Vodafone customers up in arms over price rise 'trap'

Mobile company puts charges up but refuses to let clients cancel contracts, in violation of its own terms

The mobile phone giant Vodafone has been accused of "blatant dishonesty" after blocking customers from legitimately quitting their contracts over price rises.

Anyone whose bills are likely to increase by more than 10 per cent when the company puts up its charges tomorrow is legally allowed to abandon their contract free of charge. But the network has been telling customers they are still bound to the agreement, and demanding payments of up to £500 for their release.

Millions of people could be trapped wrongly in contracts when charges for some calls go up by as much as 40 per cent. As Britain's second-largest mobile phone company, Vodafone has more than 18 million customers, 7.5 million of whom are on contracts.

Last week Ofcom, the telecommunications watchdog, launched its first full-scale inquiry into mobile charging in the UK, after discovering that more than 1.4 million people are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the service they receive.

Vodafone announced earlier this month that its minimum call charges would be going up by 25 per cent. As well as this, calls to 0871 numbers will rise 40 per cent to 35p a minute and 0870 numbers (used by many call centres) will be up 33 per cent to 20p.

But a detail in its terms and conditions should mean that some customers will be able to avoid the soaring costs of their agreement with no penalty. The contract states: "You may end this agreement immediately by writing to us ... if we increase call or other usage charges which have the effect of increasing your call or other usage charges by more than 10 per cent."

But when customers called last week with evidence that their bills would rise by more than 10 per cent they were told they were locked into the contract unless they paid a penalty and the remainder of their line rental – often £500 or more.

Anna Fielder, senior policy adviser at the National Consumer Council (NCC) said: "It is blatant dishonesty. Vodafone has raised bills more than 10 per cent in many cases, but is not being transparent.

"The majority of customers would never read the terms and conditions of their contract, but if customers are being refused when they would have rises of more than 10 per cent then Vodafone is in breach of contract."

Those who inquired about the price increases were also told that the charges were "just a few pennies" and "nothing substantial". But Ms Fielder warned people to examine their bills before resigning themselves to the extra cost.

"If you call a lot of 0870 numbers – which many people do now that more don't have landlines – this will affect you," she said.

Marc Gander of the Consumer Action Group said that Vodafone's behaviour is unacceptable. "Having exceeded its own limits, Vodafone has to allow people to leave," he said.

"There should be an open door to walk out of the contract undisputed, but that's clearly not the case and it's a disgrace."

Vodafone staff who stop users from leaving are also in breach of Ofcom's rules, which state that "companies are obliged to inform the consumer of the ability to terminate the contract without penalty if the proposed modification is not acceptable to the consumer".

Ofcom said that it had already received calls on the issue and would need to look at the specifics of any individual case. A spokeswoman for the communications watchdog warned that mobile companies could be penalised for such practices. "A breach of a general condition could result in a maximum penalty of 10 per cent of relevant turnover," she said. "Any customer who thinks they are affected by the problem should get in touch."

Vodafone maintains that few customers exceed their free minutes but would not say how many the price rise affected. But following inquiries by the IoS it said it would release customers whose bills increase by 10 per cent or more.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments