back to article 'Technical error' threatens Vodafone customers with four-figure roaming fees

Vodafone has apologised for a "technical error" that left customers abroad facing thousands of pounds in roaming fees over the weekend. It seems the issue was with an upgrade to Vodafone's customer account database. Consequently, customers in Europe and the US faced steep charges for data usage, with some people reporting …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Customers will not be charged"

    Well I'm guessing they sure hope so.

    Still, good on Vodaphone for admitting the mistake and putting the effort to correct it without discussion.

    Some companies would do well to take that as an example, eh Jamf ?

    1. vulture65537

      Re: "Customers will not be charged"

      Vodaphone -> Vodafone

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: "Customers will not be charged"

      good on Vodaphone for admitting the mistake

      I'm not sure how they could have denied it, given the evidence, or failed to act given the potentially huge reputational damage, particularly if their billing system started trying to debit that amount from customers who were at the end of their monthly billing cycle.

    3. Gonzo wizard
      FAIL

      Re: "Customers will not be charged"

      Except that they were really slow to react. I was disconnected whilst in Austria about 2 hours after people started talking about it on Twitter. I was booted off the local network entirely. Once I got back to the UK (now more than nine hours after the original issue) I got a text telling me that I had to contact Vodafone to pay my 'overspend' and wouldn't be reconnected. At this point although I was 'on' the network I couldn't even receive text messages - except it seemed from Vodafone. And this carried on, with more and more people being completely disconnected and told it was their fault, for several hours.

      So many people were affected that it was impossible to get any response to any attempt to make contact using any channel - phone, email, help app... and that's putting aside for the moment that every single person affected was (a) outside the UK and (b) had their phone bricked by Vodafone. It took 24 hours to get service back and receive an apology. If I'd been a full-on digital nomad I'd have probably missed my flight because of this as well.

      My bill still shows as £6750 owing. Vodafone says that I "don't have to worry" and "won't have to pay". Do I have confidence that they won't try to collect £6750? No. But hey, yes, "good on Vodaphone" (sic). Clearly the good guys here. Totally.

  2. Forget It
    Coat

    Subliminal testing for post No Deal B.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      This is the sunlit uplands we've all been waiting for.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: The sunlit uplands

        And it was all going to be so easy. If this is anything to go by then we are really up Sh1t creek without a paddle.

        {Visions of 56million lemmings... sorry people heading for the cliffs of oblivion come the end of the month}

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Oops, wrong date!

      Consequently, customers in Europe and the US faced steep charges for data usage, with some people reporting bills as high as £9,000.

      The revised rate files should have gone live Nov 1st, or 1ns past midnight on B-Day.

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Vodafone's getting ready for Brexit

    So, back to dual SIM phones + a local SIM it is then. Isn't it good to take back control?

    1. Persona Bronze badge

      Re: Vodafone's getting ready for Brexit

      I already have a dual SIM phone as my dirt cheap Vodaphone contract is UK only. Why Vodaphone? Because the are the only mobile network which has a usable signal where I live.

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: Vodafone's getting ready for Brexit

        Vodafone. Fone. F.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Vodafone's getting ready for Brexit

          Vodatelephone

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge
            Headmaster

            Re: Vodafone's getting ready for Brexit

            Voicedatatelephone, please.

  4. b0llchit
    Mushroom

    Sorry, we got caught

    The whole apology thingy is always so [redacted]. The only thing they are really sorry about is getting caught. That is the MO of all these big corps. Make money, no matter what, no matter how. Fix only what is complained about and then it has to be complained about in a very load and vocal way. Otherwise, use the bureaucratic system to our bottomline advantage.

    1. Oh Matron!

      Re: Sorry, we got caught

      Missed your medication? Have a sit down and a cup of tea, dear, and you'll be as right as rain.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Sorry, we got caught

      Have you considered Hanlon's Razor?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sorry, we got caught

        Down, not across?

