Ofcom, the UK comms regulator, has issued a GBP175,000 (USD228,000) fine to the Post Office for overcharging disabled customers who made calls using relay services that convert text into speech or speech into text. These customers should have received a special tariff that applies a lower rate relative to the duration of the call, to offset the time taken for translation between speech and text. However, the Post Office failed to apply this tariff between 31st August 2013 and 28th November 2018.
The regulator noted that the Post Office had no significant compliance function prior to 2018. They believe that this contributed to the making of the error and the time it remained uncorrected.
The Post Office identified their own mistake and then communicated it to Ofcom, prompting the regulator to open an investigation on 14th March 2019. As usual, almost a year elapsed before the regulator reached its own conclusion, though they discounted the fine by 30 percent because the Post Office admitted their failures and accepted a settlement, hence reducing the regulator’s workload.
Once again the British approach to regulation leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of customers. Errors went unnoticed for many years, and were not identified because of any regulatory review or external audit of the telco’s performance. Over six years have elapsed since the first customers were overcharged, and they will only now receive refunds. Meanwhile, the government will pocket the proceeds of the fine, which would have been better spent on developing a more effective regime for consumer protection.