Can I cancel my Vodafone contract? New statement on new data charges, but they're still wrong
Yesterday we highlighted Vodafone's dramatic scrapping of their Fair Use Policy for mobile data, and merry hell has been played ever since. The changes to customer contracts will reverse the long standing policy of a 'soft' 500MB-per-month limit for mobile phone customers, a policy that meant customers weren't penalised for occasionally straying over that limit, and one had been confirmed in writing on numerous occasions by Vodafone staff.
From 1 June, however, customers will be charged for any and all data usage above 500MB, thereby ending any notion of a Fair Use Policy. The news broke in Vodafone's own forums on Wednesday; customers weren't told of the changes to the terms or the new charges beforehand. Vodafone went on to tell customers they had no choice but to accept the changes:
But then at 5pm last night, Vodafone stated the exact opposite on their forums, admitting there would be changes to the core agreement of customer's policies, and that some may qualify for a refund:
Here are the answers to the questions you've raised.
Definition of excessive use?
Excessive use is listed in the current Terms and Conditions and applies for now, but when Out Of Bundle charging is introduced, the terms will be amended and so this won’t apply.
Will I be allowed to cancel my account under Clause 7?
We’ ll be giving you 14 days' notice before introducing Out Of Bundle charging which complies with clause 7a. You'll be entitled to end your contract if you can show that the introduction of the new charges has increased your total call and usage charges by more than 10%. This needs to be compared to the same amount of usage in the previous month. You must also write to us within the 14 day window indicating that you want to end your contract. (Address: Vodafone UK, Vodafone House, The Connection, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2FN).
So let's take a look at this statement:
The 'current Terms and Conditions' mentioned are the Vodafone Your Plan Price Plan Terms we referred to yesterday; these form part of your core agreement with Vodafone, as the terms clearly state - that means they do not govern any additional or 'out of bundle' services, but those services bundled into your monthly price plan. It also means that changes to these core terms and services can allow customers to cancel their contract without penalty; something you can't do if a service is 'out of bundle'.
Nowhere in these terms is there a 'definition of excessive use', although it has been defined in writing by Vodafone themselves on numerous occasions, as we mentioned yesterday. The phrase is only referred to in Clause 27:
27. All Vodafone services offered free or under unlimited subscription are subject to our Fair Use Policy. If, in the reasonable opinion of Vodafone, your use is excessive, we may ask you to moderate your usage. If, after we have asked you to moderate your usage, you fail to do so, we reserve the right to:
(a) charge you for the excessive element of your usage at your price plan's standard rate;
What Vodafone said in yesterday's statement is that the 'terms will be amended and so this won’t apply.' In other words, they are going to remove an entire clause from the contract you agreed - the Fair Use Policy - which represents a significant and material change to your core agreement.
Next, when should Vodafone have told you this? According to them, they can give you 14 days notice of the change, and refer you to Clause 7a in the Pay Monthly Airtime Terms - another core part of your agreement with them. In fact Vodafone have been selective in their quotation of the terms, because a closer look at Clause 7 reveals:
7 Changing charges and terms
a We may change our charges or introduce new charges. If we increase our charges, we will give you at least 14 days' notice and you may have a right to end this agreement under clause 11. If we believe any change in our charges will not disadvantage you, we may include it without telling you.
b We can make changes to or withdraw services at any time and we can make changes to or introduce new terms to this agreement at any time. We will give you at least 30 days’ notice of these changes if we do and you may have a right to end this agreement under clause 11.
Vodafone are introducing mandatory data charges, so they've chosen to interprete their own terms to mean they can give you 14 days notice. However they've already admitted they're changing the terms of your core agreement in order to introduce these charges; "changes to... terms to this agreement" require 30 days' notice according to 7b, and therefore by not telling customers (the only announcement has been in an online forum so far, for changes due on 1 June) Vodafone are in breach of contract.
Finally, let's look at the relevant sections of Clause 11:
11.2. You may end this Agreement by writing to us if:
(c) we increase your Charges in the UK which have the effect of increasing your total call and usage charges (based upon your usage in the previous month) by more than 10% and you write to us before the increase takes effect; or
(d) we change this Agreement to your significant disadvantage including the change or withdrawal of Services (we will tell you if this is the case) and you write to us within one month of us telling you about the change. This does not apply where the change relates to Services which can be cancelled without termination of this Agreement.
In both statements on the matter (here and here) Vodafone have stated they are 'introducing Out of bundle charging' - they're not increasing charges, they're introducing them. There's a question as to whether Clause 7c is even relevant in the first place - it simply does not refer to the 'introduction of new charges' as Vodafone states in their latest statement, and instead refers to existing charges you've already agreed to as part of your core agreement, charges governed by a Fair Use Policy which didn't see customers automatically charged for excess data use.
Clause 11d, however, is absolutely relevant - Vodafone are changing your agreement and it will cause a significant disadvantage; Vodafone is restricting your future use of your handset. Without a Fair Use Policy, you can no longer use data on your handset without the possibility of being forced to pay an additional amount or having to curtail your usage. You won't be able to use data-intensive applications that may mean occasionally using more than 500MB, like Spotify or Google Maps Navigation, or any similar apps released between June and the end of your contract, which in some cases is 23 months away. The difference between the occasional use of additional data and wholescale abuse has until now being distinct, a distinction embodied by a Fair Use Policy and repeated by Vodafone staff over and over again.
So to be clear what's happening here; Vodafone are attempting to remove a key clause from your contract, without your consent, thereby removing all the benefits that clause has previously allowed, without your consent, and replace it with mandatory charges, after breaching their own contract by not providing the agreed amount of notice. The statements they have released, and those made on Twitter yesterday, are incorrect by the letter of their own terms.
Of course Vodafone need to consider all their customers and manage data usage in a fair manner. But why do this to exisiting customers? Why not introduce the changes for new customers and move on? If you've dealt with Vodafone concerning this matter, let us know how you got on, and we'll look into escalating matters further.