Last weekend, I went to Dublin, and had the foresight (for the first time in my life, I should add) to give some thought to the cost of using my mobile phone while I was there – as I knew that I'd have to make and receive a few calls.
As Ireland is in the European Union – and as close to Britain as you can get – I was expecting the cost to be pretty reasonable – not least because, last year, the EU finally put a cap on call charges for all European phone companies, meaning that they shouldn't charge you more than about 35p a minute for making a call in Europe, and about 18p a minute for receiving a call. Both charges are much more reasonable than the £1-a-minute rip-off we used to be subjected to.
Nevertheless, given that I've been stung so many times already with exorbitant international call charges by Vodafone, I thought I'd better check.
Sadly, my cynicism was justified. After a quick surf around the Vodafone website, I discovered that the new EU rules did not seem to apply to my tariff. Having got me voluntarily to sign up to a special European call package (known as Passport) when I signed my last contract, it seemed that they could charge what they wanted.
I should stress that Passport is not all bad news. The idea is that when you make a call back to home, it'll cost you a flat fee of 75p, after which you'll simply be charged as if you were back in the UK. However, the flip side is that you still get charged an extortionate one-off fee of 75p for receiving calls.
As I was only going to be making and taking a number of very short calls on my trip – one or two minutes each – I realised that I was going to end up racking up a big bill as a result of being signed up to Passport, so I called Vodafone and asked to be taken off it.
Conveniently, however, the customer service rep told me that as I was on an old tariff, it was impossible simply to remove Passport from my account. Either I needed to sign up to a new deal – which I had no intention of doing – or live with paying 75p for every call, regardless of how long I stayed on the phone.
What particularly grates is that when Passport was first introduced, Vodafone customers didn't become a part of it unless they actively asked to be. Back then, before the EU's new price caps, it offered much better value. However, as soon as the regulators unveiled plans for their clampdown on prices, Vodafone began rolling Passport into all of their standard contracts.
I was there when my wife signed up with Vodafone six months ago, and the salesman boasted that Passport would save her money on calls in Europe. Unsurprisingly, he didn't say that it could also cost her much more for short calls.
Ideally, Passport should be an option that you can turn on or off, depending on how you're going to be using your phone. As it stands, it's in direct contravention of the principles behind the new EU rules.
The EU is currently also looking at cracking down on extortionate costs for texts – did you know that it can now be cheaper to make a short call than to send two texts to someone when you're abroad?
I hope that the watchdogs in Brussels find some time to take another look at how their call-charge rules are being implemented. Vodafone has not been playing fair.