back to article Vodafone presents punter with £500k phone bill

A Vodafone customer from Norwich has pitched his claim for the largest ever single-person phone bill after getting a demand from Vodafone for £588,198, and fifteen pence. James Abdale, who posted the details on the Vodafone forum, was initially quite jovial about what was so obviously a clerical error, though after two hours …


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  1. JeffyPooh

    In Canada...

    It would only require downloading 45 GB to achieve a bill of more than $1.3 million.

    In fact, last month we did download a bit over 45 GB using our mobile EV-DO cell-phone-like gadget, but thankfully we're on a different plan than the usual or $0.03 per kilobyte. So our bill was just '$75' (actually $93.03 all in).

  2. Ian

    Ha! Here's my take on it from a few years ago

  3. Andy Watt
    Paris Hilton


    I think this is accelerating into an arms war - let's see who can run up the biggest roaming data bill and then get the operator to wipe it out!

    Good to see Yoda-Bone getting well and truly flamed somewhere for miserable customer service, it's a modern disease with huge companies.

    Paris, because her bills are simple for life. (geddit)

  4. Anonymous Coward


    Lucky he wasn't on direct debit.

    He might be like me and rarely check his phone bill, and just let the money come out. Then again, I wouldn't notice that sort of money coming out of my account. I'm quite well off.

    Spanky McG

  5. Neil Kay
    Paris Hilton

    Bleedin Obvious

    "Vodafone hasn't yet responded to our request for an explanation as to how the bill came about, or why it took so long to sort out."

    Vodafone's Customer Service email system has a special routine in the reply routine:

    if ($F_todays_date - $F_creation_date($mail_id) < 2) then





    This ensures a consistent 2 day delay before getting a reply to anything.

    --Paris: because you used the word 'punter'

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's a curious thing...

    ...that the larger and more obvious the error, the higher the authority required to correct it. I'm sure that a standard fitst line CS rep could have sorted out a tenner's discrepancy, but it must take someone pretty senior to write off a half million quid debt.

  7. dodge

    What's the panic?

    So he got a wrong bill, phoned up accounts at 6pm, and they couldn't sort it out because management was packing off home. But one would assume his phone was still working, so what's the big panic?

    Why is he surprised that getting an accounts problem is hard to sort out late in the evening? And why didn't he just phone back the next day? (Or better, Voda calm him down, and tell him that a manager would call him back the next day).

    It's pretty demanding to expect every company you buy from to have 24*7 support on every issue - especially relating to accounts. Tech support relating to usability, sure. But accounts queries?

  8. Robb Dunphy

    Not the first time

    As I recall from being an avid reader of El Reg (Working in IT knowing about here is a requirement) this is not the first time this has happened with mobile phone companies.

    Is there something going on they are not telling us about? Perhaps padding of the books a bit?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wipe this months expenses?

    I should bloody well hope so! Where's the usual 5% of the cock-up amount as a "goodwill gesture" too? That £25,000 should keep him roaming about on Vodafone for about the next 100 years without paying them a single penny.

    Utter, utter fsckwits. All mobile networks are the same. When will they get a clue?

  10. Rob

    What's worse is...

    ... I had a similiar problem with T-Mobile awhile back, just moved into a property BT didn't understand what a phone line was so I resorted to using my 3G mobile, so I phoned up and got my package bumped up to the all-you-can-eat-data-plug-it-into-your-PC package so that I wouldn't get hit by large bills. Lo and behold, I get cut of 2 days later as apparently they didn't apply the upgraded tariff and my bill was about £2k, suffice to say it was already sorted out.

    What alarmed me the most was that they had to up my credit limit (from £2k) so that they could lift the ban via their systems, the money couldn't be refunded on the bill until the next bill date. So not only are they at the mercy of their systems too much but each customer seems to get an automatic credit allowance of £2k!!

    They did sort it all out and we're extremely apologetic, although I'm still slighly peeved as to why I have to pay extra for call divert from my mobile to a landline that I would otherwise get for free if it was my digits pressing the numbers.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So he got a big bill, phoned up one evening to complain and got it sorted the next morning.

    I think I'll post this story to

  12. VodaStudent

    Simple Answer

    I have the misfortune of spending the summer in one of vodabones call centres.

    Needless to say the management is a joke, staff training is appalling, work ethic is non existent and the rate of pay is laughable....

    all in all the staff do not give a monkeys as the company as a whole could not give a rats arse, their basic ethos is 'so long as we get the money it is all ok'.

