High Court reporters
Virgin Media, one of the country's biggest TV and internet service providers, is breaching regulations over how it allows customers to cancel their service so they can switch to another provider, Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has claimed.
The commission brought Commercial Court proceedings against Virgin, alleging non-compliance with Universal Service Regulations because Virgin’s process for allowing a customer to switch providers acts as a disincentive.
ComReg said the imposition by Virgin on customers of a 30-day notice period before they can switch, outside of the minimum contractual period, constitutes a disincentive to switch because it "effectively charges consumers for switching".
This is likely to have a "dissuasive effect" on switching, it argued.
In September last year, ComReg issued Virgin with a notice of non-compliance which outlined that despite requiring customers to give one month's written notice of cancellation, this clause in the contract with the customer is silent on the procedure and conditions for doing so.
For example, no information is provided to the customer as to where the written email or letter of termination is to be sent or what information is to be sent, ComReg said.
Therefore, it added, there was only one way customers were told they could cancel - by ringing Virgin's 1908 number.
Ninety-five per cent of customers cancel by phone, however, of the 5 per cent who cancel by other means, Virgin still sought to call the customer.
Virgin said there were a number of reasons for this, including GDPR. ComReg said Virgin did not cite any particular provision to justify this GDPR claim.
ComReg said Virgin appears to believe that "when some customers call to cancel, they are being tactical and seeking a better deal". Therefore, Virgin considers it part of "consumer welfare" to seek to dissuade such customers.
This approach is at odds with the practice ComReg expects to be applied in such scenarios, as required by the regulations, the regulator said.
Virgin also said the 30-day notice period for cancellation was standard practise and was recognised as legitimate. ComReg said this claim is at odds with regulations which provide that the customer cannot be charged for switching.
In its findings, Comreg said the Virgin practices, individually and cumulatively, amount to a disincentive to switch and has an impact on consumer behaviour.
The commission noted that 155,672 Virgin customers out of some 194,784 did not proceed to cancel on the first call. A further 7,602 cancelled on a second call. In total, 76 per cent were dissuaded from switching, ComReg said.
As a result of Virgin's failure to remedy the non-compliance, ComReg brought High Court proceedings seeking orders that it do so.
The case was admitted to the court's fast-track commercial list on Monday, on consent between the parties, by Mr Justice Denis McDonald who approved an agreed list of directions for the progress of the case.
A separate action by ComReg against Meteor Mobile Communications Ltd, trading as Eir Mobile, for failure to comply with the universal service obligations was not admitted to the Commercial Court because of what the judge said was the delay and lack of expedition in bringing the proceedings. The matter will now go through the normal High Court list.
ComReg claimed Eir Mobile is in breach of the regulations by failing to ensure its customer contracts specified, in a clear, comprehensive and easily accessible form, details of prices and the tariffs of out-of-bundle mobile data services.
Eir Mobile also allegedly failed to provide the means by which up-to-date information on all applicable tariffs and maintenance charges may be obtained.