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O2 UK Calls on Mobile Rivals to “Stop the Smartphone Swindle”

Friday, May 5th, 2023 (10:37 am) - Score 16,984

Mobile operator O2 (VMO2) has launched a new campaign today that calls on their rivals to “Stop the Smartphone Swindle” by introducing changes that would prevent consumers overpaying for mobile phones they already own. But EE (BT), Vodafone and Three UK say they already offer such packages.

According to Virgin Media O2’s new research, “millions of consumers” in the UK are said to be overpaying for their mobile phones, as new analysis claims that handset overpayments are costing consumers £530m each year. This reflects the fact that some bundles of both mobile handsets and tariffs (airtime contracts) will continue to charge consumers for the handset, even once the minimum contract term has ended.

VMO2 states that their rivals at EE, Vodafone and Three UK are estimated to collectively have millions of customers on traditional phone contracts that bundle together airtime costs for minutes, texts and data with the cost of the handset. Meanwhile, the operator claims that 93% of Brits are completely unaware they could be charged for handsets they’ve already paid off.

The operator is now calling on their rivals to help put an end to this issue with three clear asks, which would put them on a similar level to the approach that O2 has been taking for many years:

  1. Introduce split contracts giving consumers greater choice over their mobile phone bills.
  2. Automatically roll down customers onto an airtime only plan at the end of their minimum term to stop handset overpayments.
  3. Inform customers once they’ve paid off the cost of the handset at the end of their contracts.

Gareth Turpin, Chief Commercial Officer at VMO2, said:

“We’re calling time on this half a billion-pound problem and urging the industry to step up for consumers and put an end to the smartphone swindle.

As the only operator to have offered split contracts for over a decade; automatically roll down our direct customers once their device is paid for; and ensure customers receive clear handset payment information at the end of their contract, we want others to ensure consumers don’t overpay for their smartphones.

During a cost-of-living crisis, and with older and low-income households most at risk, I’m asking the other operators to do the right thing.”

On the one hand, it is true to say that many consumers are still stuck in a contract where this kind of thing can happen. But on the other hand, EE, Three UK and Vodafone also now offer the option of split contracts, although these aren’t always the default and there’s certainly some room for improvement.

Lest we forget that Ofcom has already introduced (2019) a range of new measures that were intended to tackle issues like this by requiring mobile operators to be more transparent about such plans (here). But this hasn’t completely resolved the issue, and Ofcom are known to be reviewing it, again. The regulator’s End-of-Contract Notification (ECN) system, which was introduced in February 2020, is another helpful tool.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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24 Responses
  1. Avatar photo AYCESwindle says:

    Theyre really concerned about customers getting swindled? Yet they still allow (& take a cut from) ‘chargetomobile’ (direct mobile billing).
    It used to be called ‘payforit’. Change the name and carry on as usual.
    They dont even give customers the option to block this so called service.

    1. Avatar photo Anthony says:

      02 have a cheek. They also tie you into expensive airtime contracts. I broke my phone but still had to pay for it, which is fair enough but I couldn’t change tariff to a less costly one UNTIL said broken phone was paid off. I watched my friends get massive data and unlimited texts/calls while I had to pay £15 a month for 1gb and unltd text and calls!!

  2. Avatar photo illus says:

    If you took out a loan and paid it back over 2 years, but the loan company continued taking your monthly payments at the end of it – there would be uproar.
    So why are mobile phone companies allowed to continue to take money for a phone you have already paid them for?

    1. Avatar photo MobileRetailVeteran says:

      Because – in a bundled 2 year plan where you pay one cost – if you wish to change it at the end of the two years, you have to let them know, or have agreed to have them contact you via marketing.

      It’s against the law for your plan to be altered without your permission. Such an act would not only be a breach of contract, it would also incur untold amount of fines. And if they did automatically drop it at the end of the two years to the lowest amount, you would no doubt complain about a high bill.

      If you don’t want to continue to pay full price for a bundled phone and SIM plan, change off your current network, and deffinately don’t buy from a 3rd party vendor – as 3rd party vendors only offer bundled 2 year plans!

      Yes they are there for choice, and due to ofcom, networks must give people choice where to shop, but this presents its own problems that i wont go into.

      This is why Vodafone, VMO2, Sky all offer an Unbundled option of device plan between 3 to 36 months at 0% (meaning no interest and no cpi/rpi price changes) and a SIM plan up to 24 months meaning you now have flexibility and choice.

      Also VmO2 are the only operator to still use Rate of inflation + RPI meaning they have the highest hikes of all mainline operators. So again this is a classic case of cakeism

    2. Avatar photo bob bob says:

      A loan is a contract of a finite length. Would you prefer they just terminate your contract and cancel your number?

    3. Avatar photo CarlosTheGuru says:

      Retailmobileveteran – what absolute rubbish. There is nothing to stop operators stopping the purchase payments once the phone has been paid for!! As for customers then complaining about the previous”high” payments . . . are you crazy? I agree that there are always people too thick to understand simple financial arrangements but surely no one is going to argue once it is explained to them that they now own a £800 phone and are only paying for calls/data. AND can now switch to an even cheaper SIM deal from Smarty or Giff Gaff.

