Letter to my MP regarding excessive 'Roam Like Home' mobile charges

Hi Anneliese

I live in East Oxford and have raised an issue with OFCOM that I am also now raising with you.

I have a contract with VIRGIN MOBILE for my daughter’s mobile phone. Her number is ..... As you know, mobile use abroad is now subject to an EU ‘roam like home’ policy. The phone can be used just as at home, with no additional charge. However there is a ‘fair use’ policy which says that the service provider can make a small additional charge for data use once a reasonable cap set by the service provider has been exceeded. The EU regulation says that the service provider can charge 7.70 Euro plus VAT for each extra GB once the data cap has been exceeded.

Now, Virgin have said on the phone, twice (two entirely independent calls about different phones), that this EU fair use policy re using mobiles abroad allows them to charge E7.70 per GB *PER DAY* plus VAT once the cap is exceed. This is very clearly their charging policy.

That is surely not a ‘small' charge. So for example, if my daughter exceeds her data cap (5.63GB) abroad then on each subsequent day, if she uses, say, just 0.1GB on that day, she will be charged 7.70 Euros plus VAT for that day, and then another 7.70 Euros plus VAT for similar use the next day, and so on. So, over ten days, Virgin will charge her an additional 77.00 Euros plus VAT (except they have a cap of £42 for additional charges, so it would be £42), rather just the small charge of 7.70 Euros plus VAT for that total of 1 GB of extra data she used over the cap.

That is £42 charged by Virgin for 1GB of data.

Now the wording of the EU regulation is unclear whether the 7.70 Euro charge applies PER DAY, but it seems very clear to me that the intended reading is that not more than 7.70 Euro PER MONTH (i.e. of the monthly contract) should be charged, as it clearly says the additional charge should be ‘small’ (an additional charge which amounts to adding £42 to her existing monthly tariff of £22 for just a single GB of data is surely not ’small’). In which case, Virgin are exploiting an ambiguity in the wording of this EU regulation in order to rip off their customers - probably very many thousands of customers each year.

Virgin also said on the phone that my daughter would NOT be alerted when she exceed the data cap - contrary to what the EU reg explicitly requires of them (again see the reg below).

I phoned OFCOM about this. However I was told that the EU reg was indeed ambiguous, and that it is open to Virgin to interpret it that way. I asked whether they had a responsibility to clarify what the EU reg actually was, and to prevent Virgin ripping off their customers by means of a loophole, and they said that this was their job, but that I would not hear from them whether or not they would do anything about the issue.

The person I spoke to at OFCOM just said my complaint would be passed on to certain higher individuals in OFCOM who might or might not act on it. This is frustrating given that Virgin are pretty clearly exploiting their customers and OFCOM are the body responsible for ensuring this sort of exploitation does not happen. It would be good to get some more transparency on what OFCOM are actually going to do regarding this issue, if indeed they are going to do anything.

I am writing to you because it seems to me that as a former MEP and now MP you are particularly well-placed to clarify what the EU regs re ‘Roam like Home’ mobile use actually are, and to ensure that OFCOM do their job both when it comes to clarifying and enforcing those EU regs and also in terms of protecting UK customers from being ripped off.

BTW, My guess is that if Virgin are exploiting this unintended ambiguity in EU regulations, then so are many other service providers. In which case, this amounts to a major mobile phone scandal.

Very best wishes
Stephen Law