Questions of Cash: November 2015

Q. My wife is from Japan and frequently makes calls to Japan.  We use ‘Call Happy’ using an 0844 number.  Before 1 July, these calls were billed to our BT account at the rate of 2 pence a minute, which I believe included a BT access charge of 0.3 pence.  These charges rose on 1 July to 11 pence a minute.  I have paid £40 to £50 in addition as a result.  If we had known in advance we could have used Skype or another provider.  Call Happy has confirmed its charges are unchanged.   RS, Hampshire.

Q. I have just received my latest BT bill and discovered an enormous increase in charges to access numbers for making calls overseas. BT has added a charge to the minute by minute call charge.  In my case the provider, Telediscount, charges 1 pence a minute, but BT has added a charge of around 9.55 pence per minute.  Previously there was no charge.  This has created an enormous total cost.  Telediscount says it has received lots of complaints.  FW, by email.

A. BT says the higher charges were adopted following a regulatory change imposed by Ofcom.  A spokesman for BT says: “Ofcom has decided that the cost of calls to number ranges that begin with 08, 09 or 118 – which are known as service numbers – should be made up of an access charge, set by your telephone provider, such as BT, and a service charge, set by the organisation or service you are calling, such as a bank or an insurance company.  BT charges 10.24p a minute as its access charge – the same price as the regular charge for a normal call to a landline, to keep our pricing simple. Customers on our low-income tariff BT Basic will not have to pay an access charge for any call.”   But a spokeswoman for Ofcom explains: “Ofcom has made the cost of calling 08, 09 and 118 numbers much clearer. Operators are required to make their access charge clear to customers, in bills and contracts. And companies using these numbers must explain their service charge wherever the number is advertised or promoted – so people can see what they’ll pay, and where their money is going.  Operators can choose their prices, so we encourage people to shop around for a tariff that’s right for them. Different providers are offering a range of pricing options for these numbers, including per-minute access charges as low as 1p per minute.”  In other words, BT has used the requirement to make the pricing structure more transparent as an opportunity to hike its charges.

Customers would have received notification of the changes through one of the following, our customer magazine Update, letter, or with e-billing.

Q. I am being charged £3 a time for incoming text messages.  My mobile phone company EE is working with a company in Ireland – Zamano Solutions Ltd – to levy these charges.  The user is supposed to have consented or subscribed to these charges, but in my case the SIM was installed in a burglar alarm and I can find no evidence of a contract agreeing to pay these charges.  JF, Bournemouth.

A. The charges were for a specific service that EE has claimed in an email to you that were subscribed to via the internet.  You are unaware of subscribing to any such service.  Indeed, it is impossible to understand why a SIM card used in a burglar alarm would be deliberately subscribed to a premium rate service.  These charges depleted your pre-paid credit on the SIM card in your burglar alarm, requiring you to top-up the credit on the SIM.  Following our contact with EE, it has credited your SIM with the cost of the texts.  A spokeswoman for EE says: “We’ve investigated this case and can confirm [the reader] has been credited as a gesture of goodwill for any charges relating to Zamano services and they have confirmed he has been unsubscribed to the text based service. Just to be clear, Zamano is a third party mobile payment service who are regulated by PhonePayPlus and any complaint of such services should be directed to them.  Although the service is billed through EE, this would be the same as buying a ringtone or game through an app store for example – it’s just shown as a purchase on the EE bill.”  Zamano is based in Ireland and declined to provide a full explanation of how the charges arose.  Its spokesman said:  “In this case, all we can say is that Zamano is the billing gateway and not the service provider.  We understand that this issue was resolved in full and this customer was refunded in full.  For [Irish] data protection legislation reasons, Zamano do not comment on individual cases.”

Q. We drove from Essex to Kent and back on 3 October. We left at 12.36 and came back at 16.24. When we arrived home at 17.57 we made a payment online for the Dartford Crossing, as there is no longer a physical toll. We have now received a fine of £75 for not paying on time. We phoned to dispute the charge and explained we had paid, but we were told they were being very strict at the moment and because we set the account up after the crossings had been made we still had to pay the fine. KP, Essex.

A. The Dartford Crossing website states: “Charges apply between 6am and 10pm. You must pay by midnight the day after you cross.” You did this, but it appears that you wrongly made the payment as a ‘pre-pay’, rather than for a journey already completed. A spokesman for Highlands England, which is in charge of the Dartford Crossing, said: “Having investigated this case, we can confirm that the penalty charge notice was not issued in error. Pre-pay accounts can only be used to pay for journeys made after the account is opened. As stated on our website, journeys already made need to be paid for separately.” You tell us that Highways England has now repaid £70 of the penalty after your daughter complained on Twitter.

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