    This issue could have been sorted within about 5 minutes, but the systems they use and the structure of incompetent management makes it impossible.

    Oh, and don't think this is the first cock up... I deal with smaller ones than these on a DAILY basis... even for calls that were never even made...

    by the way, did I mention vodabone outsource everything to keep costs down and profits up...

    [/Disgruntled employee]

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Y2K bug

    Jan 1st 2000, guy walks into video rental shop. Film is overdue by 100 years and 1 day, PC say's fine is $70,000. Guy behind till charges him a buck and a half, job sorted. True story.

    Is Paris working for Vodaphone now?

  14. Tom
    Thumb Up

    @Ian: I like this!

    That is all.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    My personal story

    My favorite was when I kept getting billed each month by my cellphone provider for something that showed up on the bill as "Hidden Catch" How appropriate I thought... Turned out it was some kind of Java game that I'd never downloaded. It took a few calls to sort it out though.

  16. Stevie

    Watt TF?

    "Yoda Bone"????

    How does this particular insult work? I've been looking at it for a few minutes now and I can't divine the meaning from the homophones chosen.

    "Yoda" in relation to portable communications - nothing springs to mind.

    "Bone" - possibly a contraction of the Goon Show era "Tellingbone", possibly not. Could be a reference to an erection, but how that fits in with a mobile phone billing screw-up is not clear.

    What was on your mind, Andy?

  17. Justin


    T-Mobile and Vodafone use the same billing vendor! There may be something in it :P Posting anon as used to work for said billing vendor, and yes they are hopeless.

  18. DigiTime

    How often...

    What really scares me, is how often this kind of "administration error" happen? Even if it's a couple of pence on everyon'e bill - that would add up to ALOT of $$$ for the mobile provider. I think he needs to goto Trading Standards and get an investigation started...

  19. Steve Button Silver badge

    I had an £800 bill

    ... and then a £900 the following month while I was living in France (and using the internet a lot to look for a house and car in England just before moving back).

    Thought it was a clerical error at the time, but it turns out it was genuine and I had to pay it.

    That was in 1999 though, I'm sure it would never happen these days.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Bone" could be in relation to the common phrase, "Getting Boned", what might be interpeted as a euphemism for "Getting Fucked", possibly even "Getting Fucked Up The Ass"

    And "Yoda", perhaps because said ass fucking comes from a distance, which is something the little green dude might be able to achieve using The Force.

  21. Rob
    Paris Hilton

    yoda bone

    i also like it, i think it fits a niche, for those moments when you've just gotten off the phone to some customer service department.

    yodabone: "getting fucked over from a distance by someone or something with greater power than you"

    as in: "I got yodaboned by virgin internet last night when i called up to get my broadband sorted out"

    or "bloody customer service just yodaboned me again"

    "don't bother calling the student loan helpline, they'll just yodabone you"

    paris, as she also buys her wine in boxes

  22. Seanie Ryan
    IT Angle

    what fridge?

    @Justin... so much for posting anon!! lol

    @ the story, sounds like the guy has ADD or is just an ASS.

    ringing after 6 and expects it to be sorted. Whats the bets that if his boss rang him

    at 8 pm telling there was a problem in the office he would tell him where to go.


  23. Phil A

    Hip hop Rhyming slang?

    Yo da bone?

  24. Tom

    Spoiled brats

    I agree with Dave up there. I mean come on taken care of the next morning. Does everyone sit around every evening after dinner and run through each of their bills with accounting? Perhaps they should beam over your own personal manager to complain to.. perhaps then you'd be satisfied. Problem fixed in less than 24hrs, buncha babies.

  25. Connor Garvey

    $2000 in 411 charges

    Something similar happened to me a few years ago. Ameritech, now a part of AT&T, had charged me over $2000 for 411 calls on one bill. It took more than a month to sort it out. Their support techs and managers kept telling me that my phone was broken and was calling 411 automatically when I wasn't home. They were so sure that my phone was broken that they sent techs out to my house to investigate. Three times.

    Finally, I called support one day and was accidentally transferred to a level 1 tech. I explained my problem, he yelled across the room to another tech who was working on a switch. They discovered that all 411 calls in my area were being charged to my line.

  26. Lime Smoothie
    Paris Hilton

    An insider speaks...

    I used to work for Voda some years ago. I ran a report at the behest of a Customer Services Manager to identify customers with credit balances on their accounts. Turned out there were a lot of more elderly customers who, when the bill arrived, sent a cheque - even though they had a direct debit set up. There were plenty of folk who had accounts that were thousands in credit and Voda had not contacted them to let them know (or give them their money back). Of course, this was years ago and I'm sure they have sorted out any gliches in their billing process which allows this type of thing to persist *cough*

    Paris, because she's used to being shafted.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    I have a cunning plan....

