Cancelling your T-Mobile contract: what the Office of Fair Trading has to say
[UPDATE 16/9 - we've now published a full guide to help you cancel your T-Mobile contract. You'll find it here.] We've had a veritable stack of emails and comments from readers asking when we'll have more information concerning T-Mobile's plans to increase international roaming charges. The changes, which will see the cost of some calls rise by 140%, are set to be introduced on October 26th. Last week customers began receiving texts alerting them to the new charges.
We initially picked through T-Mobile's Terms of Service and came to the inescapable conclusion that current customers were well within their rights to cancel their contract without penalty. T-Mobile don't see it that way and are insisting that international roaming is an additional service, meaning they are free to dictate whatever charges they see fit without argument. Worse still, unlike our recent dealings with Orange where terrible internal communication meant the provider failed to show any consistency in behaviour, T-Mobile are very well organised and, seemingly without exception, are denying all requests to cancellation without penalty.
This is a pretty complex issue so we're taking our time reading up on the relevant consumer law. This includes the The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (UTCCR), as well as guidance on unfair charges from the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom. Some of the most interesting stuff comes from the OFT (page 57), which says:
Any purely discretionary right to set or vary a price after the consumer has become bound to pay is obviously objectionable. That applies particularly to terms allowing the supplier to charge a price on delivery of goods that is not what was quoted to the consumer when the order was placed. It also applies to rights to increase payments under continuing contracts where consumers are 'captive' – that is, they have no penalty-free right to cancel... such a clause is particularly open to abuse, because consumers can have no reasonable certainty that the increases imposed on them actually match net cost increases.
A degree of flexibility in pricing may be achieved fairly in the following ways:
Where the level and timing of any price increases are specified (within narrow limits if not precisely) they effectively form part of the agreed price. As such they are acceptable, provided the details are clearly and adequately drawn to the consumer's attention.
Any kind of variation clause may in principle be fair if consumers are free to escape its effects by ending the contract. To be genuinely free to cancel, they must not be left worse off for having entered the contract, whether by experiencing financial loss (for example, forfeiture of a prepayment) or serious inconvenience, or any other adverse consequences.
T-Mobile's changes to international roaming and subsequent refusal to allow early termination without charge go against both the wording and the principles of this guidance; a customer cannot continue to use their phone as they have previously without incurring financial loss (nor can they use it as they had previously agreed to), or they will suffer serious inconvenience by not being able to use their handset abroad as a result of the increased charges. There seems little doubt that in this situation, customers are captive in their contract and vulnerable to abuse.
T-Mobile's continued insistence that a customer's ability to make roaming calls is an additional service - despite their own definitions, terms and website stating otherwise - makes the matter difficult to resolve easily. We will have more information for you through the week, including letter templates and in-depth advice.
In the meantime, if you have any dealings with T-Mobile concerning this matter, tell us about it in the comments below. And if you are a T-Mobile customer and feel strongly about this, contact Ofcom as soon as possible to register your complaint - let us know what they say.