Vodafone scrap fair use policy for data, don't tell customers

Bitterwallet - Vodafone scrap data fair usage policy for mobilesIf you're a Vodafone customer, you need to be aware of a fundamental change to your mobile phone contract that begins next month. You won't know about it yet, because it seems Vodafone hasn't told its customers. More importantly, it's a change that may allow customers to cancel their contracts without penalty, and also have other consequences of significance.

It started innocently enough when a customer enquired about Vodafone's 500MB data limit in Vodafone's eForums, and what the consequences of breaching this limit might be. Other forum members stated the 500MB figure was a threshold, a soft limit rather than a hard cap, and occasionally exceeding that limit would not result in additional charges.

Vodafone's staff have agreed with this point of view on numerous occasions, with examples here, here and here:

"The Mobile Internet packages only have a "Fair Usage Policy" of 500MB. This is used as a rough guideline for how much we expect the average user to use within a month, and there are no charges for going over this amount from time to time."

"When a data bundle is listed as having a Fair-Usage Policy, this means the stated policy limit (in this case, 500MB per month) is only a guide used to measure potential abuse, and there is no automatic out-of-bundle charging for exceeding this limit."

And this is the clause in Vodafone's terms and conditions:

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;

(b) throttle your usage; or

(c) suspend or terminate your service in accordance with your airtime terms and conditions.

Then yesterday, Vodafone announced they were scrapping their fair use policy:

We are planning to introduce Out Of Bundle charging for Pay Monthly customers from 1st June 2010. The reason we're introducing these charges is to make it fairer for everyone, and to protect our network from data abuse. We're introducing a real-time notifications service to be completely transparent about these charges and keep customers in control of their spend. No Out Of Bundle charges will happen this month but they will take effect from 1st June. The messages you've received this month were sent in error and no more will be sent out from today.

The charging will be as follows:

Monthly bundle customers will pay £5 for every 500MB after the first 500MB
Customers without a monthly bundle will pay 50p for every 10MB after the first 25MB

Whilst you've all previously been used to there not being any Out Of Bundle charging, the current information available online is clear in explaining that we could introduce such charging at any time.

Let's pick this apart, because there's some sleight-of-hand going on:

  • As far as we're aware, the announcement of the change has only appeared in the Vodafone forums, meaning the vast majority of Vodafone customers don't know about the changes. Clause 7.2 of their Pay Monthly Airtime Terms states "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." If customers haven't been informed, then Vodafone seem to be in breach of contract (if you have received this information from Vodafone, please let us know).
  • Vodafone cannot use the term 'unlimited' to promote their data services, which they still continue to do on their website. A fair use policy allowed a degree of ambiguity, which has now gone - there isn't nothing unlimited about a fixed service. Vodafone should be expected to remove the term from all promotional material immediately.
  • Significantly, Vodafone are attempting to position this change as an additional service, by describing it as "Out of Bundle charging". They're quite adamant about this, but why? Because it closes the door on a customer cancelling their contract at no charge. They're trying to turn the fair usage policy (a clause that is part and parcel of the Price Plan Terms for "Vodafone Your Plan" as outlined above) into an additional service - and additional services are bound by terms and conditions separate to your core agreement, and therefore you have no right to cancel without penalty.

Vodafone will no doubt argue this change does not place the customer at a significant disadvantage, and refuse to cancel contracts, but the repercussions are significant. Customers are signing contracts for up to 24 months, expecting a set of terms that provides some elasticity if their data usage is unusually high. Indeed, plenty of customers in Vodafone's own forums mention they exceed their limit on a regular basis without ever hearing from Vodafone - a right afforded to them by their core terms of service. And despite what any provider says, 500 MB in a month really isn't all that difficult to exceed during normal use.

The bottom line is that this change is not about the introduction of charges; it's a fundamental and significant change to your agreement - setting a hard data limit negates an entire clause in your agreement with the provider. There are plenty of unanswered questions here - does this apply to longstanding customers or new contracts only? Is the £5 charge for "every 500MB" applied proportionally, or are you charged the whole amount for straying a MB or two over your limit? We've contacted Vodafone for a statement but are yet to hear back; there's all manner of holy hell kicking off in their own forums, on Twitter and on MSE, and they need to start talking to their customers about this issue sharpish.

