My Orange billing hell

Roaming data, EU rules and billing chaos are the order of the day at Nothing, Anywhere

There are various maxims by which many people strive to live, often because it just makes life a lot simpler. Alma Cogan memorably reminded people to Never do a Tango with an Eskimo, and I’d like to suggest Never give a Direct Debit to a mobile phone company – particularly if you’ve followed advice I’ve given earlier here and on Register Hardware and selected Orange’s Travel Data Daily bundle as a way of saving on roaming data charges when abroad.

If you are indeed one of the people who has used that package, and especially at my recommendation, then I urge you to check your bills carefully, and apologise if following my advice has caused you even a little of the aggravation that I have suffered at the hands of computers systems that, frankly, are barely fit for purpose.

Munich, February

Like all the best tales, this one has an international flavour. I was invited to the Panasonic Convention in February, where they showcase new products for the year. And just before then, Orange announced their Travel Data Daily bundles. I tried to have one added to my account before I flew to Munich, calling customer services on the Sunday, and was told it wasn’t possible, as it didn’t launch until the next day. So I called on Monday morning, and flew to Munich confident I could now use up to 50MB of data abroad, for a flat fee.

Sadly that turned out not to be the case. When I received a bill at the start of March, I’d been charged not the £21 plus VAT that I expected, but £131.86 plus VAT.

Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with this.

And so a song and dance ensued, involving Orange Customer Services, the Executive Office, and at one point the press office too.

Orange, your billing systems are broken!

Sorting out the issues with the billing took a couple of months; Orange accepted they’d messed up, but their web site made matters worse. Essentially, the summary screen that you see when you sign in to your Orange account online does not necessarily reflect the amount you need to pay.

View the list of bills, and you’ll see one amount. View the summary screen and there’s something else and – for a period this spring – if you clicked the button to make a payment, you’d see a different amount again, which would be a hundredth of the amount that the main screen tells you that you owe.

Essentially, once you enter any dispute process over an Orange bill, it becomes incredibly hard to find out exactly how much you need to pay. And it’s not made any simpler by the Orange billing pages randomly deciding that you have arrears, and so can’t access everything.

That was the situation reached in April this year where I received the helpful message

“You have an overdue balance of £0.00. Until the outstanding balance has been paid, online access to this account will be restricted”

A few thanks

Thanks in sorting this first problem out are due to Pauline in the executive office, and Carly, who also helped try to work out the horrible mess. Eventually, another bill was written off as a goodwill gesture, and things were – I hoped – back to normal. Arguably, of course, someone should have spotted what might well be the core issue originally, and avoided the chaos in the first place.

And so to Berlin

In September, I went to Berlin. And, mindful of the experience I’d had when going to Munich, I called before travelling – twice – and checked that the Travel Data Daily bundle was on my account.

I kept an eye on daily data usage, and made sure I didn’t go above my 50MB a day; I was abroad for a total of seven days, and so expected to pay £49 plus VAT for the data.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was greeted by a bill this October that included not £49 of roaming data, but £429.09 plus VAT.

Again, to their credit, Mike at Customer Services didn’t quibble, and agreed that a credit of the overcharged amount should be applied to my account – that’s £384.99 plus VAT. Not least because the bill did actually say on it that I have Travel Data Daily, but just didn’t use it in the calculations.

And, he did some investigation, and thinks he knows how this happened. There are two versions of Travel Data Daily, a domestic and a business one. The domestic one is £8.50 inc VAT and the business one (which is otherwise identical) is £7.50 plus VAT, or £8.25.

I’m a business customer, but it happens that the tariff on my SIM at the time was a domestic one. And because of that, Mike reckoned the Orange Billing systems wouldn’t apply Travel Data Daily Business to my bill. Which is a reasonable assumption – but even more reasonable would be not making the distinction in the first place, or not allowing an operator to add the wrong version to an account.

So, with refund in place, and a tariff change to put all the options in the ‘Business’ column, everything should have been fine.

If it’s October, it must be Amsterdam

I did have a slight worry with the Orange website showing, after I’d paid the amount of the last bill, less the refund for the incorrectly billed data, that there was a problem. But I was assured that it would all be fixed on the November bill, because the website doesn’t include pending credits when it shows the current balance. Bonkers, in my view, but that’s how it works, apparently.

