Service providers may issue alternative billing mediums to their customers if they can guarantee that the customer can access and use the alternative medium. If they cannot guarantee this, they will issue a paper bill. Alternative billing mediums can include a bill being provided to you electronically (by e mail) or on-line. If a customer cannot access the alternative billing medium, (for example because the customer does not have broadband access or cannot use an on-line service), the service provider must issue the customer with paper bills free-of-charge.
For an online bill, the service provider must let their customer know when the bill is available online. These alerts (especially if being sent by SMS) should be sent during appropriate (sociable) hours, and customers who do not want to receive such alerts should have the option to opt-out of receiving them in accordance with Data Protection legislation. Alerts must be separate to any direct marketing messages that may be sent in accordance with Data Protection legislation.
In June 2013, following a public consultation, ComReg issued a Decision in relation to providing bills to consumers of electronic communication services (ECS). Until now, there were different regulatory requirements in relation to billing in place for Service Providers, in some cases there were no requirements on certain providers in respect of bill itemisation or bill mediums (i.e. paper or electronic bill). For example, some providers could charge for a paper bill or for an itemised bill or switch their consumers to electronic billing without any requirements being fulfilled.
Without ComReg’s Decision consumer rights in respect of billing would not have been in place and guaranteed into the future for all electronic communications service providers.
To ensure consumers are protected in respect of billing, irrespective of who the service provider is, the consumer protection rules form part of the General Authorisation and standardise all electronic communications service (ECS) providers’ related obligations.
The main rules introduced include:
· The provision of bills to post-paid consumers free-of-charge.
· The level of bill itemisation cannot be changed without the consumer’s consent. Also, the consumer can request a fully itemised or non-itemised bill.
· Pre-paid consumers (usually mobile) must be given access free of charge to their recent transaction history, upon request.
· Calls which are normally free-of-charge are not to be identified on consumer bills, for example 1800 XXX XXX numbers.
· Paper bills must be issued unless the service provider has verified that the consumer can access and use the alternative billing medium (such as electronic billing).
· Where service providers intend switching the customer to a billing medium that is not paper (including an electronic bill), in accordance with the rules, they must be provide certain information in advance to these customers to ensure that the customer can access and operate the electronic bill.
· If the customer is on electronic billing and subsequently notifies their provider that they cannot access their bill, bills must be provided in paper medium free-of-charge. Once a consumer notifies their provider they cannot reasonably access their bill, bills must be provided in paper medium free-of-charge.
· Where bills are provided online (via the service providers website), service providers must notify consumers that the bills are available.
These are minimum protections, without which ComReg was concerned that consumers would not be able to access their bills or would have to pay for a bill that they could access. For example, prior to ComReg’s Decision, some providers were able to charge for a paper bill (even if the customer needed it), or could switch their customers to electronic billing without any obligations or could charge for an itemised bill or for a transaction history for pre-paid customers. In addition to fulfilling these minimum requirements, service providers may, within the regulatory requirements, give their customers additional choices and options in respect of billing.
The new conditions mean that service providers can only place their customers on an electronic bill if certain conditions are met. The conditions also allow customers to inform their service provider if they cannot access or use an alternative billing medium such as an electronic bill and in those cases, service providers must provide a paper bill to consumers free of charge.
The Response to Consultation and Decision document ComReg1352.pdf explains the above in more detail.
If you receive your bill and you believe that it is incorrect you should raise this immediately with your service provider as a complaint. Please ask your service provider if they provide a complaint reference number for your reference as some service providers allocate individual complaint reference numbers. Please allow your service provider 10 working days to resolve the billing issue, if the matter is not resolved in a reasonable timeframe please contact ComReg with all the details of your billing complaint and we can review and escalate your complaint if appropriate directly with your service provider on your behalf.
A consumer may on occasion receive bills from two service providers for calls/line rental etc for the same period, this can happen if you have recently switched your service. Cancellation fees may be present on the bill. If a consumer is still in a fixed term contract with the first provider when s/he switches, s/he may be billed the package fee for the remainder of the contract period. The consumer should log a complaint with that service provider first, and depending on their response, may be advised to now log a complaint with the other provider.
Consumers should examine the bills closely to ensure that both bills are charging for duplicate services for the same period. (ie that one bill is not for line rental and the other for broadband, for example). If a consumer is unable to resolve we can escalate as appropriate.