thanks to avid Bitterwallet reader Tony for the tip


  • Smiffy
    I'd screenshot those comments if you haven't already. There could be a sudden case of "we never said ewt like that!"
  • JonnySpandex
    It will be interesting to see the outcome because as you've specified you can dress it up all you like, it's a distinct change to anyone's existing contract. The courts would see it that way.
  • Dank
    Well that's just super isn't it? 500 MB a month is barely anything, especially with an iPhone or Android-based phone, with their data zapping apps (especially the recent Google Navigation app, which is a bit of a guzzler). I regularly tip over the limit, so I will be contacting Vodafone shortly to vent my spleen. Don't expect to get anywhere, but hey...
  • GMail U.
    Good luck in getting your contract cancelled anyone... screw the mobile networks!!!
  • Dank
    Just been reading the backlash on Twitter and the What Mobile? forums... just completely daft. Especially since the iPhone bundles come with 1GB, yet everything else comes with a paltry 500MB. That seems highly logical.
  • Rich
    C'mon 3...intoduce something simular so I can ditch you too :)
  • Paul S.
    Has anybody being contacted directly by Vodafone concerning this? Short of that forum post of theirs announcing this, everyone seems to be learning about these changes by word of mouth. Anyone?
  • Smiffy
    From their Twitter page: "As we've always reserved to charge for data I'm afraid you wouldn't be able to cancel agreement."
  • 3dtv
    Hopefully O2 won't jump on the "screw the customer" bandwagon. I still have 14 months left on my iPhone contract, and refuse to pay more than £35 a month for what is essentially a big boys toy.
  • flagpole
    for me the key term is this. 11biii You may end this agreement by writing to us if: we increase your charges in the UK which have the effect of increasing your total call and usage charges (based on your usage in the previous month) by more than 10% and you write to us before the increase applies; or.... simple. if you fall into that category you can leave. and keep your handset. i know this because on the previous occasions when voda have changed their terms mid contract
  • Smithdogg
    This is amazing news. I took out a 24 month contract in January, and it said NOWHERE in the terms and conditions that there would be a "fair" use policy. I go well over 500MB regularly, through use of Youtube, Spotify etc. Isn't that the whole point of a smartphone? I asked in the Vodaphone shop about it, only to be told by an extremely rude and condescending woman that 500MB a month is "Almost impossible" to use. Apparently she knows "lots of business users that use Blackberries all day, sending emails, and they go nowhere near the limit". Completely clueless...
  • MayContainNuts
    Whilst I totally disagree with Vodafone's handling/implementation of this change, the number of people complaining because they regularly smash their FAIR USAGE limits by 2 or 3 times every month sort of justifies Vodafone's reasoning behind why they need to remove this clause, doesn't it?
  • Smithdogg
    No, it doesn't. For me anyway, Vodafone gave NO indication that there would be a "fair" usage policy before I took the contract out. It was simply described as "unlimited" and no fair usage policy was mentioned in the T&C.
  • Mike P.
    I have just changed my data plan to an iphone data plan and was not told when doing this that it was capped at 1GB. Would this enable me to cancel the contract does anyone know
  • Onlineo
    What cocks. They are the only British mobile phone network yet they screw us more than anyone else. Makes me glad I left them for T-mobile in Febuary. As for that meat clever guy and his iPad, I suggest he change networks now!
  • The B.
    I've heard nowt from them but I'm kinda hoping that the T&C's will change, I've got a one month old Desire on an 18 month contract, I wouldn't mind flogging it and taking out another contract when the Nexus One comes around.
  • DC
    It is a half baked plan, introduced with no thought to their customers. The 500MB limit is looking antiquated. Vodafone customer service has deteriorated because the company has outsourced divisions and seem incapable of maintaining communication (ironically) between the different parts of the organisation. Customer Service is poor. Firmware updates appalling and other services have been scrapped without actually informing the customers that make use of them. Not a good way to keep or attract business!
  • IfYouCopyMyNameYouAreGayIsGay
    Que thousands of whinging kids bored of their mobiles, trying to use this as an excuse to get the latest toy. Quite clearly, they've always said your limit is 500mb but out of the kindness of their hearts if you go above that, they won't penalise you. But too many people obviously take the wee so they're not being so kind? Bleet.
  • Adam
    So when can we start trying to get out of our contracts?
  • Jim
    Vodafone CEOs email address - let him know your feelings... [email protected]
  • Ben
    So has anyone tried to end their contract yet? Anyone had any success?? This happened to me on Orange and i was able to keep the phone and switch to pay monthly on Voda. I go way over my 500mb limit so this is VERY BAD news for me!! As stated here would we be able to quote the T&C's and write to them effectively ending our contract? # Posted by flagpole | May 7th, 2010 at 12:35 pm for me the key term is this. 11biii You may end this agreement by writing to us if: we increase your charges in the UK which have the effect of increasing your total call and usage charges (based on your usage in the previous month) by more than 10% and you write to us before the increase applies; or…. simple. if you fall into that category you can leave. and keep your handset. i know this because on the previous occasions when voda have changed their terms mid contract
  • Fatal E.
    My contract with T-Mobile comes with no fair usage policy, as confirmed when I took it out. 500Mb is nothing, most companies will offer up to 4Gb. Offcom should have cut down on the "Unlimited" plans with "Fair usage policies" a long time ago. It's not fucking unlimited if there's a fucking limit!
  • Vodafone F.
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  • GMail U.
