The North Wales Police Service is in the news this week and taxpayers are up in arms after the force paid tons of cash for mobile phone service it hadn’t used for years. Many seem shocked a phone billing error like this could happen. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, I’m only barely surprised. Wait, I’m not surprised at all.
All in all, the cops are in the hole for over $840,000 USD for the unused service, which went on for two years before it was spotted. The BBC reports the force has been in touch with the unnamed mobile carrier and is ironing out repayment terms. The company has admitted there was “a likely issue” though I’m not sure that’s what I’d call a billing error that was steadily climbing toward $1 million – I might use slightly stronger language.
Welsh Conservative Assembly Member Darren Millar seemed bewildered by the incident, telling the BBC that taxpayers will want to know how police didn’t pick up on the mistake.
“If this means that local taxpayers have paid more on their police precept than is necessary then it is unacceptable,” Millar was quoted as saying. “Taking two years to discover this brings into question the checks and balances in their internal audits, and at a time when every penny counts.”
On the flip side, the force and crime commissioner Winston Roddick took a more positive spin, pointing out the error was eventually discovered and the police service’s financial department was taking steps to rectify the matter.
“I was made aware of the situation in September and have been monitoring the force’s negotiations with their mobile phone service provider,” Roddick said, in a statement. “As it was only identified in the current financial year it hadn’t appeared in annual accounts but it does underline the need for vigilance in financial affairs, particularly when they involve the public purse.”
He said something pretty important there, in case you didn’t pick up on it: we need to be vigilant when it comes to our finances. Too often people subscribe to the “weigh it and pay it mentality” where as long as their telecom bill is roughly the same amount of money as the month before, they will pay it without second thought. There’s a good chance that is what was going on in North Wales.
Sadly, some studies show up to 80 percent of our communications bills contain errors. Because it’s a confusing marketplace and we’re often not well-versed in the technology, telecom statements can be difficult to decipher, making it easy to miss a mistake. Sometimes we just don’t have the time to devote to scouring our bills and spending hours on the phone with our providers to make the necessary adjustments. And even if you do, you’re left wondering if you’ve gotten the best deal as soon as you hang up.
I feel confident identifying these issues because it’s what our consultants encounter on a daily basis. We have an advantage with our best-in-class pricing databases, specialized software and benchmarking tools, but at the end of the day, it boils down to hard work: it’s tough to navigate through a web of services. It takes time to pick it apart on a line-by-line basis. It takes experience to make sense of it all.
If you haven’t reviewed your business’s telecom or merchant services thoroughly, or have relied on an outside commissioned rep to do so, consider an additional review with an independent audit professional. It won’t cost you anything, but you could end up with a lot more money in your bank account in return.