So, a weekend in Amsterdam. Now, there are EU rules in place that stop you running up big data bills by mistake. These are a good thing on the whole, but perhaps if you have a package specifically to cover that, you might be reasonably considered to have opted in to using data, no?

I started receiving warnings that I’d used more than 8MB of data in the last day; no problem – I can go up to 50MB before breaking the bank. But I still replied to 386 with the word ‘YES.’

In fact, I did that three times – and each time, with delivery reports turned on, so I know the message went through – and I still ended up having my data connection blocked on Sunday morning.

It took four phone calls to customer services – a total of 24 and a half minutes – before the person I spoke to (whom I would thank if I’d asked for her name) simply said “oh yes, I can lift that for you” and it happened within seconds.

November? Time for more billing fun

I was eager to see, when I returned home, what had happened to the billing of this mobile data, after the changes made in October. And I’m pleased to say that, for the first time, the Travel Data Daily bundle was correctly applied to my account, a mere 8 months after I first asked for it.

But, as part of the tariff change, there was a mistake, which the grumpy customer services woman I spoke to didn’t seem to think was anything to do with them, and she assured me (despite all the evidence) that there’s nothing wrong with Orange’s billing systems.

I beg to differ. And yes, I did keep interrupting you – because you didn’t once say you were sorry about the problems, and it felt like you were accusing me of making things up. Now, this bill only adds £4.25 plus VAT that it shouldn’t have done, but there’s a principle here – I like my bills to be correct. And since I asked for a tariff that includes 1GB of data free, why would I still be wanting to pay £4.25 for half that much? And, yes, I do think it’s entirely reasonable of me to say I will not pay that disputed £4.25, and if you want to quibble about it, you can see me in court.

Frankly, the conversation left me close to tears of frustration – after the data being cut off in Amsterdam, a week before that with next to no coverage at home, because of a local transmitter problem, to then find yet another billing error, after the others this year, I was not happy.

Fortunately, when I spoke this morning to Gail in Customer Services, she was much more helpful, and it looks like everything is now finally sorted out – I shall await the billing results of my forthcoming trip to Köln with interest.

Your billing website is stupid, Orange

Of course, the Orange website is still monumentally broken. As of sometime today, it’s telling me that I have an overdue balance of £452.36, and so access is restricted, which it wasn’t yesterday. That, of course, is the amount of the credit that was applied to my October bill.

The list of bills on my account shows a bill total for the October bill of £-398.55 (yes, that’s a credit). And the actual bill itself has an amount due (though since it was only billed yesterday, it can’t be overdue yet) of £53.81. But the website still thinks that there’s over £452.36 overdue.

Honestly, how anyone at Orange can claim their website is actually making much sense is beyond me. In the last couple of days, I have spent over 82 minutes on the phone to Orange Business Customer Services; this year, I shudder to think how much time. All of it could have been easily avoided, but none of it was.

There have been some very helpful people along the way who have tried to do their best – but it seems that those efforts are all too often thwarted by systems that don’t work as well as they should.

I hope that it’s sorted now – and to those of my readers who have followed my advice and chosen a Travel Data Daily bundle, I can only apologise if you’ve had a mere fraction of the problems that I’ve encountered.

Update: March 2011. Since this post has been mentioned again on Twitter, I thought it fair to mention that, eventually, the Executive Office team did resolve all this, and I have now had three months of bills that are correct; they’ve also given me a goodwill credit, which is jolly decent of them. Though, of course, arguably none of this should have happened in the first place, and I still wouldn’t recommend anyone give any mobile phone company a direct debit, especially if you have a data-capable phone.

4 Replies to “My Orange billing hell”

  1. How very topical !

    I had a “disagreement” with Orange back in 2003 to 2004, and it sounds like they are no less incompetent, and no less arrogant when it comes to assuming it’s the customers fault. I too took the attitude that while the amounts were small, it was the principal that counts and if they’ve entered into a contract to bill me a certain amount for certain services – then that’s what they should bill me.

