TDR044739 – multiple plans and phones

Not upheld

Jurisdiction decision

This is within jurisdiction and the complaint can be accepted for mediation/adjudication. Although the customer has accepted the goodwill payments he remains unhappy. Therefore, the issue is one of customer service. It is also understood [Scheme Member] wants this to be forwarded on to an adjudicator.

TDR has received a complaint from [CUSTOMER] against [Scheme Member].  The complaint is multifaceted, but centres around charges raised for a mobile phone service, the accuracy of billing, and whether [Scheme Member] had an obligation to advise that once mobile handsets had been paid off, that the underlying phone service could be cancelled.

Background

The relevant background in this case is extensive, however I will attempt to summarise the key background in summary.

[CUSTOMER] has been a customer of [Scheme Member] since 10 June 2018.

Over the course of time, [CUSTOMER] purchased three mobile handsets using a ‘repayment plan’ or RP.  That allowed the handset to be purchased and paid off over the course of an agreed period.

Each handset had an accompanying plan for mobile services allocated the handset.  As it relates to the RP’s, the respective handset, end date, and last three digits of the plan phone number are as follows:

  • Samsung Galaxy S9 plus – RP ending 10 June 2021, Phone number ending [REDACTED].
  • iPhone XS – RP ending 18 December 2020, phone number ending [REDACTED].
  • iPhone 11 –RP ending 8 August 2022, phone number ending [REDACTED].

Once the RP for the Samsung Galaxy and iPhone XS came to an end (when the phone was paid off), the payments for the handset ended, but the underlying phone account continued.  [CUSTOMER]’s position is that [Scheme Member] should have either cancelled the underlying account, or alternately made efforts to raise with the Customer that they could cancel the underlying account if they so wished.

On 17 July 2021 [CUSTOMER] emailed [Scheme Member] disputing ongoing charged on the basis that once the RP had ended, the plan should have been cancelled.  [CUSTOMER] stated “please do not give me [EXPLETIVE DELETED] reason that i didn’t stop the plan on sim. that is not my job. it should have been stopped automatically by itseld”

On 18 July 2021 [CUSTOMER] contacted the [Scheme Member] call centre, where he spoke with [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1].  I have listened to the call recording (some 51 minutes long).  I summarise the call as follows:

  1. [CUSTOMER] advised that he would not be paying the current account charges of $250.00.
  2. [CUSTOMER] considered the plan should have been cancelled once the phone had been paid off.
  3. [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advised that if [CUSTOMER] was wanting to cancel any of the plans, he needed to request the plan be cancelled, [Scheme Member] did not proactively contact customers about cancellation.
  4. [CUSTOMER] stated he believed this was a ‘marketing plan’ to ‘scam’ money from the customers.  [CUSTOMER] believed the plan would have been cancelled immediately once the phone had been paid off.
  5. [CUSTOMER] asked to be transferred to the complaint department, with [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advising that department was closed at that time (given when the call was made), but [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advised he would transfer his details to that department to follow up.
  6. [CUSTOMER] asked that “all my plans” be cancelled, but then clarified that he was referring only to the two phones that he had paid off.  The [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advised that the account with the number ending 382 still had a phone being paid off.  [CUSTOMER] requested the plan for 181 be changed to a $40 per month plan.
  7. [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advised that [CUSTOMER] would be charged for the portion of the month that he had used the service for under the 181 account, prior to the change taking effect.
  8. In relating to the number ending 382, [CUSTOMER] requested that this plan also be converted to the $40 plan. There was then further discussion about converting this to a pre-pay plan, but with sharing of data with another plan.
  9. [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] confirmed that 181 be set up on pre-pay with data sharing with 382, but there would be additional charges for calls and texts, and the total costs would be $182 per month.  [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advised the main plan needed be on a $60 plan, and the secondary plan could be on a $30 plan.
  10. [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advised that phone numbers cannot be moved between accounts.
  11. At 23.00 minutes into the call, [CUSTOMER] put to [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] that on what was agreed, the charges would be $130 per month moving forward.  [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advised that the charges would be $40 plus $92.50, therefore [CUSTOMER] confirmed the charges would be $132.50, and [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] agreed that was the case.
  12. At 24 minutes, [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] confirmed that [CUSTOMER] wanted to completely cancel the number ending 557, convert the number ending 382 to $40 plan per month (allowing for free sharing of data with the 181 number) “which would come down to 132.50”, pay off the outstanding amount on the phone, and transfer the number ending 181 to prepay.
  13. Around 30 minutes into the call, [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advised that he would need to transfer the call to the ‘cancellation team’ to process the requested account cancellation.  [CUSTOMER] declined to have the call transferred but asked that the request be sent to the cancellation team and he would deal with that by email from there on. [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] then contacted the cancellation team (having put [CUSTOMER] on hold) and confirmed that they could finalise the cancellation by email and confirmed the cancellation would only take place after [CUSTOMER] responded confirming to the cancellation team that is what he wanted, and that they would only cancel the plan then.  [CUSTOMER] responded that he understood that.
  14. At 38 minutes into the call, in relation to the charges for the 557 number, because there was usage that would be showing on the next account, [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] offered to credit $55 to the account, however [CUSTOMER] advised he would not accept that, and he would only accept a bill of $132.50 for this bill and any upcoming bill.  [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] then went to check with a manager (not recorded on the recording).
  15. At 48 minutes into the call, [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] responded to offer an $80 credit and advised that if [CUSTOMER] wanted to only pay $132, then he would need to explain why that was the case to [Scheme Member] which would then consider that request.  [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] advised he would raise a request to the complaints team, but otherwise [CUSTOMER] did not accept that settlement offer from [CUSTOMER].  [CUSTOMER] requested that the matter be referred to the complaints department.  For the avoidance of doubt, [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] did not indicate to [CUSTOMER] he only needed to pay $132 per month for his services and RP.