    3. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: Sorry, we got caught

      Usually I’d agree, but not here. This isn’t a sneaky attempt to overbill, it’s a cockup plain and simple. So yes I believe they’re sorry and will take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again, because if they don’t fix it customers will leave in droves and revenue will go down.

  5. Lotaresco

    My vodafone bill looks small by comparison

    Two phones both on Vodafone. One is unaffected, the other has a phantom £350 charge for 1GB of data. However that data was used earlier in the month, the account includes 16GB/month and is capped at €50/ month.

    I’m working in Europe, unable to contact Vodafone via their support number, online chat or the phone app.

    Spectacular clustermess.

    1. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: My vodafone bill looks small by comparison

      unable to contact Vodafone via their support number, online chat or the phone app

      Sounds about right, unfortunately.

    2. julian_n

      Re: My vodafone bill looks small by comparison

      Don't worry, you've not missed much - when you do get through to their support they will just tell lies then lose the recordings made for "training purposes"

  6. Chris G Silver badge

    I often wonder if the 'accidental' misbilling by certain phone companies is a ruse to get interest free loans from unsuspecting customers.

    It happens often enough and to sufficiently large numbers that it probably adds up to millions a year.

    I have had mistakenly high bills on and off from every company I have ever dealt with, oddly, I have never had a mistakenly low bill.

    1. jmch Silver badge

      I wouldn't go so far to say as it doesn't happen, but in this case, my understanding of Vodafone's communication is that they will not bill the customers for these amounts at all.

      In any case if any company is nefarious enough to devise such a strategy, they ought to at least be clever enough to add just a few quid here and there on some bills, which might be paid without question, rather than 4-figure bills that are certain to be questioned / refused.

      1. julian_n

        Yes. They do this too - and the odd tenner is not worth taking to Small Claims Court

      2. VinceH

        Optional

        "In any case if any company is nefarious enough to devise such a strategy, they ought to at least be clever enough to add just a few quid here and there on some bills, which might be paid without question, rather than 4-figure bills that are certain to be questioned / refused."

        Not dissimilar to a suspicion I've commented on before (not sure if here or elsewhere) about my current electricity provider.

        Earlier this year, they raised a bill of £x.yz, and a while later they 'revised' that by issuing a credit for the original bill, and a new bill with the revised amount of £a.bc - except that the credit was for £x.zy. That meant I would have been out of pocket, albeit by a small amount (zy being smaller than yz) had I not raised it with them.

        You might think that it was probably human error; a typo, but when they later rang me to discuss my complaint (when I spotted it, I was logged into their system to retrieve my bills, so it was almost no effort to go to raise the mistake), the guy was adamant that no human error was involved; the credit and revised bill were raised entirely automatically.

        So, it would seem that they apparently have a billing system which at some point, in some circumstances, stores a numerical value as a string, and accidentally reads the pennies in reverse, before converting it back to a number. That's quite a bizarre bug.

        I can't help but think the particular set of circumstances are when the first digit of the pennies is greater than the second digit in the original bill, so that the credit is a multiple of nine pence less.

        Imagine if they did that to all their customers where the pennies were the right way around for it to work: 27p here, 45p there... all adds up, and many people probably wouldn't even notice the "mistake".

        1. Gonzo wizard

          Re: Optional

          Off-topic but nPower once reissued two quarters of bills from two year back, resulting in me owing an extra £250. I often wonder what would have happened if I'd switched supplier before this happened...

    2. steviebuk Silver badge

      Very much doubt they'd take the risk otherwise they could end up with their own PPI style payback when found out.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      yeah i bet they charge all this money then write it off which goes against tax

  7. smudge Silver badge
    Coat

    Who, me?

    Is that bloke Alban still writing spreadsheets?

  8. batfink Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Due to errors during a complex IT migration

    Testing?? Anyone heard of it?

  9. Andy 97

    VF customer account database strikes again.

  10. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    So Vodafone are upgrading from 7 spreadsheets to one spreadsheet with 7 tabs in it and a cool filter designed by an intern?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They've got to find a way to pass on those unplanned £Billions "change request" bills from their Billing supplier due to not mentioning one or two details in the database migration, haven't they?

