Vodafone, I just don’t trust you

Yesterday a long-running “difficulty” with Vodafone was finally resolved. Maybe. After more than a year, a refund cheque arrived. But thanks to Vodafone’s continued incompetence I may not be able to deposit that cheque.

The cheque is for the $9.89 credit remaining on my account when I stopped doing business with Vodafone in November 2008. That it took so long to get that money is a story in itself, and it’s told over the jump.

The stupidity, however, is that after all this hassle Vodafone has made out the cheque to “Stilgherrian Pty Ltd”, as if I’m a company.

How does any competent organisation do that? Especially when there was no “Pty Ltd” in my account details? Especially when I specifically requested in writing for the cheque to be made out to “Stilgherrian”?

Fortunately I’m known at my local Westpac bank branch, so maybe they’ll allow me to deposit the cheque. I’ll let you know how I go.

Other people have told me they’ve had trouble getting Vodafone to refund money too, and had to drop the magic words “Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman” before they saw any action. While in my case the figure was less than $10, if Vodafone is consistently failing to pay out credits then it would amount to a significant scam.

Not good enough, Vodafone. If you owe people money, you return it to them. Promptly. Without questions. And if it takes longer than a couple of weeks you apologise for the delay.

Stilgherrian vs Vodafone

Back in November 2008 I closed my account with Vodafone and moved to Virgin Mobile. After everything was settled, I was left with a credit of $9.89.

No big deal, I figured they’d send a refund in due course.

However Vodafone had other plans. Over the following months they continued to invoice me, charging me $2.20 each month for mailing me a paper bill and nothing else.

My credit declined from $9.89 to $7.69 to $5.49 to… well, into the red again.

I figured that at this point Vodafone would notice that it was a closed account and stop being so silly. Surely they have a system that notices this sort of thing?

Alas no.

In December 2009 I decided to get in touch. Since life’s too short to deal with telco call centres, I sent them a letter.

[G]iven that I ceased being a customer of yours in December 2008 [it was actually November, but I was working from memory], I reckon it’s probably time you caught up with that fact and stopped sending me bills at all.

I reckon your next communication should be to wipe out this tiny debt – given that there was actually a credit owed to me, and you were just billing me for sending me bills. Yeah?

Vodafone never replied.

Then last month, instead of a $2.20 charge for a paper bill, Vodafone invented something new. A $9.91 “account admin” fee.

WTF?

I was not impressed. I sent another letter.

It’s getting beyond a joke now. Not only have you continued to bill me after the account was closed for more than a year, not only have you ignored my letter of 30 December (copy attached), you’re now just making up charges!

“Account Admin” for $9.91?

Bollocks.

There was $9.89 owing me when we ceased doing business. I was going to let that slide but, now that I think about, why should you get away with incompetence?

Please reverse all charges you’ve claimed since we stopped doing business in December 2008 and send a cheque for the amount owed of $9.89 made out to “Stilgherrian”. I expect this to be done within 14 days.

Well, 12 days later I got an email. Buried in the masses of confusing text generated by Vodafone’s customer service system was this confusing message:

I have adjusted the paper bill charges that appeared on your closed account.

The balance is now $0.00 and you will not receive any further statements from Vodafone.

Please note we are unable to refund the amount that was once on the account as Finance Team have noted the account that the refund was not applicable as the Bank was authorised to reverse the payment to Vodafone.

Unimpressed, I replied by email:

This sentence … “Please note we are unable to refund the amount that was once on the account as Finance Team have noted the account that the refund was not applicable as the Bank was authorised to reverse the payment to Vodafone.” … makes no sense.

There was once an accidental payment which was indeed reversed, but that [is] not what I am talking about.

I refer to the amount of $9.89 credit on the account as at 20 December 2008. I do expect that to be paid.

I know it’s a small thing, but if this sort of activity happen[s] across many customers it soon adds up, and it’s not acceptable. If you owe someone money, you pay it. You don’t make waffly bureaucratic excuses about “Finance Team have noted the account that the refund was not applicable”. You fix your processes, apologise for the inconvenience, and return the money.

This should be a simple matter, surely?

Also, your standard email response form is rubbish. “Recently you requested personal assistance from our on-line support centre”? No, I did not.

When will your cheque be arriving?

The cheque arrived yesterday. Made out to “Stilgherrian Pty Ltd”. Arsehats.

17 Replies to “Vodafone, I just don’t trust you”

  1. I had a very similar problem. They owed me $20, I closed the account yet they held it open so they could leach the retro-fitted $2.20 account fee. The IVR is impenetrable because I don’t have an existing service with them so you have to punch buttons till you get somewhere.

    Eventually after several attempts, I got someone who said that they could only refund back to the credit card I had paid on, which was clearly a complete lie. They said it was law. Another lie.

    The credit card I had used had been replaced by the provider after they thought it had been skimmed (that was an adventure) and I gave them the old number. Predictably, it bounced and the said too bad. Oh, and that I owed them money for the account fee.

    I never got the money because they said they can’t send cheques (which they can, except they put the wrong name on it, as we’ve seen here).

    The situation is ridiculous partly because it costs Vodafone so much money per call, they may as well just give it back. At the very least, send me a pre-paid card charged with the money owed but no, they had a script and weren’t going to deviate from it.

    1. Hah. I requested they make payment by refunding the charge to the credit card from whence it came; and was told it was easier for them to send a cheque.

