By Tom Tuite
Phone company Eircom has been fined €10,500 after it admitted overcharging customers.
Eircom Ltd, trading as Eir, pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court today to offences under the Communications Regulation Act 2002. The prosecution was in connection with complaints by five people who went to industry watchdog ComReg after Eircom’s customer service teams failed to resolve their problems.
Cavan pensioner Irene McHugh, who attended the hearing, was an existing customer who had been cold-called by an Eircom sales agent last year and agreed to a fibre optic broadband plan for €65 a month.
ComReg compliance analyst Una Milton agreed with prosecution counsel Ronan Kennedy that a verbal contract was entered into but a day later she had second thoughts.
She was concerned the payments were difficult to make and made a number of calls to cancel. She ended up paying two bills, her old account which she believed was cancelled and the new account.
Ms Milton agreed with Mr Kennedy that the pensioner felt like it was “talking to a brick wall” when she dealt with the Eircom's helplines.
She ended up getting disconnected and left without a service for two weeks. The court heard that she had a personal alarm on her wrist and would not have been able to contact anyone in an emergency. The court heard she was overcharged by €148 but has since been refunded by Eircom.
The court heard that another woman, who had moved from Belfast to the Glenties in Co. Donegal, had opted for a landline and mobile broadband service which did not work. She was overcharged €592 and cancelled her direct debit payments after which she got disconnected.
Ms Milton agreed that the woman was upset and in an emergency she would not have been able to contact anyone.
The third customer was overcharged by €205, told she would have to pay an early cease charge of €450 and had a debt collection agency contact her.
The fourth complainant was overcharged by €31 after she changed her package and the fifth complainant had been overcharged by €149 after a discount was not implemented, Judge John Brennan heard.
The court was told that the company had two prior convictions for similar offences. It was fined €21,000 in 2015 and €16,500 in March this year.
Refunds were granted after the customers made complaints to ComReg.
Defence counsel Joe Jeffers asked the court to note Eircom had refunded them and had co-operated with the investigation. He said the company has put in place new ways of dealing with customer issues. This has seen complaints drop from 1,000 to 300 a month, he said.
The court heard human error as well as system errors were responsible for the overcharging of the customers. He also issued an apology on behalf of the company which had agreed to pay prosecution costs.
Judge Brennan said it was clear the measures taken after the 2015 case were not sufficient and he noted the distress caused. However, he accepted what the court had been told about the new system put in place to improve customer service.