Ofcom back consumer's right to cancel T-Mobile contract - but did T-Mobile contact you?
The ongoing saga concerning T-Mobile has taken a surprising twist today. For six weeks we've highlighted T-Mobile's refusal to deal fairly with customers, with regards to the service provider's massive increases in the cost of international roaming. The charges form a legitimate part of a customer's contract, but T-Mobile deliberately excluded them from the clauses allowing the right to cancel without penalty - even if they caused material detriment.
Ofcom has today told Bitterwallet that T-Mobile is wrong to do so, in that customers who are likely to suffer material detriment as a result of these increases should be offered the right to cancel without penalty.
On Friday we published correspondence between T-Mobile and Ofcom, which indicated they supported the consumer's right to cancel without charge in this matter. We contacted Ofcom for clarification concerning this and their ongoing investigation:
Bitterwallet: When is Ofcom likely to conclude their deliberations and determine whether an investigation is required?
Ofcom: Ofcom has been monitoring complaints and has discussed the issue with T-Mobile. T-Mobile have confirmed to Ofcom that if customers feel that they are genuinely affected, to their material detriment, by the increase in certain roaming charges then they should call T-Mobile to discuss their account. Customers should ask that their inquiry be escalated to a Customer Service Manager who will discuss the available options. If customers are not content with the outcome of those discussions they can use the Dispute Resolution Scheme. T-Mobile is a member of CISAS.
On this basis we do not intend to open an investigation into T-Mobile on this issue.
Bitterwallet: What is meant by the final line of the statement (published here)? It indicates that Ofcom believes if the changes cause will impact on a customer's bill, then T-Mobile cannot hold them to the existing terms and conditions.
Ofcom: It is our view that if the increased roaming charges are genuinely of material detriment to a consumer then under General Condition 9.3, T-Mobile should inform the Consumer of the ability to terminate the contract without penalty. If T-Mobile and the customer are in dispute over whether or not the increase in charges is of material detriment, then the customer can use the Dispute Resolution Scheme.
So Ofcom have determined T-Mobile should have offered the right to cancel without penalty, but also decided there will be no investigation into the service provider's actions. What does that mean?
First, Ofcom is saying that if you will suffer material detriment - if your bill will increase as a result of the new charges - then T-Mobile should have given you the right to cancel. How do we define material detriment? That's a little trickier - Ofcom told us "there is no set percentage to determine “material detriment” - it is assessed on the particular circumstance of each case."
That's very unhelpful, but because it's so ambiguous we'd suggest it allows two ways to prove the new charges affect you:
- have you been abroad in the past three months? Check your bills - if 10 per cent (or more) of the total call charges are as a resulting of roaming charges, it's reasonable to assume you will suffer material detriment in the future (we're suggesting 10 per cent because this is an unofficial figure that has been suggested by Ofcom and other service providers to customers in the past)
- have you made plans to travel abroad in the next three months, or for a significant amount of time while under contract? If so, it's reasonable to assume the new charges will be of material detriment to you
Follow the procedure as stated by Ofcom above, since T-Mobile have told Ofcom they will follow it. If T-Mobile refuse to resolve the issue then contact CISAS for arbitration. Include copies of your bills or travel arrangements that prove the likelihood of material detriment in the future, and a copy of this post too. Therefore, you're providing a) proof of likely material detriment and b) a statement from Ofcom stating that T-Mobile should have offered the right to cancel without penalty in this particular instance. We're not sure how CISAS can rule against you in this situation since Ofcom has clarified its position concerning T-Mobile, but no doubt we'll be surprised. Let us know the outcome - we'd be interested to know what To-Mobile or CISAS define material detriment.
The second point is fundamental to this whole affair: according to Ofcom, T-Mobile should have informed customers of their right to cancel without penalty. But did they? Since material detriment is wide-open to interpretation, how did T-Mobile interpret it? In other words, were there any customers informed of the increased charges and their right to cancel?
Our posts on this story has received several dozen emails and several hundred comments over the past two months, and we don't recall anybody who mentioned this happening. Perhaps nobody at all had travelled or worked abroad recently, but that's very unlikely. Ofcom refused to clarify whether T-Mobile had notified customers, stating "the substance of our discussions with T-Mobile is confidential".
So it's over to you - have you travelled abroad in recent months, and have roaming charges account for 10 per cent of your recent bills? If so, did T-Mobile contact you? At the moment, judging by all of your comments and emails, we can only conclude that nobody was informed of their rights by T-Mobile, that T-Mobile refused customers with valid reasons for cancellation of their right to do so, and that T-Mobile broke Ofcom's General Conditions - in which case, the regulator should reconsider opening an investigation.