Mobile customers can now avoid hefty fines and protect themselves from a monthly shock over inflated bills after mobile phone bill limits were signed into UK law.
Providers across the market, including Three, Vodafone and O2 must now give you an option to limit or cap your monthly bill.
The Digital Economy Bill has been working its way through Parliament over the past 18 months.
Part of the bill says mobile providers must give customers the option to put an upper limit on how much they pay each month.
Charges can quickly rack up when you go over your data or call limits, especially if you’re downloading large apps, calling premium rate phone numbers not listed in the terms of your contract, like 0808 and 0845 numbers, or playing freemium games.
Even texting a donation to a charity or answering a TV quiz can start adding serious money to bills, putting thousands of users at the risk of serious debt.
Small ‘micropayments’ or in-app purchases to get further in games or add functionality to apps can also leave users with massively inflated bills.
Citizens Advice have been campaigning to protect unwary customers from “bill shock” and the all-too-frequent horror stories about getting stung with massive mobile payments.
With mobile phones now an essential part of everyday life, but telecoms customers too often lacking the kind of protections people have in other essential markets like energy and financial services, it is good that Parliament has recognised the need for this change.”
Giving everyone the chance to set a monthly mobile limit puts the power to manage their finances back into the hands of consumers.- Gillian Guy: Chief Executive, Citizens Advice
The charity released a damning report earlier in the year showing how mobile phone companies sometimes played a major role in people getting into debt because of their contract phone bills.
Analysis of 26,000 debts totalling more than £11 million found that many firms desperate to sell contracts failed to work out whether people could afford them before starting charges.
It’s a practice akin to most other consumer markets including mortgages, utilities and broadband.
Lawmakers are concerned that as smartphone usage rockets, associated debt with rising bills continues to soar.
Just as with the payday loans scandal, people told Citizens Advice they were taking out multiple contracts despite being heavily in debt. One person who played a part in the report had six different contracts with phone bill debts of over £3,000.
The worst of it is that these entirely avoidable debts can force the humiliation of debt collection onto insolvent or vulnerable people.
The 2017 Citizen’s Advice league table for debt collection found mobile phone providers were ranked the worst private sector debt collector with an approval rating of just 37 per cent, far below banks, energy companies or even private debt collection firms.
Despite the change in law, mobile phone companies insist they already have many of these mobile phone bill limit protections in place.
Tesco Mobile told SimOnlyDeals.co.uk on background that the company have always offered “capped contracts”, which allow for complete visibility over mobile phone bills to ensure that customers never get any nasty bill shocks.
And Vodafone told us they were committed to making shocks over mobile phone bills a thing of the past.
We already alert our customers when they are close to the limit of their allowance, so they can stop usage or increase their allowance. But we are very happy to work with the Government on any further measures to ensure our customers can use our products worry free.- Spokesperson: Vodafone UK
Three addressed the “bill shock” that many users face at the end of every month, pledging to work with Government to make sure prices are fair and customers are protected from unfair charges.
We don’t believe any consumer should suffer from bill shock and already offer a number of measures to prevent this, including allowing consumers to cap all out of allowance spending through the my3 app.
Any Three customer who reaches their mobile data limit must also purchase an add-on to continue using the mobile internet rather than incur higher out of bundle charges.- Spokesperson: Three
Ofcom say that while mobile providers should offer you a new deal if you’re regularly going over your data or call allowance, few providers actually do this.
Advice on their website says that if you find yourself regularly going over your data limits or making more calls than your plan allows each month, go ahead and research a better deal for yourself.
You shouldn’t wait for your provider to step in and contact you, say Ofcom, rather you need to go out and find yourself a better deal.
It is falling on the customer themselves to shop around – an exhausting practice that many never grasp without recommendations from friends or using price comparison tools on websites like this one.
But the addition of the new law on mobile phone bill limits mean all providers will now have to, at the very least, offer the chance for customers to keep a firm hand on bills by properly capping their own monthly payments.