While we’re spending more time than ever before using our phones and broadband, the costs of using them have consistently fallen over recent years.
But despite this trend there could be occasions when you receive a bill that’s much higher than normal.
Using your mobile abroad, making more calls than your monthly allowance, having your phone stolen, calling expensive or premium rate numbers, or downloading data can all result in you having to pay more than you expected.
But what happens if you do get stuck with an unexpectedly high bill – and what can you do to ensure you don’t?
You can end up with a higher bill if you make calls to numbers not included in your landline or mobile package.
To clarify how much you will be charged for calls, ask your service provider to explain what is included in your package.
For example, check whether the tariff includes any free calls to non geographic numbers, such as 0870/0845 calls, or international destinations.
If these numbers are not included in your package, or if you exceed your allowance, make sure you understand how much it will cost you to make the calls. Ask your provider whether charges quoted are per second or per minute.
If you make a lot of calls abroad, it might be worth asking if your provider has a specific international calling package. Typical packages will cover the cost of calls to certain destinations for a monthly fee.
If you are entitled to make free calls, check the terms and conditions. For example, after what time can you make free evening calls?
Remember also that 0800 may not be free from your mobile, as it is on your landline.
Ofcom’s call costs guide looks at some of the common numbers in use today, what they are used for and how much it costs to call them from landlines or mobile phones.
Using your mobile abroad
Although international call charges in the EU have fallen – and measures have been introduced to specifically tackle bill shock – roaming charges in the rest of the world can be much higher.
Stolen mobile phone
You can find yourself facing a large bill if your mobile phone is stolen.
Our advice guide explains more about how you can keep your phone safe, and what to do if it goes missing.
Voice and data allowances
If you have a mobile contract, going over your monthly allowance – particularly your data allowance (the amount of data you use surfing the web, sending emails, downloading etc) – could mean you end up paying substantially more than your monthly fee.
Premium rate texts
If you are receiving premium rate text messages which were not requested, you should contact your mobile provider and ask that they supply you with a contact name and number for the company that is sending these. If the messages have been received, your mobile provider will charge you for this.
Once you have the details, you should contact the company that has sent you these messages. If you are unable to resolve the matter with this company, you can get further advice from the premium rate regulator, PhonepayPlus.
Disputing a bill
If you don’t agree with the charges on your bill, you should first check with everyone else in the house to make sure that the charges do not relate to services they have used.
If the charges are still not recognised, you should contact your service provider.
It may be helpful to send them a copy of your bill, highlighting the relevant charges and the reasons why they are being disputed.
If you have had problems of this nature, please let us know.
You can do this by completing this short monitoring form – Disputed items on bill
Although Ofcom does not investigate individual complaints, your help in highlighting problems plays a vital part in our work and we may investigate a company if monitoring data reveals a particular problem.
How to make a complaint
If your provider doesn’t agree, you should follow their formal complaints procedure.
Details of this should be available through their website or customer services.
If you exhaust this process and remain unhappy, or if your complaint has been ongoing for more than 8 weeks, you can submit your complaint to an independent Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme.
An ADR will look at your arguments, and your provider’s, and come to a decision they think is fair.
Your phone company will tell you which scheme it is a member of, or you can use our ADR checker.
Unable to pay
If you’re having difficulty paying a bill, don’t ignore it.
Talk to the company involved as soon as possible. You may well find they can offer you a plan that spreads the payments and eases the pressure.
They aren’t legally obliged to do this. But we would normally expect them to help out if a change in your personal circumstances is giving you money problems.
For general advice on debts and similar issues, the Citizens Advice consumer service may be able to help.
You may also wish to contact the National Debtline.
If you’re disputing a bill, having the outstanding amount referred to debt collectors can be extremely worrying.
Whilst a service provider is entitled to chase money which they believe is owed, when this is in dispute, we would expect them to take this into consideration.
If you find that you have been referred to a debt collection agency whilst in dispute with your provider, you should contact the agency and explain this to them.
It is possible that they will allow you time to resolve your dispute. It’s also important you follow your phone company’s complaints procedure.
Unhappy with a debt collector’s behaviour?
Debt Collectors are licensed by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
A condition of that licence is that they must obey the OFT’s guidance on acting fairly. You can see this guidance on the OFT website.
If you believe a collection agency isn’t playing by the rules, tell them. And if they continue to cause you concern, you can seek advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service.
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