    .... no, really, it actually IS more cunning than a weasel who's just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University, and it goes like this:

    1. We all sign up for roaming data. Get everyone we know to, friends, families, strangers we meet in the street... we'll need a few thousand at least, but ten or more thousand would be best.

    2. All of us ring up charges in the £0.5m-£5m range.

    3. We tell the providers we're not going to pay, and wonder loudly what the stock markets would think if they knew that mobile phone firm X has Y tens of billions of pounds of bad debt that they're never going to collect. Looks bad on the books, that.

    4. ???

    5. Profit!

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Not surprised about managers

    When I worked for Crapple we had three shifts to support 8am-8pm, but *none* of the managers worked outside normal business hours i.e. 9am-5:30pm.

    Whilst I think the customer could have been dealt with better, a <24hr turn around on an issue like this seems pretty good based on my experiences in support.

  29. My Opinion

    @Connor Garvey

    If I knew wtf a 411 call was this may have made some sense to me!

    (This is BTW!)

  30. KarlTh

    But wouldn't it be easy enough

    To have the following code:


    if CurrentBill > 10 * LargestPreviousBill then call MarkForManualCheck(CurrentCustomer,CurrentBill,LargestPreviousBill)


    In the computers? Surely this would get rid of all these million pound gas bills and half million pount mobile phone bills in one stroke. Sure, you'd have to tweak the multiplier which triggers the check, but how hard would it be?

  31. Anonymous Coward


    Well, I had

    1. a bill

    2. from Vodafone

    3. for a SIM card

    4. with no phone number assigned to it

    5. on a PAYG tarriff

    6. that I had cut up a year ago

    7. and had reported as such to CS

    8. and they had told me the account had been closed

    9. and this happened twice

    top that!

  32. Colin Wilson

    Re: DigiTime

    I don't think trading standards is the place this needs referring to - it needs to go the Data Protection Registrar (now known as ICO) as a CLEAR BREACH of their duty under the Data Protection Act to keep accurate records.

  33. Skyraker


    Just wanna post in the Yodabone invention thread.

    Reckon you might get that one off the ground.

  34. Peter Bradshaw

    Early Computer Billing Problem.

    My father used to work in accounting to the SW Gas Board. One time, soon after computerization of the billing system (circa 1960) a customer paid his bill twice, and the next month his bill showed up saying that the SWGB owed him something like UKP 9,999,973 14s 12d (sorry, my US keyboard does not seem to have have a Pound symbol). He asked politely when he could come and pick up the money.

  35. Rob
    Paris Hilton


    Thanks for your words of support, we need more good people like you to join the movement.

    Paris,as she also gets yodaboned from time to time

  36. Jacob Lipman

    @My Opinion

    411 is an information service. On most (if not all) telephones in the united states, you can dial the three-digit code and reach an operator who will look up a phone number and/or address, connect your call, and in some cases, send you a text message containing that information. The charge is typically between half a dollar and a dollar and a half per call. Google provides a free, automatic voice-recognition 411 service for North America at 1-800-GOOG-411. I don't know if they offer an equivalent service in Europe.

  37. Zmodem


    Its more skodafone, sponsor every sport and give customers nothing

  38. Matthew

    lucky he doesnt live in New Zealand

    10c / kb at the moment.

    = $102/4/mb

    =14gb to use $1.5 million NZ

  39. William Old

    @Jacob Lipman


    You mean a *118* number !!!!!!!!!!! Why didn't the original poster say so??!!


  40. Blue Pumpkin

    Can't get the staff ...

    .. where's Rufus when you need him ?

  41. Anonymous Coward

    411 eh?

    Ahhh, I thought it was the emergency number for short people!

  42. Anonymous Coward

    @ 411eh?

    How would that work, given the 1 key is situation higher on the phone keypad than the 4 key, and the 9 key is lower than the 4 key.

    I like the joke, it just doesn't make sense :)

    In reference to the story, I'm not surprised. You'd be hard pushed to find any vaguely senior managers in any call centre anywhere after the region of 5.30pm.

    As such sorted within 24hrs isn't too bad, although sounds like customer services could have handled it better. Although to be fair, most times I've said to someone - "can't be sorted out now, leave it with me I'll get you a callback when it's sorted" they've retorted with "no I don't believe you will call me back I'm staying on the phone till it's fixed..."

