A doctor who couldn’t receive calls at a hospital, a mother who couldn’t contact her child’s day care centre and a person who had her credit rating unfairly tarnished are among those who are joining a class action against Vodafone.
Legal firm Piper Alderman announced on Tuesday that it had secured funding from the LCM Litigation Fund, enabling it to proceed with a class action against the mobile operator. The legal action is expected to be filed by the end of May.
The litigation relates to customers experiencing call drops out, reception issues, weak data and internet performance and poor customer service from Vodafone in 2010 and 2011.
In late 2010, Piper Alderman asked Vodafone customers to register their interest in a class action and received 23,000 responses. Complaints ranged from losses sustained by small businesses to the inability to make calls during times of emergency, the law firm said.
Since then, the class action has stalled due to its failure to attract the necessary funding.
At a briefing on Tuesday, Sasha Ivantsoff, the partner leading the action for Piper Alderman asked individuals who were customers of Vodafone in 2010 and 2011 to formally join the class action by providing their contact and monthly spend details at www.piperalderman.com.au.
The Web page that enables individuals to join the class action went live on Tuesday morning and it is unclear how many people have signed up.
Ivantsoff said there were 7 million SIM cards issued by Vodafone in 2010 and since then 700,000 cards are no longer active. “We assume that 700,000 people have left Vodafone – we’d like to catch all of them and more,” he said.
In its annual results, released this morning, Hutchison Australia, which holds a 50 per cent stake in Vodafone, revealed that the telco had lost 443,000 customers for the 12 months ended 31 December.
He said the firm had not contacted Vodafone but would do in due course when it knows how many people have joined the class action, how much each person had spent and the extent of their losses.
“We can’t do that until people sign up,” he said.
The firm said the claim will “focus on Vodafone’s alleged misleading and deceptive conduct and other breaches of the Australian Consumer Law. Evidence will centre on dropped calls, reception issues and poor data performance experienced by millions of Vodafone, 3 and Crazy Johns customers.
“We have a number of examples of people – mums and dads, small business who have been significantly affected; a lot of tradespeople who have lost business because people couldn’t get through to them [and] business went elsewhere, and doctors who couldn’t contact their patients,” said Ivantsoff.
Ivantsoff said the firm intended to file the claim within three months if it “can’t be resolved with Vodafone beforehand.”
He said the firm wants to win back damages customers have suffered, which is “the difference between the price they paid for the service and the value they got for it.”
“We would also say that business owners are entitled to consequential losses and tradespeople who have lost business as a result of not being able to receive and make calls,” he said.
LCM Litigation Fund will “take on all the financial risk of the class action,” said LCM managing director, Patrick Coope.
“Vodafone customers can join the class action knowing they will not have to pay unless there is a recovery – they cannot end up out of pocket,” he said.
At the briefing, Piper Alderman wheeled out Amanda Burkett, the former Vodafone customer registered to the claim, who spent one hour in an aircraft on the tarmac at Melbourne Airport, for a flight back to Sydney following a business trip.
Burkett’s mobile phone would not connect to the Vodafone network when she tried to contact carers at her son’s day care centre to alert them that she was delayed. She attempted to make the call while she was on the tarmac and once she was inside the airport.
“When I arrived in Sydney I tried again and still could not contact anyone in the airport or in the train station so obviously I was quite concerned,” she said. “I could not contact anyone by phone, email or text and was very concerned about what was going to happen to my son.
“I eventually got hold of somebody about 10 minutes before the day care [centre] closed to go and pick him up.”
According to Burkett, Vodafone gave her “every excuse under the sun” for poor network performance and would give her a “number of options to try and alleviate the problem knowing very well that they weren’t going to alleviate the problem.”
Burkett said she initially made a complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombusdman before ending her contract and moving to Telstra.
Another customer, known as “Sarah” said Vodafone reported her to a credit reporting agency for an outstanding bill, which she claimed she had paid. Consequently, her home loan application was rejected.
She repeatedly asked Vodafone to send her a copy of her account, which she claimed they couldn’t find in their system.
“Everyone at Vodafone was revolting,” she said. “They couldn’t find a copy of my account but kept rudely telling me that I owed them money. They never contacted me about an outstanding account or informed me that they planning on ruining my credit record. I spent hours and hours on this matter and in the end, missed out on the home I wanted.”
Meanwhile, telecommunications users group ACCAN has asked that customers who want swift action should contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
“This class action is going to take a long time to play out and there are no guarantees for consumers that they will receive compensation if it goes to court – our fears are that this will turn into a lawyer’s picnic,” ACCAN said in a statement.