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Ofcom Hit BT UK with £245K Fine for Overcharging on 118 Calls

Thursday, March 12th, 2020 (10:44 am) - Score 1,270
bt broadband logo 2019 official

Last year’s confession by BT that they had failed to immediately apply Ofcom’s new price cap on UK calls to 118 numbers (Directory Enquiries) until June 2019 (here), which resulted in several thousand of EE’s mobile customers being overcharged, has resulted in the operator being fined £245,000.

Today the popularity of the internet means that only a few people still use 118 numbers. Nevertheless Ofcom last year noted that some operators of such services were charging as much as £20 for a 90 second call and so they decided to take action. The regulator capped the maximum cost that a 118 service can charge at £3.65 per 90 seconds and this was enforced from 1st April 2019 (here).

However it wasn’t long before BT informed Ofcom that “it did not apply this cap to calls made by a number of its EE customers to 118 numbers until mid-April 2019” (here), although today’s announcement found that almost 6,000 customers were affected between a wider three month period from 1st April and 26th June 2019. The overcharge itself amounted to a total of £42,000.

The good news is that BT were able to correct most bills before EE customers paid them, which meant that only around £10,000 of the total amount overcharged was actually paid by their subscribers. All customers have since been refunded.

Ofcom Statement

BT’s failure to implement the 118 price cap was a serious breach of our rules, particularly taking into account the potentially vulnerable people that use directory enquiry services. So we have imposed a penalty of £245,000 on BT. The penalty includes a 30% discount in recognition that BT admitted its failings by agreeing to settle the case.

An EE Spokesperson said:

“We apologise for any inconvenience that this mistake caused to a very small number of our customers. Customers that were affected were overcharged by less than £5 on average and we quickly contacted and refunded every one of them. We have taken this very seriously and have reviewed and updated our procedures to ensure it does not happen again.”

The money raised from the fine, which must be paid to Ofcom within 20 working days, will be passed on to HM Treasury.

UPDATE 11:52am

Updated to add EE’s statement.

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

    A simple error perhaps, but symptomatic of a company that is utterly bogged down with process bureaucracy. For many people especially in rural areas, BT remains an effective monopoly both for fixed line and mobile, while this situation remains BT management has little incentive to improve.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Many companies have had the opportunity to build in rural areas, why have they not taken it up?

    2. Avatar Guy Cashmore says:

      Because having two separate rural networks is rarely going to be economic, but this isn’t a valid excuse for BT to do the job badly.

    3. Avatar TheFacts says:

      A new provider doing FTTP would sweep up the customers in the area surely?

    4. Avatar James Band says:

      1. Agreed. Openreach should be totally separate from BT to avoid conflict of interests. There should be no monopolies in rural areas, but a free market where all ISPs can offer services, and there should be a priority to turn these areas FTTP. Charging the FTTC price for 30Mbps broadband to people’s homes which can only get 1Mbps on copper is extremely wrong.

      2. The fine for such overcharges by anyone should be much much higher to make sure these unscrupulous activities are deterred. BT, Vodafone, TalkTalk etc are all guilty of this. The regulator should charge these companies at least something like £10,000 per customer or £1 million per incident, whichever is greater. In this case, 6,000 customers being effected should have led to a £60 million fine. You will find such overcharges and practices swiftly end by all these characters then.

      3. The train companies should be fined by the regulator £10,000 per late train and customers entitled to delay repay for a journey delayed by more than 5 minutes, not the current 15.

    5. Avatar 125us says:

      Your solutions wouldn’t work David. They all contain perverse incentives, which is why regulators think long and hard about this stuff.

      If operators couldn’t charge a reasonable price on rural broadband they would simply stop selling it entirely. It already costs far more to deliver service rurally, more than the retail price. If ISPs could only charge a fraction of the price to customers with slow connections, no-one will sell broadband to rural customers. Who is helped then?

  2. Avatar Connor says:

    118 calls should replaced free of charge instead

    1. Avatar Matt says:

      And who pays for the people at the other end to answer those calls and provide that information?

    2. Avatar CarlT says:

      Okay Phil.

    3. Avatar dave says:

      Everything should be “free”. Praise Corbyn!

  3. Avatar AJT says:

    I’m not saying it should me free, but by crikey bt aren’t the villains in this story. Ever since we moved from 192 services to 118,the service has been a con. As I see it, the biggest scammers in charging people for such calls is one particular company whose name I won’t mention except to say its number ends in 118.

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