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Major Billing Blunder Strikes Vodafone UK’s Roaming Users

Monday, October 14th, 2019 (1:37 pm) - Score 1,418

Mobile operator Vodafone UK has apologised after a significant blunder meant that customers of its network, including those busy roaming around Europe, were hit by incorrect bills of up to several thousand pounds over the weekend due to a “technical error” (translation – botched customer database update).

Normally customers should be able to “Roam Like At Home” around Europe, which means that roaming generally won’t attract extra charges, although there are some caveats for mobile broadband / data usage via 3G, 4G and 5G. Despite this some customers were shocked to find that they had run up mystery bills, which in a few cases reached nearly £9,000 and in other cases resulted in their service being completely suspended.

Needless to say that you can find plenty of gripes on Vodafone’s Community Forum, where people complain about absurd situations like receiving a bill of “£2151.50 for using 0.32MB of data,” being unable to get through via the operator’s support line for 3-4 hours (no doubt they were a bit busy!) and running up a high bill despite having data caps enabled on their account(s). Twitter is similarly chocked full of such gripes.

We should point out that this didn’t just affect customers roaming in Europe, but also other countries like the USA. Likewise it doesn’t seem to matter if you had a special paid roaming add-on (e.g. Global Plus) to cover the charges.

A Selection of Complaints – Short Summary

Sample 1: “Had a text saying I’d spent more than usual… Checked and have a bill for £3772!!! My heart sank when I saw it. ”

Sample 2: “Hi. I have just had my dad message to say his data is £5800.”

Sample 3: “The same has happened to me today. £533 charge. I’ve got data caps on.”

Sample 4: “On holiday in Spain and suddenly £182 data charge has been applied to my account for using less than 1Gb of a 30Gb allowance. Been on hold for customer services for over 90 minutes.”

The good news is that this occurred as a result of an error and Vodafone has pledged NOT to charge those affected (how kind), although they admit that it might take awhile to clear the backlog of problems. Related customers have also been told to restart their phones, particularly if they’re still suffering from a service block.

Vodafone Statement

“We’re really sorry that some customers’ voice & data have been impacted whilst roaming. We are proactively checking accounts and fixing any issues. You will not be charged for any incorrect amounts. This may take some time but we’re working to fix it as quickly as we can.”

Apparently the problem was caused by an upgrade to Vodafone’s customer account database, which clearly didn’t go quite as they intended. Ofcom will no doubt end up examining the situation as the rules require operators to notify the regulator of such serious blunders, which can end up resulting in heavy fines.

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar Guy Cashmore says:

    This highlights some of the utterly ridiculous ‘list price’ charges for data while roaming, normally these are overridden by packages, bundles and offers, but where these don’t apply charges of up to £7.20 per MB are still entirely possible. Time that OFCOM dealt with these issues.


    1. Avatar CarlT says:

      It highlights billing system failure.

      From Vodafone’s website:

      ‘There are 48 Roam-free destinations [PDF: 668KB] where you can use your UK plan at no extra cost, and 104 Roam-further destinations [PDF: 810KB] where you’ll pay just £6 a day, and only on the days you use your phone (receiving a call or a text will not trigger the daily charge).

      If your intended destination isn’t listed or you require further details, please see our Travelling Abroad page.’

      It’s a billing system issue.

      Outside of those destinations unless you’re suggesting Ofcom can tell other nations what their mobile companies may and may not charge ours there’s not much that can be done.


  2. Avatar Christopher Smith says:

    Doesn’t anybody do any testing of system changes *before* applying to live systems any more???

    1. Avatar spurple says:

      If it were simply a matter of testing, it would be good as solved.

      There are some kinds of issue that only live testing can uncover (and then you can use those lessons to figure out how to catch them sooner next time). This is partly why some distribution systems don’t roll out changes to 100% of users at once but use small, exponentially increasing pool sizes.

      Example, roll out to 1,000 users for a day, monitor. If no major issues, double the number and repeat. If by the time you get to day 10 you’ve not had any major issues crop up, then you can flip the switch for everyone as the risk of uncovering something here is lower.

      It requires careful system design to have this kind of ability though.

  3. Avatar lawrence older says:

    I was caught up in this error. Was told everything was corrected. Then Vodafone took £3.5k from my account via direct debit! Utterly inept

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