Mobile phone firms have been told to stop billing rape victims whose devices have been held by police during investigations.
The new guidance has been issued by communications regulator Ofcom after we revealed how victims of sexual violence were being charged hundreds of pounds for devices that were in the hands of detectives.
One woman supported by Rape Crisis Scotland had two mobile phones taken by Police Scotland in spring 2014, but the trial for her case was not held until July 2018.
Ofcom has been liaising with mobile phone firms since our report was published. The new guidance says vulnerable customers must be treated fairly and companies must “make sure victims don’t pay for mobile phone services they have been unable to use if their phone is taken away by the police as evidence”.
Ofcom’s move has been welcomed by charities supporting rape victims and a woman whose case was highlighted by The Sunday Post in November.
Emma (not hear real name) had her phone taken by Police Scotland in February 2018 but was still paying for it last year, despite repeatedly advising a mobile phone firm she was the victim of rape.
Emma said: “I was delighted to hear this news. The experience I had was nothing short of traumatic. This is not something I should have gone through after being the victim of (and reporting) rape and domestic violence. It took almost 18 months, countless hours of very unpleasant phone calls, giving up a few times, and hundreds of pounds before I was offered a replacement device and the rest of the monthly payments scrapped.
“The fact Ofcom have identified victims of crime might be paying bills for devices they cannot use and may never get back is unfair and should be rectified is good news. If these guidelines were already in place, I would have saved hundreds of pounds, saved so much time and energy and I would have been mentally stronger as I recovered from being raped and abused. Instead it was the opposite.”
She added: “I hope with Ofcom’s new guidance no one will ever have to go through what I had to.”
Sandie Barton, director of operations at Rape Crisis Scotland, said: “Ofcom’s moves to address this issue are welcome and, in particular, the focus on preventing re-traumatisation and providing practical assistance. We’ll continue to seek feedback from survivors to help monitor the situation.”
Ofcom’s new guidance also covers those in debt, people suffering physical or mental health problems and the bereaved. Companies must publish clear, up-to-date policies that are easy to understand, Ofcom said.
“These should be led from the top, with senior leaders accountable for embedding them in their organisation’s culture,” Ofcom added.
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