  3. Avatar photo Michael V says:

    They really are making noise about this. I can say that Three have always contacted me over the years to let me know when my contract is ending with a letter & I can renew my plan for SIM only. Even the My Three app will show the option. Vodafone app also states when one can change plan.
    I don’t expect them to automatically change my plan for me, I wouldn’t really want them to.

    1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      But the point is that if you don’t act, the thieves at Three continue to charge you the same monthly price after the handset is paid off. The b*****ds have indeed sent me a letter that can be summarised as “you’ve paid for your handset, but unless you do something we’ll treble the price of of the airtime so you still pay us the same each month and we make much more money, hahahahahaha! Sucker”

      Illus comment (above) has it correct. In any other industry this would be illegal, in telecoms apparently it’s completely normal, thanks to the useless clowns at Ofcom.

  4. Avatar photo Obi Wan says:

    Oh the irony, remind me who introduced 17.3% price increases a month ago? My contract doesn’t even have the split component, someone tell VM02 to practice what they preach.

  5. Avatar photo MobileRetailVeteran says:

    Just went back and read the rolldown statement that this berk said. I’m not sure that he’s aware of the legal ramifications of having to implement this against a customers wishes.

    An “automatic rolldown” will not be in the best interests of the customer. The network doesn’t know what the best plan will be! Sure they can take a system average of say the last 6 months of billing info and program an average…but that won’t work out for everyone.

    That would have a 35% success rate at best (and that’s me giving them too much credit)

    1. Avatar photo Skalamanga says:

      They just have to tell you in advance what plan you will be rolled down to, no legal issue at all.

      It’s the same as any other financial service that offers a fixed term contract

    2. Avatar photo The Barker says:

      MobileRetailVeteran: You’re a shill for the industry. It’s easily possible to separate airtime and handset charges, and to stop the handset charges when paid off. Contract prices are routinely varied (indeed the thieves of the industry have all adopted inflation+loads variation clauses as a contractual term because that suits them).

  6. Avatar photo George says:

    VMO2 seem to forget that their Virgin Mobile side of things have done Freestyle contracts where phone is paid by a loan that comes with a separate sim deal OR a classic contract where it is combined and thus doesn’t lower after the phone is paid off. So they’re preaching against something they’re guilty of too.


  7. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    One of the reasons I don’t bother with mobile phone contracts, the other, is the constant updating to a new phone and then paying more for it. I paid £130 I think for my phone and £5 a month, so if the phone last for 4 years I am paying about £7 a month. If it lasts longer even better.

  8. Avatar photo Ant B says:

    I have an O2 small business contract which operates exactly as they’re complaining about. Hypocritical much?

  9. Avatar photo Jazzy says:

    If you can afford to, but the handset up front SIM only or on a plan over 24 months from the likes of Samsung and Apple

    I saved over £240 over 2 years doing this and popped a £6 SIM card in that covered my needs

    Apple also allow over payments, they take the monthly amount and you can also do a faster payment whenever you like to pay the balance off quicker. As we were moving house, I sold loads of old vintage Broons and Oor Wullie books on ebay and used it to pay off my phone 7 months early

  10. Avatar photo Daniel says:

    Its a joke, vm02 are the biggest swindlers, poor signal, slow data transfer, im pretty sure i remember 3g being as fast as this so called 5g connectivity in loading screens, also got had over, they took my damaged huawei p30 pro said they couldnt repair and i got told i can only have an oppo x5 lite valued at £280, like for like? Its all a con

  11. Avatar photo Geoffers says:

    How dare you accuse others of ripping people off after your mid contract price increases!

  12. Avatar photo Georgi Georgiev says:

    Seven years O2 Customer and last month their customer service
    They did everything in their power to make me decide to leave this company.
    I fell into such a closed circle that the only possible good decision was to leave immediately, and this is due to extremely incompetent employees.
    I chose EE and for the first time in seven years I have mobile internet while on the phone
    In O2, talking and working with your phone online is impossible

  13. Avatar photo Skalamanga says:

    Both my Vodafone contracts are already split into device and airtime contracts.

  14. Avatar photo Spanish Harlem says:

    Vodafone have been sing spilt airtime and device contracts for some time now. They even offer an upgrade to your handset once the airtime contract expires. Thereby ensuring you stay with them by taking a newer phone. If you’re so inclined that is. The better option these days is to secure your phone from elsewhere and find a cheap tariff that’s some only to accompany it.

  15. Avatar photo Gavin Mason says:

    It is laughable when as a virgin media customer you have leave and rejoin every 18 months or get charged an extra £20+ a month for out of contract charges and 02 mobile data is joke for bandwidth and data pricing.. if anything I would say they are long way behind other mobile service providers

  16. Avatar photo GAVIN MASON says:

    The same with three mobile the bill is split into contact plan and device plan

  17. Avatar photo Bert says:

    Dear slow2,

    Please contact us again when you a nationwide data network that does as promised.


    That’s all for now


Comments are closed

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