Thursday, 29 October 2009

Unlimited Web Use and other lies by Vodafone and Mobile Phones Direct

Having been lied to by Orange, regarding the removal of a cap on my broadband connection if I took out a mobile phone contract (see: The future is Orange - unfortunately), I managed to get the contract annulled by contacting OfCom and CISAS.

I then found a contract with Vodafone via a company called Mobile Phones Direct. The contract was £34.25 per month for 24 months with a Nokia N97 and included 700 cross network minutes, 250 text messages and unlimited web use - I asked both Mobile Phones Direct for a copy of the contract in writing to verify the plan but neither company provided anything.

When the phone arrived it was in a sealed box which stated that it could only be returned within seven days if the seal on the box was not broken. I actually pondered for a while before I eventually did so.

From the moment I started to try to use the phone there were problems. There was rarely a good signal, incoming calls would disconnect as soon as I tried to answer them and the phone would not start up. There was actually a vast catalogue of problems which I (and many other people) posted on the Vodafone and Nokia website forums including there being no means of getting Music onto the phone from a Mac (the Nokia Multimedia Transfer application for Mac was not compatible with Nokia's flagship phone!).

Within the first couple of days I had a courtesy call from Vodafone (which was barely audible due to a whistling sound) during which I said I was having a lot of problems with the phone. I understood from the Vodaphone representative that I had a week to return the phone - but having read that firmware updates cured most (if not all) of the issues I was facing, I decided to wait until new firmware was issued for the product code of my N97.

I also discovered that 'unlimited web use' was subject to a 'fair use' policy which actually meant that it was limited to 500Mb per month. Given that the phone is touted as being a multimedia platform with built in YouTube application, 500Mb would be extremely limited!

The next couple of weeks was a procession of problems during which time I contacted both Mobile Phones Direct and Vodafone - each referring me back to the other and both telling me that I could no longer return the phone as it was no longer within seven days of its receipt.

The phone had to be returned to factory settings (a complete reset) on three occasions - losing all data (phone numbers, photos etc.) and I was becoming extremely concerned that I neither company would offer me support for a phone which worked less than half of the time it was switched on.

At one point, I had a call from Vodafone but it was only for a customer survey. I was brutally honest. A few days later, I had a call from a customer services at Vodafone asking why I was so unhappy. I explained all but was offered no solution. I said I just wanted to return the phone but was told that that was not possible after seven days.

Eventually, Mobile Phones Direct offered to replace the phone but by this time I was sick to death of the phone, the contract, Mobile Phones Direct and Vodafone. I said I wanted to return the phone and end the contract as I did not feel that either company had been honest with me or offered me anything approaching a reasonable level of support. I was told that that was not possible as I had now gone beyond the 28 days during which the phone could have been returned. This enraged me because I had already been told that:

a) The phone could not be returned if the seal on the box was broken
b) The phone could only be returned within seven days (by both Vodafone and Mobile Phones Direct)
c) That the phone could only be returned within 14 days (by Vodafone)
I decided that the only thing to do was return the phone to Mobile Phones Direct, cancel my direct debit and pursue the battle from the other side of the line if either company wanted to take issue with me.

Mobile Phones Direct then returned the phone but I refused to accept it. It bounced its way back and forth from them to me until it finally rested at their premises in Southampton.

I then received a bill from Vodafone stating that they had charged me £704.37 for cancelling the contract early:

I went away for a couple of weeks and came back to another bill. This time for £1,410.24:

I phoned Vodafone to discuss this and they admitted that they had charged me twice for the alleged 'early cancellation of the contract' - although, in reality, the contract was not honoured or even valid if the terms were ambiguous.

I stated quite adamantly that I believed that Vodafone and Mobile Phones Direct had been less than honest in their promotion of the contract and had been totalally dishonest regarding the terms and conditions insofar as the period during which the phone could be returned. I stated that during the month I had been in possession of the phone I had been able to use the phone in its most fundamental capacity (i.e. merely to make phone calls and send text messages) about half of the time and I was only prepared to pay half a month's line rental.

Since then, Vodafone have set the dogs on me. I have been hounded by phone calls from a debt collection agency called capQuest who now seek to recover a total of £1,510.24:

I had, perhaps naively, believed that Vodafone and/or Mobile Phones Direct would accept that they had acted less than honestly and fell woefully short in their customer support and would write this off as a lesson in how not to try to deceive customers and how not to neglect to provide an adequate level of support.

The next step will be to contact OfCom and CISAS once more. Dealing with any company who make offers they cannot or will not honour is an increasingly hazardous pursuit - but Vodafone and Mobile Phones Direct have proven themselves to be exemplars of mendacity!

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