Court hears operator blames incorrect billing, regulator says overcharging is widespread and ongoing
The allegation came from the Irish communications regulator Comreg which said the ‘widespread and ongoing basis’ meant that 71,000 accounts collectively overpaid €4.7 million. Eircom, for its part, admitted to ‘incorrect billing’.
Extraordinary legal circumstances
Comreg brought proceedings against Eircom Ltd under a legal mechanism which allows it to apply to the court to put an end to overcharging, reports The Irish Independent. The condition for extraordinary court proceedings comes into play when it is alleged the practice has been ‘ongoing’ and ‘where there is provision for a penalty of €11.5m or an amount set by the court’.
So far, Eircom has denied the claims. While there has been incorrect billing, it says, it is not on the scale alleged by Comreg.
Is allegation of overcharging exaggerated?
The case was fast tracked for the Commercial Court after an application by barrister Eileen Barrington, senior counsel acting for Comreg.
According to Barrington there is a mechanism in Irish law under which Comreg can apply to end overcharging. The alleged malpractice has been consistent since 2015 and in that time there have been four sets of convictions for overcharging.
Devil is in the details
Senior counsel for Eircom Jonathan Newman said his client agreed to admit the case to the commercial list in order to expedite proceedings. The claims are in dispute however. There was incorrect billing but not on the scale alleged. Newman will also question if fair procedures have been applied by Comreg.
The judge, Mr Justice Denis McDonald, was satisfied enough to admit the case to the commercial list. The criteria for doing so include ‘a significant level of overcharging alleged’. He also ruled that a hearing would be in the interest of the public, Eircom and its competitors.
One week until the case will begin
The case was adjourned for a week as the proceedings of the case are discussed.
Comreg is seeking orders under the Communications Regulation Act 2002 that Eircom ceases its contraventions of the Act, including those in relation to charging customers more than the charges set out in their contracts. It also seeks that it refrain from charging customers where they have requested their service cease and from charging early termination fees.
In November 2018 the UK regulator Ofcom fined mobile operator EE £6.3 million and cable operator Virgin Media £7 million for breaking consumer protection rules. Both were found guilty of overcharging customers and penalising those who wished to leave their contracts early.