    Damn the lazy ones they make it so much harder for the rest of us actually trying to do a good job.

  43. bygjohn


    I think "Tellingbone" is Catweazle (70s kids prog about a medieval wizard being transported to the present) rather than the Goons. Oops, showing my age.

  44. Echowitch

    @Spoiled brats By Tom

    Yes Tom thats what most people do, as its kind of frowned on to sit there in the office and ring up all your creditors to discuss your accounts for hours on end when they need sorting or paying. Your boss might get a little upset that he is paying you to do personal stuff on company time.

    And trying to get through on your mobile at lunchtime is impossible as thats when everyone else is doing it as well. Not to mention you might want to actually eat some lunch or nip to the shops.

    Most people ring in the evening and most companies can sort things out there and then. However granted that not all of them can as many companies provide telephone cover until late or 24/7 but the Management all bugger off at 5pm. (Actually 4 to 4:30pm in some companies I've worked.......that old nut shell of "err off to an offsite meeting" seeming to placate the sheep.)

    Skull and Crossbones coz Im in a Pirate mood YARRRRR !!!!!

  45. Anonymous Coward

    What if...?

    You were abroad in somewhere really mobile-roaming unfriendly...

    calling a £1.85/min premium rate number...

    on a conference call with a satellite phone... (can't find the costs on voda's website at the mo, but I know they aren't cheap)

    and downloading 3G data from Vodafone Live at £8/mb (highest charge I could find for int'l mobile data) at the same time.?

    Alternatively, how much would you be being charged per-minute if you were spending 24/7 on the phone for a month, to rack up a bill like that?

    Mine's the coat with the empty wallet in it...

  46. Pie Eater
    Paris Hilton

    A mobile company, and yet they can't get hold of a manager - how does that work?

    So the Vodaclone says he can't get hold of a manager because they've all clocked off for the day at 17.00

    I'm sure I've seen advertisements that tell me how much more productive I'll be when I use my Crackberry, and how my company will benefit from me being contactable 24/7.

    How hard would it be to nominate a duty manager who'd take calls up to 22.00 to resolve this minor glitches? I doubt they'd get a call more than once a month, anyway ;-)

    Paris, because she's just starting her day at 22.00.

  47. Jared Earle


    Dog and Bone = Telephone.

    Does no-one remember Cockney Rhyming Slang? You'll be professing ignorance of Polari next.

  48. Anonymous Coward


    I thought it was Bone as in "Not Very Good" (Dogsoldiers)

    and Yoda as in "You're the "

    So logically... Yodabone = "You're a bit rubbish really."

  49. Jason Clery

    24 hours

    To the people who said it was sorted in 24 hours wasn't so bad, it seems you missed the bit where he was on the phone to them for 2 hours, only to be told no-one could do anything.

    24 hours is fine, but 2 hours to the helldesk is not

  50. Andy Watt

    YodaBone revealed...

    Don't snigger, Pearson...

    Actually, Yoda saying "Help you I can, yes" was what ran through my mind. Bone was just something to tack on slong the lines of "you're boned, mate"...

    "Help you I can, yes - you're boned"

    This is an accurate reflection of what happens to me each and every time I change tarriffs with Voidamoan - they ALWAYS disable ALL APN access (and keep charging for the data package) which I ALWAYS have to ring up and ask to have re-enabled (which usually takes at least 15 minutes of "I do know what I'm talking about" type discussions)...

    Dem is windowlickers dem is.

    Alien, as it's the closest thing I could find to Yoda...

  51. Anonymous Coward

    Re: 24 hours

    @Jason Clery

    Customer "Hi, my bill is showing that I owe you £800,000. I'd like to discuss this with a manager please."

    CallCentreBod "I'm sorry sir, there's nobody here that can help at the moment. Could you call back in the morning or can I get someone to call you back in the morning?"

    Customer "No, it's ok. I'll hold in case a manager wanders into office due to having no social life."

    20 minutes later

    Customer "Has anyone appeared yet that can help?"

    CCB "No sir, would you like to have someone deal with this in the morning?"

    Customer "No, I'm aware this is an 0870 number and costing a fortune but I'll continue to hold".


    At what point when you're told that nobody can help you at that time of the evening do you accept what you are being told?

  52. Jason Clery

    @AC re 24 hours

    you have a transcript of the call? This is how it went down?

    Or was it:

    "one moment I need to transfer you" etc, etc, etc

    "At what point when you're told that nobody can help you at that time of the evening do you accept what you are being told?"

    right at the beginning. At what point do you trust the company to actually phone you back at a time you can talk to them. IE not in the middle of your working day?

    and why are you ACing over such a mundane post?

