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UK watchdog fines O2 £150k for stalling over-charging investigation

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Ofcom says the operator failed to provide complete and accurate information

UK comms regulator Ofcom has fined British mobile operator O2 £150,000 for failing to provide complete and accurate information to us during the regulator’s investigation into its billing problems.

The fine relates to a past investigation into eight years of over charging. In February O2 was fined O2 £10.5m for overcharging thousands of customers. 

An investigation had found that O2, Telefonica’s UK business, overcharged more than 140,000 customers who left O2 between 2011 and 2019. In that eight year period O2’s systems wrongly billed customers for some charges twice.

Customers billed twice

In total, over 250,000 customers were billed for these incorrect charges, amounting to a total of £40.7m in overcharging. Around 140,000 customers actually paid the extra charges, paying a total of £2.4m.

In the course of this investigation the regulator asked the mobile operator for information about O2’s billing system but it was given ‘incorrect and incomplete’ responses. This obstruction caused the investigation to take longer than necessary. 

O2 has a history of contraventions in this area, and “demonstrated a level of carelessness in responding to our information requests”, according to Ofcom.

Mobile operator has form said Ofcom

In response to the latest evasion Ofcom has fined O2 £150,000 for this breach of its regulatory obligations. Since O2 accepted liability the penalty was cut by 25 per cent. 

The operator was also instructed to to review its processes and systems for responding to Ofcom.

In a statement, Ofcom said it will regularly make statutory requests for information from companies as part of its work to protect consumers. “This evidence is vital to our decision-making, and so it is essential that companies respond by the deadline, with accurate and complete information. If companies fail to do this, they face action from Ofcom,” it said.

Acted in good faith, but billing is complex

An O2 spokesperson claimed it had acted in good faith to Ofcom’s information requests on “this complex matter” and claims that Ofcom had accepted this mitigation.

“We will undertake a review of our internal governance to ensure we have suitable processes and systems in place to respond to any future information requests,” said O2’s speaker.

The mobile operator confessed to a lack of agility, having been defeated by the ‘complexity’ of the case, and the task of gathering third party data. 

According to Ofcom the investigation started in December 2019 and as the investigation proceeded the billing issue was resolved. However O2 had been unable to provide the historical records which might detail how O2 had come to over-charge customers.