[Scheme Member] followed up with [CUSTOMER], with the following email:

Sent: Jul 18, 2021 1:02:28 PM
From: [Scheme Member]

To: [REDACTED]Subject: Mobile account

Hi [CUSTOMER],
Thank you for your time for calling us today.

As per your request, we are sending this email to confirm your request regarding your mobile account. Please check the following:

[REDACTED]This number will be on a $40 pay monthly plan (this has been actioned)
The plan will give you Unlimited calls and texts (NZ and AUS), and 4GB of data every month
The iPhone 11 Pro Max 256GB Silver is attached on this number and monthly instalment would be $92.50

[REDACTED] As per your request, we will be cancelling/disconnecting this number. Here are the terms for disconnection of the number:

Disconnection / Cancelling will result in:

• losing the mobile number
• losing all the minutes, text and data allocations
• a full month charge for the current billing cycle you're in (10/07/2021 – 09/08/2021)

[REDACTED]As per your request, we will be moving this number to prepay. Here are the cancellation terms:

Moving to a Prepay account will result in:
• losing all the minutes, text and data allocations and having to top-up the number once every 365 days of $20 to keep the number active which you can do here
• a part-charge for the current billing cycle you're in as [Scheme Member] charges in arrears and not in advance

Please confirm that understood and agree with the terms and conditions before we can process the cancellation.

Lastly, you would like to setup the data sharing from [REDACTED] to [REDACTED].
We will respond to your query as soon as possible once we have received your reply, however if your query is urgent, please call us on 0800 022 022. We’re open 7 days, 8am – 10pm.

Kind regards,
[Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 2].
Customer Management Team

[Scheme Member] report not receiving any confirmation response from [CUSTOMER] to this email, therefore the changes requested as it relates to the disconnection were not actioned.

On 19 July 2021 a [Scheme Member] manager, [Scheme Member] MANAGER], called [CUSTOMER].  I have listened to that call recording which lasting 4:40 minutes:

  1. [Scheme Member] MANAGER] advised that if there was to be cancellation of plans after the phone had been paid off, that was the responsibility of the customer to request cancellation.  [CUSTOMER] stated that he considered it was a marketing approach from [Scheme Member] to continue with the phone charges.
  2. [CUSTOMER] advised he was only willing to pay $132 for his charges.
  3. [CUSTOMER] asked if a further $40 credit would be provided.  [Scheme Member] MANAGER] declined that request.
  4. It was agreed that [CUSTOMER]’s details would be passed to the complaints team.

On 22 July 2021, [Scheme Member] MANAGER] called [CUSTOMER], that call lasting 3:50 minutes:

  1. [Scheme Member] MANAGER] advised that a credit would be made on the account of $132.00, and the balance of $118.88 would need to be paid by [CUSTOMER]. [CUSTOMER] accepted that.

On 13 August 2021 [CUSTOMER] spoke with [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3] from the [Scheme Member] complaints department.  That call lasted 6:28 minutes in duration, and again I have listened to this recording:

  1. [CUSTOMER] advised that he had requested cancellation of the plan (but no particular number was stated), with [CUSTOMER] advising he understood that he needed to request the cancellation.
  2. [CUSTOMER] advised he had been offered an adjustment so the bill would be $132, and therefore it should not be $222.
  3. [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3] advised that he could listen to the original call recording, or [CUSTOMER] could clarify what he was wanting so it could be actioned by [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3] at that time.  [CUSTOMER] advised he wanted the call recording listened to.
  4. [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3] offered to call [CUSTOMER] back the next week after he had listened to the original recording.