  2. I had the worst experience with VF last year. Out of the blue, a phone call demanding $1600 that second, or else I lose my phone. As a freelancer, I need my phone. I also have huge bills (which I pay) when I travel — so its not like I have had bad credit history. Turns out they had me on the wrong plan, received an avalanche of misinformation from their customer service team and despite threatening TIO and everything, I got nowhere. I was so angry at the time… I wrote it all out. Am happy to share with you, I have no idea what to do with it or how to progress with a complaint, it was so emotional/tiring/stupid. Was strong-armed into paying the $1600, lied to, transferred and 6 months later they agreed it was their stuff-up all along and then told me refund in 1 week, which turned into nearly 10 weeks.

  3. Also — when I asked for itemised charges or an invoice (or even a receipt) for the $1600 they couldn’t provide this as it was “pre-bill charges”. Surely this is illegal?!

  4. I had an issue with Vodafone last year; I ordered a 3G dongle, and was promised delivery in 2-5 working days.

    3 days later I sent them an email asking how the order was progressing; question was ignored, but I was told they’d “updated your address with the warehouse” and I’d have it within 48 hours.

    48 hours later, still no dongle, and by this time I was already on the holiday I’d wanted to use the dongle on, so I cancelled the order. I was told to expect a refund on my credit card in 5-10 days.

    Three weeks later, no refund. Called up, told that the usual processing time is 6 weeks.

    Eight weeks later, emailed again; said that if I can’t get at least an explanation of the delay I’ll be contacting the TIO. Response was “It’s strange that this hasn’t happened yet. Please check your account again”, and the ticket status was set to resolved.

    When I called vodafone two days later with a TIO case number, I had a cheque issued on the spot (although it did take 3ish days longer to reach me than they said it would).

  5. Thank you for these stories, folks. It does seem to be a consistent problem with Vodafone. Certainly the “We can’t send a cheque” excuse is pure bullshit, as is having to pay money by processing a return on a specific credit card. That’s just a demonstration that they’re not making an effort. I’d even be tempted to say it looks like they’re not acting in good faith.

    I deliberately do not escalate to the TIO. Telcos, or any other businesses for that matter, should be able to behave like responsible grown-ups without invoking the name of the Ombudsman or a regulator. Again, that they magically find a way of complying when the name is invoked is a sign of bad faith.

  6. My experience of dropping Optus late last year for home phone and internet was better but still involved some voodoo 101.

    I received final bills showing credit to me. I naively took them to the Post Office, where I was told, “We only take money, we cannot give it out.” I need to contact the telco to send me a check, I was informed. Of course the process for getting my money was clearly described on the final bill. Not. Well, the bill did state that you can go to the Post Office to Pay, so…

    Anyway, I called Optus.

    Typical IVR maze description excluded.

    I had always paid via BPay and was informed that had I had a credit card set up for auto payment, they would have placed the amount there directly. This is an untested claim, of course.

    I was then asked for all my details – details that are already on their system – to have cheques sent to me (yes, two cheques – one home phone and one internet account – for what was a bundle deal).

    The cheques arrived within the week.

  7. Ah Vodafone! I had a problem with them myself last year but after blogging about it and crowing on Twitter, they actually contacted me, sorted it out AND gave me some free shit. So kudos to them. But this? This is REALLY unacceptable.

  8. And that’s just ignoring the fact that Vodafone doesn’t actually provide much of a phone service. I’m sick of the phone cutting out. I lose every second call – IN MELBOURNE. And I’m not alone in that.

  9. @Jeremy: While it’s been over a year since I used Vodafone, I must admit I found their network quality to be substantially better than the #badoptus network I’m currently enduring with Virgin Mobile. Still, I’m in Sydney not Melbourne.

  10. My friendly local branch of the Westpac bank were happy to accept the cheque made out to “Stilgherrian Pty Ltd”, and agreed that if it were dodgy then $9.89 was hardly Crime of the Century. This is what personal service and personal connections are for.

  11. The TIO requires you to try to resolve the issue with the telco in the first instance.

    Now, we all know that telcos do not want to make it easy for you to get your money back from them when you quit their service (Telstra being the good exception — it routinely issues a cheque some months after the service is cancelled. Not as good as an immediate cheque, but not too bad, either, considering you don’t have to do anything.)

    The key is to make contact with the telco, and make a very clear and detailed request, enabling them to action your request if they have the will to do so. It’s great to do it by email — and Vodafone does actually have an email customer service facility even though it doesn’t really advertise it. It’s at http://vodafone.custhelp.com/app/ask. Upload your info along with your account number and enquiry PIN (provided you feel comfortable doing that — but they do include a form field for it) and a copy of your bill in the file attachments field.

    When they invariably fail to respond within their 10 day stated period, you can lodge your complaint with the TIO, which will achieve a speedy resolution, and will cost the telco money in service fees to the TIO.

    Hooray for regulatory bodies.

  12. @Dan Warne: Useful advice for anyone having telco problems, thank you.

    Of course this whole story is a year old, and my personal care factor is now nil. This episode showed that Vodafone was, in my opinion, dodgy. They responded to written requests with pseudo-bureaucratic excuses for why they wouldn’t give me my money. Then when they eventually caved in they still got it wrong. The news this year about the security lapses and network failures makes it even less likely that I’d ever consider doing business with them again.

  13. Oh indeed Stilgherrian — but _I_ am going through the trying-to-get-a-refund-from-vodafone process at the moment, so it’s of interest to me 😉

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