Between 21 October 2013 and 9 June 2014, PhonepayPlus received 79 complaints from consumers in relation to a service called 118 Helpdesk, (the “Service”), which was operated by the Level 2 provider Numbergrp Network Communications (Ireland) Limited (the “Level 2 provider”). The Service operated on the premium rate numbers 118 820 and 118 472, which had been allocated to the Level 2 provider by the Network operator Telecom 2 Limited, and was promoted using an interactive voice response (“IVR”). Consumers were either charged £2.50 per call plus £2.50 per minute (and Network charges) or £3.98 per call plus £2.50 per minute (and Network charges). The Service commenced operation in September 2013 and continues to operate.
The majority of complaints were received between January 2014 and February 2014. Complainants consistently stated that they were unaware of the cost of the Service and experienced bill shock. Monitoring of the Service also revealed concerns with its operation.
The Executive raised the following potential breaches of the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice (12th Edition) (the "Code"):
• Rule 2.3.1 – Fair and equitable treatment
• Rule 2.2.5 – Pricing prominence
• Rule 2.2.1(a) – Provision of information regarding a non-premium rate telephone number
The Tribunal upheld all of the breaches of the Code raised. The Level 2 provider’s revenue in relation to the Service was within the range of Band 3 (£250,000 - £499,999). The Tribunal considered the case to be serious and issued a formal reprimand; a fine of £60,000 (reduced from £100,000 due to mitigation); a requirement that the Level 2 provider remedy the breaches by amending the IVR to ensure that (i) consumers are made aware there is a fault on the number they are trying to reach, and that they may call 118xxx to obtain an alternative number, (ii) pricing is given immediately after recital of the premium rate number and (iii) a non-premium rate contact number is included within the IVR; a requirement that the Level 2 provider seek compliance advice for the Service within two weeks of the date of publication of this decision and thereafter implement that advice within two weeks (subject to any extension of time agreed with PhonepayPlus) to the satisfaction of PhonepayPlus; and a requirement that the Level 2 provider must refund all consumers who claim a refund, for the full amount spent by them on the Service, within 28 days of their claim, save where there is good cause to believe that such claims are not valid, and provide evidence to PhonepayPlus that such refunds have been made. Administrative charge recommendation: 100%.