  53. peter
    Thumb Up

    Resolved within 24 hours. Where do I sign up?

    1. Someone actually answered the phone

    2. No-one said 'Of course it is correct 'cos the computer sez so'

    3. The operator was able to pass the problem to managers

    4. Managers were available after 5.00pm

    5. A promised callback actually happened

    6. By the following morning the problem was resolved.

    7. There was an immediate offer to cancel that month's bill.

    Considering the number of times I have had phone calls that go unanswered for over 1/2 hour (and then get cut off), totally impossible bills which will not be corrected because the numpty on the help desk cannot do simple maths, promised callbacks that never happen and an offer of £10 after failing to resolve mistake afer mistake over a 9 month period, this is a shining beacon of customer service. Vodaphone here I come.

  54. Connor Garvey
    Paris Hilton

    @Jacob Lipman

    Thanks. I don't often make it back to a story's comments. 411 is the number for information in the US. 911 is the emergency number and 311 is the almost-emergency number, 911 for short-tempered people (the neighbors are loud, my cat's stuck in a tree, ...).

  55. Vince
    Dead Vulture


    I think you're forgetting that the significant difference between this and any other customer service situation is that the bill is of such a magnitude, that it warrants being dealt with as a priority. Try obtaining the same level of service over an everyday discrepancy instead.

  56. Richard Gadsden

    I make it about £13 a minute.


  57. Michael King
    Paris Hilton

    Get real?

    Given the gazillions of subscribers to VF, plus the complex routing and managing of call data records (CDR's) and billing etc, things will go wrong now and again.... Hat's off to VF for managing the customer so well and compensating. To the punter - oh how the brits just looove to have something to winge about....

    Paris - One Night In Paris could land you with an unexpected large bill ;-)

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vodafone Overcharging on Passport

    I went working overseas [from UK] and took my Vodafone 'Passport' with me, when I got back my bill was MASSIVE they charged me the Euro Roaming Rate for all the calls even though Passport was activated....

    I rang them up and they didn't have a clue what I was on about !!! I had to tell them their own web address for Passport and tell them the country I was in and explained what the 75p/call was for... totally thick! honest!

    I did however get put through to a nice Ayrshire lass who didnt really know what I was on about but refunded me anyway...

    I suspect billing problems are absolutely rife in VF. Im wondering whether to stay now. I don't trust them. Certainly won't be renewing.

    Whats all this with obscene data charges? What makes them think 45Gb is worth the same as purchasing a Private Jet outright.... hmm bollocks.

    There should be a £100/month cap on ANY DATA downloading on ANY NETWORK ANY SIM/PLAN etc so these ridiculous bills CANNOT happen....

    I think one network, maybe orange has a bit where you cap your data with an automatic £1.50 max daily charge, alright except you must remember to activate it !!!!!!! On the right tracks but customers should be automatically opted in...

  59. Graeme Hill

    Per minute charging.......

    Based on a £35 tariff, a £500k bill would work out (on a 30 day month) at £11.19 per minute. If the bill was before VAT then the charges would be £13.16.

    Data charges would be different.......

    Mobile broadband 3Gb tariff (which is £15 according to their website) would equal approx 33335 Gb of data (which is a hell of a lot of iPlayer usage) working out on a 30 day month at approx 750Mb per minute (or about 12Mb per second). To get to the 300GB of data to run this bill up, this would only be possible outside of the UK, as 300GB in the UK would result in a bill of about £4500 (considerably less, and easier to swallow) unless data was being charged at £1666 per Gb (again assuming in these calculations that they are allready including VAT)

    If you know any provider in the UK you can get that kind of speed with, please let me know.

    Mines the one with Live Fast, Die Broke on the back

  60. pctechxp

    @Spanky McG

    I just let the money come out of my account.

    Well Lord/Lady McG all I can say is I can see the word mug stamped on your head from here.

    Companies will try and take as much money as they can from you if they think they can get away with it so goodness knows how much you have lost over the years.

    I go over bills with a fine tooth comb even if it paid by DD (I keep DD payments to a minimum because its a licence to rob you blind)

    Might I suggest you ask your butler (Jeeves/Hobson/Smyth) to check your bill every so often as Voda could be robbing you without you knowing it and surely you'd prefer your income from your directorships/trust funds/stocks and shares to be earning interest in your Coutts account wouldn't you?

    Mine's the one with the Kugerrands in the pockets.

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