As promised, [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3] called [CUSTOMER] on 16 August 2021.  The call recording lasts 26:08 minutes, and again I summarise what was discussed as follows:

  1. [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3] summarised what had been agreed from the original call, that was:
  • Move current number (which the parties were speaking on) to pre-pay
  • Disconnect phone number ending 557
  • Move phone number ending 382 to the $40 plan.

On 24 August 2021 [CUSTOMER] filed a complaint with TDR, which is as follows:

"i had bought three mobiles on plan with (PROVIDER) when i finished the payment of my phone they were still charging me money for my phone i called them and i explained that this is not a fair service you are providing they still say that you need to call and stop the plan then i called and tell them to stop the plan bit they are doing that to all the customers this is a huge scam and marketing techniques to steals peoples money the next week they sent me the wrong bill they in called them and they correct it but how can i trust them now for all my previous bills they are literally scamming people by it i called them three time i am paying money to use the sharing data from my other sim card and i still cant use it i already told them three times about it but no reply and no solutions"

In terms of a resolution of the complaint, [CUSTOMER] advised:

"i want them to provide me all the details of my bill when i paid and how much i paid in one file and apologies from there ceo and stop this plan for all customers when they finish the payment of phone or just let them know that do you want to continue with the plan or not and i want 2500 dollar credit on my account."

The parties agreed to attempt to mediate the dispute, which occurred.  Within the mediation context [Scheme Member] made an offer to [CUSTOMER] to settle the dispute by way of a further $80 credit.  [CUSTOMER] made a counter offer that the current account be waived, and that the ongoing charges be no more than $165.  This was declined by [Scheme Member].

The parties could not reach a settlement of the dispute; therefore, the complaint has proceeded to be adjudicated.  The adjudicated decision is set out below.

[CUSTOMER]’s position

[CUSTOMER] considers that he is still wrongly being charged for the phone plan, after the RP had finished.  [CUSTOMER] considers that once the phone was paid off, the plan should have ceased, or at least the customer contacted to advice the plan could be cancelled.  [CUSTOMER] strongly considers this to be a scam.

[CUSTOMER] considers that the accounts are wrong because he has not received the credit of $94.00.

[CUSTOMER] considers he is being over charged for his phone services, and that the charges should not be more than $132 as he believes was stated during his original call to [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1] on 18 July 2021.

[Scheme Member] position

[Scheme Member] consider the agreed credits have been applied to [CUSTOMER]’s account, including the $94 credit that [CUSTOMER] does not consider to have been received.

[Scheme Member] consider it may well be that [CUSTOMER] has not considered the additional services he has added onto the regular account charges that have contributed to his overall charges.

Otherwise [Scheme Member] consider that the charges are correct, and that there is no obligation to automatically cancel plans once the RP has been paid off, or even to notify the customer that they can cancel the plan.
[Scheme Member] provided a report setting out how the charges has been made, and further clarifying what the ongoing charges comprise as follows:

 

[CUSTOMER]

Account number: [REDACTED]

Connection #                   Plan            RP

[REDACTED]                  $40

[REDACTED]                  $40              $92.50               Balance of RP owing after current bill $925.00

[REDACTED]                 Cancelled

 

Totals                              $80               $92.50               $172.50

       

[Scheme Member] also provided confirmation of the credits applied to the account, as follows:

23 July 2021           $132.00    [Scheme Member] MANAGER]

16 August 2021      $55.00      [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3]

16 August 2021      $94.31      [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3]

 

Analysis

As noted above, the parties initially participated in mediation, but that did not result in a resolution or settlement of the dispute, therefore the matter has proceeded to be adjudicated by TDR.

Having heard from [CUSTOMER], I consider there are three broad issues as it relates to his complaint, that is around continuing plan charges after paying off the RP’s, the correct level of ongoing charges, and accuracy of billing.  I will consider each in turn.

Plan charges following payment of RP

[CUSTOMER] considers that once he had paid of the handsets on the RP’s that the underlying contract for the phone services (the plan) either should be cancelled automatically, or at least the customer advised that the contract could be cancelled.

