i had to talk to OFCOM or seek legal advice i should do so." Adam
"I called today, and was told be the representative to seek legal advice, and get my solicitor to contact the legal team at Orange.....!! Another lied saying it was only 08 numbers affected, and I did not qualify to cancel." Nigel
Orange are quoted as stating their legal team came up with the original text message informing particular customers can cancel, that the legal team have instructed operators that they can deny a customer's request to cancel, that the legal team have had the changes rubber-stamped by Ofcom.
If the changes weren't ambiguous or controversial, why are customer services spending so much time quoting the legal team? More to the point, why did the lawyers come up with the idea to send a text to customers to validate their right to cancel, but then instruct operators that even these customers aren't necessarily eligible? What's changed? Have the goalposts been moved because too many customers want out? Do Orange realise that all of this suggests they're making up policy as they go along?
Why did Orange cancel Lewis Roberts' contract?
Lewis is a reader of Bitterwallet and has posted several times about his valiant efforts to cancel. He contacted customer services on multiple occasions and wasn't allowed to terminate his contract, despite receiving the text informing him of the changes. Lewis sent a stern email to Orange and on Saturday afternoon customer services called him:
I was transferred to the retentions team again and told the same thing about eligibility AGAIN but I started at the top and very calmly spelled out the terms and conditions again and this time after another few minutes on hold the CS rep said yeah, OK, you will be affected so I’ll issue your PAC and it’ll be with you in 3-5 days!?
It isn't just Lewis that has suffered this inconsistency in Orange's behaviour - our comments cite dozens of examples of Orange changing their stance. They have not demonstrated once that they are aware of the details of their own contracts, consumer law or their own policy concerning this matter.
Are Orange aware that their actions are against the law?
Last year, new regulations came into force to protect consumers. They have the rather literal title of The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Quite simply, the regulations set out "the maximum level of restriction permissible in respect of unfair commercial practices which harm consumers’ economic interests". So let's have a look at a couple of relevant paragraphs:
PART 2 PROHIBITIONS
(1) Unfair commercial practices are prohibited.
(3) A commercial practice is unfair if (b) it materially distorts or is likely to materially distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer with regard to the product.
And then there's this:
(1) A commercial practice is aggressive if, in its factual context, taking account of all of its features and circumstances (a) it significantly impairs or is likely significantly to impair the average consumer’s freedom of choice or conduct in relation to the product concerned through the use of harassment, coercion or undue influence; and (b) it thereby causes or is likely to cause him to take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise.
(2) In determining whether a commercial practice uses harassment, coercion or undue influence account shall be taken of (d) any onerous or disproportionate non-contractual barrier imposed by the trader where a consumer wishes to exercise rights under the contract, including rights to terminate a contract or to switch to another product or another trader
Refusing to cancel a contract because you don't exceed your minutes is without doubt a "a non-contractual barrier" - unless you specifically agreed as part of your contract that you would never exceed your minutes?
The changes to the Terms of Service will "impair your freedom of choice or conduct". Let's spell it out again; you don't need to exceed your allocated minutes to qualify for cancellation - all you agreed with Orange when you signed up was what charges you would pay if you did exceed your minutes, nothing further.
The bottom line is this; if you accept the changes, then you'll have to pay three times as much as you originally agreed with Orange for exceeding your allowance, otherwise your only option is to stop using your mobile phone. In other words, for the remainder of your contract you can never use your mobile beyond a fixed point without incurring a financial penalty you never agreed to. That is "likely to materially distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer".
Throw in the fact that according to readers, Orange representatives have told them at various times they must return their handset in order to cancel, they can only cancel if they receive a text, that they should seek legal representation - according to these regulations, Orange are acting unfairly, they have misled consumers and employed aggressive commercial practises.