Between 5 June 2013 and 3 January 2014, PhonepayPlus received 67 complaints from consumers in relation to an entertainment question and answer service, which operated under the brand name “Ask Bongo” (the “Service”). The Service was operated by the Level 2 provider Bongo Operations Pty Ltd on the premium rate shortcodes 66668 and 85852. Consumers were charged £2.50 per SMS message sent to the Service. The Level 1 provider was OpenMarket Limited. The Service commenced in February 2008 and is currently operational.
The Service was promoted using a variety of methods, including, television advertising, at live events, the Service website and social media websites. Consumers engaged with the Service by sending a question to the Service shortcode and in response they would receive an answer to the question.
The majority of complaints were made by parents on behalf of their children. The parents reported that the children had engaged with the Service but had not realised that they would incur premium rate charges.
The Executive raised the following potential breach of the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice (12th Edition) (the "Code"):
- Rule 2.2.5 – Pricing prominence and proximity
The Tribunal upheld the breach of the Code. The Level 2 provider’s relevant revenue in relation to the Service was within the range of Band 1 (£500,000+). The Tribunal considered the case to be significant and issued a formal reprimand, a fine of £70,000 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.