The problem with Payforit – Why we need an ombudsman

Payforit is not a company, but is the name given to a system of making charges to ‘phone bills. The system is run by the four major networks (O2, Three, Vodafone and EE).

Many consumers are unaware that when they are browsing the internet over a 4G connection,  clicking on a link can result in their phone number being passed to a company to be used for charging purposes. This is fundamentally different to what happens when using a WiFi connection, where the consumer would have to knowingly enter their phone number.

The Payforit system assumes that all the companies making charges through it are reputable and will deal with complaints. In reality many of these companies (especially the scammers) are almost impossible to talk to. The helplines are often automated with no option to get a complaint dealt with by a human being.

When a consumer receives  charge on their bill, their first response is to call their network. The network denies all responsibility saying it is a third party charge. They are told to ask for a refund from the third party which has charged them.

The consumer takes this advice and tries to contact the company on the published helpline number. If they are lucky the helpline will respond with a quick refund. The scammers do this because it enables them to reduce the number of complaints, thereby lengthening the time they are able to operate. If you are unlucky the company will refuse to refund you, or worse still will be impossible to talk to.

At this point the consumer may go back to their network The network will still not accept responsibility and will refer them to PSA.

The problem with PSA is that it is not an ombudsman or a dispute resolution service. It doesn’t deal with individual complaints.

So the consumer is left with no means of resolution other than the courts. He could go the small claims court (which will mean he has to shell out more money!). The claim is unlikely to be disputed and he will probably succeed in getting a judgement. The problem then is in getting the judgement satisfied. Most of these companies have a headquarters address which is nothing more than an a post office box. There are no assets to track down and there is no property to put a charge on.

Given the huge volume of complaints about these services, an ombudsman service is urgently required.

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With the demise of Payforit, and a PSA consultation on a new Code of Practice for Phone-paid Services, we have decided to launch the Phone-paid Services Consumer Group (PSCG). You can visit the new website by clicking here. IF you need help, please contact us via the contact link on the new website.
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