    @ Fatal Exception RE: "most companies will offer up to 4GB" Please tell me whose these companies are? I don't know any who offer 4GB although I know T-Mobile offer 3GB which I believe is the maximum FUP offered by any mobile co.
  • dunfyboy
    Good luck getting out of your contract just because they've changed their terms and conditions. Got nowhere with cunT-Mobile last year. As so many people stay with their provider even after they get shafted, the networks feel like they can treat their customers like shit.
  • Fatal E.
    @GMail User, I'm sure some used to say 4Gb....
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    [...] 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 [...]
  • duffman
    anyone had any luck getting out of their contract?
  • Jay
    Hi, i have just spoke to vodaphone regarding the matter, and this is what they said to me, Mckenly: How are you doing today? You: fine thank you, I understand you will be changing your data usage allowance from next month? And a 500Mb limit will be enforced. And therefore charge for data once over the 500 Mb limit. From my understanding i thought mobile internet was unlimited when i took out the contract as his was the main reason i took out the contract with vodaphone. As i have currently been exceeding the 500 Mb limited on a monthly bases, the new policy will effect my monthly bill quite considerably and therefore i would like to know if i can terminate my contract as you are changing your terms and conditions which i did not sign up for. As i need more then 500 Mb of data usage per month. Mckenly: is this your number 07901106793 You: hi, yes it is Mckenly: Okay.. Mckenly: I appreciate you contacting us about the data fair usage policy. Mckenly: Some good news Mckenly: we are not charging you if you exceed the data usage,... You: ok thats good news, will vodaphone be enforcing the 500 mb limit from next month? Mckenly: the 500 MB is the fair usage policy Mckenly: we won't charge you if your exceed You: ok thats great news, thanks for clearing that up
  • Ryan
    I download films etc, i've used about 6 gig this month same as last month, they never contact me and my bill stays the same :S.
  • Pablo
    You can get the charges dropped, read on... I've had an iPhone with Vodafone for about 3 months. The fair usage policy is for 1GB per month. I checked my latest bill yesterday and noticed there were 3 additional charges for £4.52 (plus VAT) with a description WAP 2.861MB. I called customer services to find out what these were about and was told they were for exceeding the fair use data policy. I explained that during my company/phone/tariff research I was told by a Vodafone sales rep I would be contacted if I regularly exceeded 1GB usage but not automatically charged. The sales person also told me that 1GB was a very high limit, that it would be hard to reach even with heavy internet usage. According to my bill I used 2.4GB of mobile browsing last month. Vodafone said they would cancel the additional charges on this occasion, but that I needed to watch my usage (by calling them) to stay within the 'limit'. BUT they also said that, "although not common knowledge yet, there are plans to remove the fair usage policy limit in the next couple of months and allow unlimited data usage". I asked them to confirm this would mean no additional charges for excessive data usage in the future and they said "correct".
  • ksmith
    i fucking hate vodafone, set of robbing gets
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  • bowcaps
    Vodafone have a FUP but if you are an old customer on an unlimited policy, you can use as much as you want and they do not email you or impose extra charges, benn god for 4GB each month since July for me. New customers beware though as my next door neighbour has been charged 3 months on the trot!
  • Shonkyboy
    I took out a new iPhone contract with tmobile - a week into the contract I find that my usage had been throttled and can no longer even browse the Internet after 4pm. I specified when taking out the contract very clearly that I did not want any restrictions to my Internet usage as being a web designer I use the web constantly. On no occasion was I informed of a fair usage policy and was told in plain English that I would not be capped. a week later after very light usage I get a fucking text telling me I have exceeded my fair usage policy and would now not be able to use data at peak times. These wankers who set this bullshit fair use policy should be hung
  • Kirk
    I am coming to the end of my contract, so I was ruled by the FUP... No longer. I have been charged for the past 2 months and each time I have called vodafone and informed them of the breach of contract and all the reasons why etc, 1 time the guy agredd that they were breaking the law and refunded everything they charged but said his boss wouldn't let him cancel the contract or give me a new phone for the remaining 3 months but would give me the best deal he could for improved web browsing (a poxy 750mb package was the highest they offered... That's only 250mb more and I figured that taking out anything new would put me under the new terms...) so I told them to can it and I would take the refund but wanted to speak to his boss, I was told I'd get a call back after 15:00 that day, never did. The second time I called, I had a great guy, nice bloke (it's only a job after all, may as well be polite)... Completely useless, he was adamant that a 500mb cap was in fact fair usage so I questioned him about the clause 27 and why I had never received anything informing me thta I was a tad on the high side so he sent me a text in broken English that tried to say you have gone over your fair usage policy of 500mb... This month I will use that as a second admission of guilt and I plan to ring through to head office, state that I wish to discuss a legal issue that I am considering bringing forth and see where it goes from there...
  • Faz
    @Kirk, do you mind replying and letting me know how it goes? I have a HD2 which is a bag of balls now considering it won't be getting Windows Mobile 7 (typical huh?). Plus I have gotten these auto-texts which state I have exceeded the fair usage policy. Only had them twice and didn't want to get charged so I turned off data connection on the phone.

What do you think?

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