Vodafone. They’re fuckers, aren’t they?
Right. A survey: hands up all of those of you with children. Quite a few, very good, well done: the equipment works. Now, hands up all those of you with children old enough to own a smartphone. Oh look, all the hands stay up (ha ha). Now, all those of you please with children who actually have a smartphone.
Oh look. Still quite a few of you.
Now, just for those last precious few of you, a warning: take their phones away. Right now. Walk into the bedroom, interrupt their important FaceTime, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram session in mid-flow. No explanation or excuse needed, just walk in, snatch, and walk out.
If your child walks out behind you demanding a reason, try this: "Dearest child, I love you more than I love life itself. I would walk into the deepest, hottest fires of Hell for you. I would take a bullet for you. If you were dying I would rip my own heart out and offer it up to the Gods for you. You are the light, you are the life, you are my soul and desire. Without you I am nothing. But no, you cannot spend £1,000 in data charges."
For yes, dear reader, the painful truth must be told, and that painful truth is that La Child, ‘gor bless ‘er cotton socks, has indeed racked up £1,000 of data charges with Vodafone.
Not that we knew about it until the money disappeared from our account. Not one text was delivered to my phone. Not one call from Vodafone to say ‘this is unusual expenditure, has someone stolen your phone?’. Not one email, or letter, or communication of any kind. There were three texts to La Child’s phone, but La Child in her infinite wisdom decided they were best ignored as otherwise daddy ‘might get a bit upset.’ Not that, on eventual inspection, they revealed much. Text one said ‘you’re getting close to your limit,’ the second said ‘you’ve reached your limit,’ and the third and final text said ‘you’ve spent £26’.
So here we are, two weeks later, with La Child having used up 24GB of data and Vodafone presenting us with a £1,000 bill.
Oh, we’ve had words with Vodafone of course. First we tried the ‘she’s an 11 year old child, for goodness’ sake,’ approach, to which Vodafone pointed out that (a) how were they supposed to know the phone was being used by an 11 year old child, (b) the account holder is old enough to spend the money if they want to, and (c) it’s the parent’s job to control the phone usage of the child. All good points. So then we suggested that perhaps, just perhaps, the number registered as they main account holder should be the number to which texts saying ‘you’re about to go over your limit,’ should be sent. Ah, but, said Vodafone, the texts are automated, and the system sends them to the phone that’s doing all the usage, nothing we can do.’ Less good point, I thought.
Finally, we said ‘hang on, surely, surely there’s a cap. Didn’t the EU recently require there to be a cap on mobile data?’ Vodafone’s response? ‘Ah, yes, well, you see, only on data roaming, not on domestic data.’
What an odd position we find ourselves in. La Child was on a 6GB data allowance for some £30 a month. Increasing that to £24GB costs a further £10. Use 24GB without paying that additional £10 and it costs you £1,000.
Let that sink in for a moment. £10 if you pay up front, £1,000 if you don’t.
A 100 fold increase for not paying up front? I’m not massively familiar with consumer goods and services legislation, but that sounds like a penalty to me, and my hazy knowledge of first year law suggests that penalties are unlawful.
But to be fair that's not the point. Vodafone’s argument would be that the contract is unambiguous – we signed a contract that said, quite clearly, that any usage above the allowance would incur ridiculous costs, and so we can hardly complain now when we’re presented a bill for just that. But Vodafone are aware, also to be fair, that the bulk of those who end up racking up these kind of costs are children. We’re not the only family with a child who had an ‘oh fuck’ moment and didn’t know what to do to fix it. So surely it’s incumbent on Vodafone to do what they can to prevent it happening in the first place .
Caps are an opt out service for data roaming now, because mobile phone providers have to do it. The EU requires it (and no, you cannot shout "Brexit!" on this one, we haven't left yet). On Vodafone they’re set at £50, so without physically opting out of the service, you cannot spend more than £50 abroad. Gone are the days of being bankrupted by roaming charges. Domestically, however, you can spend £1,000 or more, because caps are an opt-in service. How is that remotely logical? Unless of course Vodafone (other mobile providers are available, and every bit as evil) are just money grabbing bastards. Surely not? A corporate behemoth which is quite happy to allow people to rack up unreasonable and unexpected costs when it would cost them nothing, relatively speaking, to prevent it? Couldn't be, could it?
So, here’s my request. I’d like you to tell me if you’ve been hit by a bill, from Vodafone or anyone else, in relation to data allowance breaches. It could be you, it could be your children, doesn’t matter – I want to know. Because what Vodafone and other mobile phone providers currently do isn’t right, and I want to be armed with the information I need to force them at least to introduce opt-out caps on monthly data usage.
In the meantime, walk into your child’s bedroom, interrupt their important FaceTime, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram session in mid-flow, take the phone, and walk out. You’ll thank me later.