    I spent a year arguing before I wrote to all the directors I could find names for, and marking the envelopes private and confidential. That did the trick – well sort of. The guy I dealt with immediately agreed that I’d been misbilled for some stuff – but also accused me of wanting a personailised tariff when in fact all I wanted was the tariff that they offered me via their website.

    It all ended (or so I thought) in the middle of 2004 with them claiming I owed then £48 while I reckoned they owe me £20.
    I repeatedly requested they issue a deadlock letter so I could take it to arbitration with CISAS – but they refused and under the rules of the scheme at the time, that prevented arbitration.
    With each debt recovery agent that contacted me I did the same thing. “I don’t have a debt, if you contact me again I’ll bill you for my time, and if you still think I owe money then take me to court” Needless to say they won’t go to court when they know they’ll lose !

    Roll forward to 2006, when I get a letter from Orange telling me they’ll be writing off the debt, reclaiming the VAT, and registering the bad debt with the credit reference agencies. At the time I really, really didn’t want any more to do with Orange, and as I didn’t expect to be applying for any credit in the forseeable future I’d just wait 6 years and the default notice would clear off by itself.

    Roll forwards again to 2010 and I find the default record “a slight problem”. Advice from Consumer Direct and the ICO is simply to pay the debt. Personally, I don’t like paying money to what I consider to be criminals. I thought extortion was illegal but no it isn’t. Orange can effectively say what they want about me to the credit reference agencies, but the credit reference agencies will NOT post a factual correction unless Orange agrees !

    So, just this week I’ve reopened the matter with Orange, and requested either a correction and statement on my credit file that they were entirely in the wrong – or a deadlock letter so I can take the matter up with CISAS for arbitration. This time I have the upper hand though – CISAS have changed their rules so that after 8 weeks, I can go to them without Orange providing a deadlock letter so the worst Orange can do it delay things and make it look like they are afraid of arbitration (7 weeks, 6 days and counting !)

    Best of all, if they are daft enough to push it – it’ll cost them far more in arbitration fees (they have to pay) than they claim I owe them !

  2. Don’t get me started about the £3.404 a month that Orange have been charging me for media services that I don’t want. The company that set it up does not seem to exist any more, and Orange sometimes manage to make it go away for a month before it comes back again. This has been going on for 3 years, and according to one CS representative, there is a long list of people with the same complaint and no resolution. It may only be £3.404 a month (plus VAT), but over 3 years it amounts to a lot of money. I suspect that the only way I will be able to get rid of it is by closing my account, but I wonder if the charge will reappear if I port the number (which I have had for nearly 16 years).

  3. Vodafone have similar billing issues – when I recently used my PAC to transfer away from them, their systems decided I’d instead upgraded from a 30 day SIM only £15 contract to a new 24 month £40 a month, then decided to cancel it, charging me £700 as an early-cancellation fee.

    It took several months and calls to sort out, each around 1 hr long as I had to recap previous calls whilst they tried to find my closed accounts and previous invoices.

    Shame, as I thought Voda were getting better.

  4. Well this is an interesting thread. My girlfriend travels to Turkey a lot and wished to use her mobile there. After several discussions with different Orange representatives, all of whom suggested different charges for Turkey, we finally got what seemed to be a sensible quote. Orange classes Turkey as a member of their “Europe 2” region. Lets not get into a discussion as to the geographical knowledge of Orange, the fact of the matter is they class Turkey as Europe 2. As such, it would seem to make sense that it would be covered by their European Traveler bundle. Not so! However, this fact confuses not just customers but staff members as well.

    So, even though we were quoted 27.4 pence per minute for Turkish calls, we were actually charged almost a pound a minute, with a resulting 600 pound bill for two months. OK – I know mistakes happen, so we called up our helpful Orange call center to set the record straight. The call finished up with a very rude manager who observed that we had a number of plan changes but couldn’t understand why there might be confusion. He finished by explaining that his manger would say the same as him and there was no dispute process. My next call is to my lawyer to see if he thinks there is a dispute process that can be employed here.

    Silly Orange. Other (admittedly US) mobile companies resolve these disputes in a smart way. By Orange taking this path, a simple gesture would have saved them losing two mobile accounts and a broadband account, and possibly another case of arbitration.

    So – beware Orange’s geographical mistakes, and incredible arrogance!

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