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Citizens Advice Calls for UK Mobile Operators to Allow Bill Caps

Friday, January 22nd, 2016 (12:01 am) - Score 353

The Citizens Advice agency has today called on Mobile Network Operators (MNO) to give their customers the ability to set monthly caps for their bills in order to avoid getting into debt (similar to the way credit card companies impose a limit).

Over the years we’ve certainly heard about plenty of situations where customers can be hit with BILL SHOCKS, often while travelling abroad. But such problems can also occur while using domestic tariffs too.

Many mobile phone customers pay in arrears for extras outside their contracts (e.g. texting donations to a charity or calling premium rate lines like directory enquiries) and thus the CA warns that “bills can quickly spiral to hundreds or even thousands of pounds“.

The CA’s report (‘Falling Behind‘) also analysed 26,600 mobile phone debts from last year (totalling nearly £11 million) and found that companies often play a significant role in people getting into mobile phone debt.

Providers frequently failed to assess whether the customer could actually afford the contract (in fairness this isn’t always easy to get right) and there were also examples of people taking out multiple mobile phone contracts while still being in debt to another operator. One person who visited Citizens Advice had more than £3,000 in debts across six different phone contracts.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

Mobile phone firms are lagging behind in debt collection standards. Our evidence shows companies too often don’t set affordable debt repayment plans, escalate debts too quickly and fail to co-operate with debt advisers. In some extreme cases companies set customers up to fail by offering them contracts they can’t afford to repay.

Giving customers the chance to set a cap on their bills will give consumers more power and help ensure they don’t build up unaffordable charges. The Government can also help by ensuring people can access free and independent money advice to avoid getting into debt in the first place.”

The above is a problem because mobile operators were also ranked the worst private sector debt collector with an approval rating of just 37%, which is far below banks, energy companies and private debt collection firms. For example, customers often found that they would continue to be chased for debts even while the bill was in formal dispute.

Further Recommendations from the Report

* Ofcom should require mobile phone providers to publish the steps they will take to recover unpaid debts.

* Multiple attempts should be made to contact and negotiate with consumers before starting debt collection.

* Mobile phone networks should offer all consumers the opportunity transfer to a pre-pay or basic monthly tariff as an alternative to full disconnection.

* No attempt should be made to collect any bills which are being queried until the dispute is officially resolved.

* Mobile phone networks should inform consumers of sources of free debt advice when they first experience financial problems.

Bill caps would certainly be a good start and we’ve seen from the EU roaming measures that it should be perfectly possible to add such a feature to domestic tariffs, although much will depend upon how easy it is for customers to set and control the cap.

Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar Groucho says:

    Yes, I have three members of my family being chased for money they do not owe. Vodafone is involved in all three cases.It is seemingly impossible to cancel a contract with Vodafone.Vodafone say the problem is caused by ‘migration’ of accounts. The letter I found here:http://www.dearcustomerrelations.com/best-ever-complaint-letters/vodafone-a-communicational-conundrum/
    goes back eight years, so the disaster called Vodafone is hardly a recent problem.The businessman who had a £15,000 bill and had to stage a sit-in at Vodafone is hardly a one-off. Has OFCOM finally woken up to what is going on here with people’s money? Paying money is never the answer, as they will come back for more, and seem to have no records kept.Is this just incompetence, or is someone trying to bring Vodafone down from the inside?

  2. Avatar Groucho says:

    In case anyone doubts my word as to what happens when you try and contact Vodafone, have a look at the Trust Pilot site:
    https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.vodafone.co.uk
    I posted on there, and most of the reviews since mirror my experience exactly. You will be passed around numerous members of staff, never knowing who you are dealing with, and the whole process will be spun out in the hope that you will give up.Unbelieveable!

  3. Avatar JamesM says:

    I am with BT Mobile and they do let me. I have it set to £5 right now but I can set it from £5 to £200 with 30 minutes gap

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