Avoid ‘bill shock’ and ensure data use ‘cap’ is implemented when upgrading your phone contract

2015-02-03 00:00

CELLPHONE data “bill shock” remains a headache for consumers who feel disempowered by cellular networks’ billing systems that don’t always offer sufficient control of data use.

Wayne Segers was the latest consumer to complain to me about “bill shock” when after upgrading to a new contract on advice of a Vodacom consultant, who assured him the upgrade would reduce his bill, he received a R7 156 account last month.

“We have a Vodacom account in my grandmother’s name but I use the account. We’ve had the account for about 12 years and I always pay it diligently as it goes off my account via debit order,” Segers said. “It usually ranges from around R1 200 to R1 800 at the very most.”

Segers said his first bill after the upgrade in November was also unexpectedly high at around R2 800. But he was about to go on holiday and decided not to dispute it then.

“The January invoice seems to be due to data usage over and above my cap. This I find strange as in addition to 700 free minutes I also receive 1GB of data and have added a 2GB monthly data package, so in total I have 3GB of data,” Segers said.

“I couldn’t have gone over that 3GB and even if I did, usually whenever I reach my cap I get SMSes from Vodacom to inform me I am about to reach my cap and then I simply top up,” he said.

“I did not receive one of these messages during December or January and can prove that as can be seen in a screenshot of the notification centre on the Vodacom app,” he said.

Segers lodged a complaint with Vodacom, which claimed the bill was correct, although after a fight it offered him a “goodwill” discount of R2 765.

“We still feel this is unfair as the bill would still be R4 391, which far exceeds the normal consumption of around R1 600 per month,” he said.

I suspected that the “cap” on his account had perhaps not been implemented during the upgrade and so escalated the complaint further, asking Vodacom if this was the case, and whether it could rather charge him at cheaper “bundled rates” and not the exorbitant rates he had been billed.

Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman confirmed that the additional charges were for “out of bundle” data usage and said Segers had indeed not received the warning SMS due to a “systems glitch”. He immediately agreed to waive all the additional charges.

“We know that customers rely on these SMSes and we do take this incident very seriously,” he said.

“We’re in the process of refunding Mr Segers for all of the out of bundle costs, which amounts to R5 530,08.”

Boorman said it seemed that the usage “cap” had only been placed on the account after the upgrade and complaint and the error had now been corrected.

Moral of the story: If you upgrade your cellphone contract be sure to advise the consultant to implement the same call and data use “cap” or limit that you had in place on your old contract.

Unfortunately, networks are not always so obliging in “bill shock” cases and there is no guarantee that they will refund the additional high cost of inadvertently used “out of bundle” data.

So, while the average price per megabyte of data sold has dropped 50% in the past two years according to Vodacom, the price of “out of bundle” data remains exorbitant, as this latest case shows, and a potential financial risk for consumers who want to control their spending.

How to check your data balance

• Log onto www.vodacom4me.co.za using your data card’s “cellphone number” and go to the “my account info” menu option.

• SMS the letters “MM” to 31050 from the Vodafone Mobile Connect Software (free)

• Use the Vodacom App

• If you want Vodacom to send your SMS notifications to another SIM card in another device such as a cellphone then you need to remove your data SIM card and insert it into a cellphone. Using your data SIM card, SMS altnum 082xxxxxxx (last seven digits of the alternate cellphone number you wish your notifications to be sent to) to 123. An activation notification message will be sent to your alternate cellphone number.

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