    2. $till$kint

      Hey look! I can do the Vlookups! = Promotion

  11. Ceilidhman

    Rapid hair loss

    Got 2 Voda phones with 20Gb included. One hasn't been overcharged.... but the other has been cut off with warnings about a £750 over-usage charge!!! Only used 3.5Gb of the 20Gb allowance. Couldn't get through on web chat or phone so cue panic and domestic accusations. I sincerely hope they sort it quick. Nt impressed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rapid hair loss

      Time to get OFCOM involved as well as more than a few lawyers. This is not the first time that they have done this and it is well past time that they were held to answer for their incompetance.

      I had the misfortune to work for them for a while in the 1980's. It was lucky that they ever sent out a bill or managed a network.

  12. Flywheel Silver badge

    Vodafone has invested £2bn in upgrading its networks

    And how much has it spent on the database and billing system. Oh, and customer services?

    That's why I left Vodafone - they "lost" me on the database but still managed to charge me...

  13. jason_derp

    Coincidence

    Strange how "technical errors" never seem to cost the companies that make them any money, and only customers see the "errors" pop up. Then they only get addressed after social media brings it to journalists' attention. If I was cynical, I'd say there was an underlying reason. Probably just a statistical quirk.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Coincidence

      Probably the same statistical quirk that explains why anti-matter is so rare.

    2. SWCD

      Re: Coincidence

      Do you know many customers who report billing errors that go in their favour?

      I've never shouted about mine on Twitter. It would seem counterproductive.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Coincidence

        Ever listen to the screams about corrections for those?

    3. Gonzo wizard

      Re: Coincidence

      I've been promised "compensation" in the apology text from Vodafone. Not that I'm holding my breath. No doubt it'll be something difficult to take advantage of - like a discount off a new on-contract phone or the like.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Weird, didn't notice it

    This is a side effect of Vodafone still milking it for as much as they can. I have lived in a number of European countries where telcos simply offer relatively affordable "unlimited" packages (EU calling and roaming), and that is *so* much better that I'd frankly have a problem accepting the restrictive variant again.

    If the EU would be so kind to mandate that instead of mandating the &^%$ SMS you get every time you cross a border which now says that NOTHING has changed I'd be grateful, and I don't think I'm the only one. Maybe the UK could look at this too - Brexit or not, it's IMHO worth supporting the people who occasionally escape :).

  15. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Mistake?

    The cynic in me wonders how much interest they made on everyone else's money while they had it.

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Mistake?

      From TFA I'm not sure anyone was actually charged - that is nobody has paid the amounts quoted - they've just had big billing alerts.

  16. EBG

    fraud ? extortion ? theft ?

    Why no massive, share price altering, fines for this ? Why no jail time ?

    I don't give a sh1t why and how it happened, only that it did and it's their actions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: fraud ? extortion ? theft ?

      Please, breathe before you do yourself a damage.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same old...

    Working for this company, I suspect the usual process of minimal testing with a small batch of data / dummy users in a test environment = "that's ok then, let's roll it out to live" was the order of the day. Did no one think that combining a billion bits of data from seven separate sources in one go might have just a teensy weensy bit of risk attached to it?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How forgiving do you have to be?

    Once upon a time I had a Vodafone account. Everything about it was so crap I promised myself I'd never give them another penny.

    That's actually the easy part. Finding another phone operator to stick with that is better is harder. I guess all companies have bad days

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Re: How forgiving do you have to be?

      Yes, yes...

      But do any have good days?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why TF

    does anyone use Vodafone?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Money taken

    I had a business trip to Germany recently and was hit by this.

    My bill is set to auto-pay and I have had almost £5700 taken from my current account......which was a chunk of a deposit on a house. Now I have no chance of getting the money back in time from Vodafone (despite what they say they always take weeks to rectify anything). Usual bill is circa £80.

    Now i'm scrambling around family trying to make up the missing cash before things fall apart.

    Like others have said WHY do I bother with this company.

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