New premium phone rules to protect consumer

Wednesday 05 December 2012 11.08
Know your rights when you sign up to a premium rate service
Know your rights when you sign up to a premium rate service

Premium rate services for sports results, competitions, or business data can cost as much as €3.50 a minute. Now, a new code of practice has been imposed on phone companies to ensure you don't get ripped off. Tina Leonard has the inside track.

Historically premium rate services have been controversial with as many as 28,000 complaints and queries in 2009. This year, the regulator Comreg, is on track for more than 10,000 if the second quarter figures are a measure when more than 3,000 issues and complaints were dealt with.

You can tell a premium rate phone service if the number begins with 15 and a premium rate text service that begins with 5.

Because you are buying a service - whether its the latest soccer results, share prices or a competition- the charge is much greater than that of an ordinary call or text, and this is why you need to be careful and know in advance how much you will pay.

Costs

The costs vary from network and are usually more from mobile phones, plus some are charges per call and some per minute.

A 1512 number called from a landline could be 50c per call; 1516 number €1.80 per call and a 1530 number 50c per minute. There are many 15 numbers and you could be charged as much as €1.80 per minute for a 1560 number; €2.40 per minute for a 1570 number or €3.50 per minute for a 1590 number. (In these examples calls or per minute charges cannot exceed these amounts.)

However, the rules for premium rate services state that you must be told of the charges on connection and once you have spent €30 on a call you must be required to actively confirm that you want to continue. If the charges reach €60, the call must be terminated.

When it comes to texts let’s say you’re sending a text to a premium rate number to enter a competition or are receiving a text with football scores from a premium rate service, again the charges are higher than usual and will be outside your allocated minutes if you have a bill-pay package.

There are charge limits set on some so for example 51XXX can’t exceed 16c while the charge for 53XXX can’t exceed 80c while there is no limit imposed on the cost of a text to or from 57XXX.

The new code

The Code contains many general provisions such as ensuring fair market practice; no false or misleading information about the characteristics of the service and the price; data protection and it includes specific rules on services to children, information and advice services, competitions and more.

There are plenty of sections dealing with subscription services and the aim is that you know what you’re getting, for how much and how to stop:

You should know what you are getting

You should be informed clearly of the main characteristics of the service and whether it is a subscription service. A common complaint is that people don't realise they are signing up to a repeat service and find they are charged for repeated texts for competitions for example

You should be told the full cost

You should be told the full cost including VAT before you start.

If it’s a subscription service you should be told how many texts you will receive and how much each text costs or if there is a charge per period and what the period is.

You should also be advised of any additional costs, including a possible sign-up cost, that network data charges may apply, if there is a ‘free’ or discounted period how long that is and what the charges are afterwards, and that calls from various networks may be higher (for call services the Eircom charges must be given)

No confusion in signing-up

When you subscribe to a subscription service, before you pay anything you must receive a free text that doesn’t include any promotional information but instead informs you about the service and the name of the service provider.

“SUBSCRIPTION REQUEST MESSAGE

To subscribe to [name of service and optional description] for [sign-up cost] and [cost of service in €] per [billing frequency - message received/time] and confirm that you are over 18 yrs, text AGREE [or other unique keyword for the service] to Short Code 5XXXX.”

After you receive the information message as above and then decide to subscribe and do so, then you receive a (free) confirmation message.

With a subscription service every time you have spent €20 you must receive a (free) message reminding you what you have subscribed to, how much it costs and how to stop.

Opting-out should be straightforward

In the general information provided and the specific text messages for subscription services you’ll already have been told how to unsubscribe – i.e. text ‘stop’ to a specific short code. Once you do, you can no longer be charged and the service has to stop immediately. In addition you must receive a free message confirming receipt of the unsubscribe message and that it has been acted on.

Other tips

Read the information about costs for any premium rate service carefully in advance as they do vary and the costs from your network may be higher.

If you are signing up to a subscriptions service understand that there will be repeat charges. Make sure to read the texts received that contain information on the service and costs before you agree to subscribe.

For subscription services know that you can opt-out any time by texting ‘stop’ to the 5-digit code given to you.

Check your phone bill for charges you don’t recognise, for example a 15XX number or a mobile text short code (5 digits beginning in 5). If it’s a text message it should contain a helpline number for whatever company sent the text. Or you can enter the 5-digit short code to phonesmart.ie (a ComReg website) to check who the company is. The site also lists contact details for all premium rate service providers.

If you have been charged for a service you did not subscribe to and cannot resolve it with the premium rate service provider, contact ComReg for assistance.

ComReg’s Premium Rate Services website: www.phonesmart.ie