[CUSTOMER]’s complaint on this basis cannot be upheld for the following reasons:

[CUSTOMER] has entered into two separate contracts as it relates to each handset.  One contract for the handset (the RP), and one contract for the underlying plan.  Two entirely separate terms and conditions have been provided as they relate to the RP and plan.  In fact the RP terms record specifically that those terms are separate to the terms that apply for the plan, and that the Customer is charged under the RP “ in addition to your Plan fee”.  There is no term in the RP terms which require [Scheme Member] to notify the Customer that given the RP has been paid off, that he could then cancel the separate services plan.

Furthermore, there is no provision in the separate terms for the service plan what requires [Scheme Member] to notify the customer once the handset had been paid off, that the contract for the service plan could be cancelled.

In short, [Scheme Member] have not acted in any way contrary to the terms and conditions that apply, in not cancelling [CUSTOMER]’s services plans automatically or advising [CUSTOMER] that he was able to do so once the RP had been paid off.

I also make three further observations.

Firstly, it would not be reasonable for a service provider like [Scheme Member] to cancel a services contract for a mobile handset, just because any amounts on the handset was paid off.  That is because it would normally be expected that once a customer had paid off their handset, they would want to continue to use it, which requires that they have a continuing service plan with a telecommunications provider.  Certainly some (probably a significant minority) of customers may wish to move providers once a handset was paid off, but it can be accepted that the very significant majority of customers would simply continue with the original provider delivering the mobile services via their then paid off handset.

Secondly, based on the records provided by [Scheme Member] for the services with the numbers ending 557 and 181, those mobile services continued to be extensively used well after the RP’s ended on 10 June 2021, and 18 December 2020 respectively.  It would be unreasonable to expect [Scheme Member] to provide those services at no cost to the customer who was using those services.

Thirdly, the monthly statement is clear as to the progress of the RP payments.  As an example, on the 9 September 2021 account, it records that the RP payment / instalment due for that month was $92.50.  It should be clear to [Scheme Member] customers, whether there continued to be any ongoing RP charges, it was plainly recorded on the monthly bill.  To that extent [Scheme Member] have kept the Customer updated as to the currency of the RP.

For those reasons, this aspect of the complaint must be dismissed.

Current charges

[CUSTOMER]’s view is that based on the conversation he had with [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1], that is current charges should be no more than $132.50.  I am satisfied that from the discussion with [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1], the agreement was that one plan would be cancelled, one plan transferred to pre-pay, and the third plan changed to a $40 per month plan.  Once the RP payment of $92.50 was added on, then the total amount charged on the account (that is post pay) would be $132.50.  However, that amount did not include what [CUSTOMER] would also need to pay for pre-pay services top ups.

However, at this time the most relevant evidence as to what the current charges are, is not the call with [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 1], but the call with [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3].  During that call, it is clear that [CUSTOMER] changed his mind about transferring one number to pre-pay, and it was agreed that instead [CUSTOMER] would take a second $40 per month payment plan.  During that call [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3] was clear that the monthly charges would be $172.20, and [CUSTOMER] was equally clear that he understood that would be the case.  Because this is the most recent agreement, this is the agreement that must be applied.

[CUSTOMER] advised that when he had spoken with the [Scheme Member] representatives, that he had stated he was only willing to pay a maximum of $132 for all continuing services.  While I accept that may be the case, that was not accepted by any of the [Scheme Member] representatives.  In that situation, [CUSTOMER] could be accepted as having requested a variation of the contract (a variation of the contracted charges), and of course any contracting party can request that, but the other party did not accept that variation request.  That means the original terms of the contract apply – unvaried.  If [CUSTOMER] was not happy with that situation, then it was able to provide the required notice and terminate his contracts, but he did not do so. 

The result is that the evidence favours the current monthly account charges are $172.50, plus any additional services that [CUSTOMER] uses.

Accuracy of bills

[CUSTOMER] considers that he has not received the agreed credits.  I am not persuaded that is the case.

[CUSTOMER] provided a copy the account from 9 August 2021 as evidence that he had not received all the credits offered.  However, as I noted to [CUSTOMER], it was only following the calls with [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3] on 13 and 16 August that the further credits were agreed.  Of course, given that was after the 9 August 2021 account, then those credits would only be showing on the next account.

[CUSTOMER] then emailed the account from 9 September 2021, which shows the credits as promises by [Scheme Member] REPRESENTATIVE 3] totalling $149.31 ($55.00 + $94.31).

I am satisfied that all credits that should have been paid, have been applied to [CUSTOMER]’s account.  I have not seen any evidence to suggest that the bills are wrong.

Conclusion

The conclusion of TDR is that this complaint is dismissed.