Your first bill will be slightly higher than other bills as you are paying for more than one month of usage. This is because your first bill covers the period from when your service is connected up until your first bill, as well as your price plan for the month ahead.
For example, if you had your installation appointment on the 24th of November and your first bill issues on the 5th of December, your bill will include a charge from the 24th of November to the 4th of December called part-period charges and credits. You would then pay a charge for your price plan for the month ahead (from the 5th onwards).
Why is my final bill higher than my usual bills?
If you cancel your landline account, or switch provider, you may find that your final bill is higher than your usual bills. Some providers have a clause in the terms and conditions of their packages which states that standard call rates will apply to the final bill. In other words, the discounted charges you have been receiving as part of your package will not be applied. If you are leaving before the end of your minimum contract period, early termination charges may also be applied to your final bill.
Many consumers bundle their telecoms services when possible (one bill for all services – home phone, mobile phone, broadband, TV). Generally these bundles provide consumers with a good price for all services which is subject to caps on calls, texts and data. If you use more calls, texts or data outside of your allocated allowance/bundle you will be charged at a much higher rate for this especially for data which is normally charged per megabyte.
You should always ensure that you know how to monitor your usage and always ask your provider are you notified when you reach the limit of your bundle. Some service providers voluntarily provide alerts to consumers when they reach their package limit, however some service providers do not so you should check this in order to avoid bill shock.
Please note that details of the fees that a service provider will charge you if you switch to a provider when you are still in a contract will be outlined in the terms and conditions of your contract.
ComReg provides a price comparison tool which allows consumers to compare fixed line telephone charges across all providers. The site helps consumers to select the optimum phone package, based on their individual usage.
(PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange)
A business may experience an instance where the business telephone system has been hacked and the business has been faced with large bills for calls made over their lines by the person/persons hacking the system.
Legislation came into force on 1 July 2011 – (Regulation 23(2) of the Universal Service and User Rights Regulations SI 337 of 2011) that gives ComReg powers to investigate incidents of PABX fraud. Please see link to a recent publication by ComReg in relation to this topic: ComReg_1543.pdf.
The service provider of the affected business should report the matter directly to ComReg at the following e mail address – email@example.com. The business may also fill in the form attached to the information notice in the link above and e mail it to – firstname.lastname@example.org.
The process relies heavily on timely reporting of incidents by service providers and businesses and the timely provision of information by providers to ComReg. Delays in the provision of information can lead to significant costs being incurred that cannot be recovered.
The business must formally report the matter to An Garda Síochána.
Most service providers charge per megabyte or kilobyte of data accessed and where a consumer has not elected to go on a specific package, the charges can be very high.
Our role is to ensure that accurate pricing information is available to customers, and that service providers comply with their own pricing policy.
Most service providers have processes in place whereby they will attempt to notify consumers if their data downloads are likely to result in very high bills. Consumers should check this with their service providers. Where this is not done, we would advise the customer to lodge a complaint.
A number of telephone and broadband packages are described as ‘unlimited’. In this context, the word ‘unlimited’ would normally be taken to mean that a consumer, having agreed to pay a set price, may make as many calls or spend as much time online as s/he wishes. However, some service contracts qualify the meaning of ‘unlimited’ by stating that it is subject to an ‘acceptable’ or ‘fair’ level of use by the consumer. This is sometimes referred to as a “fair usage policy”.
We advise you that any contract which sets usage thresholds, or describes what constitutes ‘fair’ or ‘acceptable’ use, should be clear and unambiguous, particularly where the service is described as being ‘unlimited’. Usage thresholds or limits should be clearly set out, as should the manner in which they are updated or amended.
We expect each service provider to implement a clear, transparent and policy for dealing with customer usage above any set thresholds. The policy should set out the rules for contract termination, including penalties, the charges that shall apply for any use above the threshold/limit, and the policy regarding migration of the customer to other packages, if applicable.
We also advise you to carefully read the terms and conditions of your contracts and to be aware of the particular limits or thresholds that apply before purchasing.
Complaints about the advertisement of “unlimited” downloads while operating a fair usage policy should be raised with the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) by the consumer.
Complaints about contractual terms and conditions setting out a fair usage policy without specific usage limits can be raised with ComReg by the consumer.