/ Money, Technology

Don’t keep schtum about shockingly high mobile bills

Shocked woman looking at bill

Have you ever suffered from a mobile phone, landline or broadband bill shock? The symptoms? An exceptionally large bill from your provider that not only comes as a surprise, but that you couldn’t possibly afford.

It doesn’t take much to set me off on a rant about the many things I think phone and broadband companies should do to treat their customers better. And I consider myself fortunate to be in a position to influence the actions of industry, government and regulators into a pro-consumer direction.

So I’m chuffed to conkers by phone regulator Ofcom’s request for consumers to let it know if they’ve received an unexpectedly high broadband, landline or mobile bill in the last 12 months.

As Ofcom’s director of consumer affairs will testify, I’ve spent quite some time bending his ear about the lack of consumer protection against a phenomenon dubbed ‘bill shock’.

What’s bill shock?

I’m sure there are many of us who cringe at our monthly bills, due to slightly exceeding our usage limits. But that’s not what bill shock’s about. Bill shock’s usually a one-off affair, where you receive a bill so unexpectedly high that there’s no way you could have predicted it.

The causes of bill shock can be many and varied – perhaps you’ve exceeded a ‘fair usage’ policy you never knew existed, maybe your operator didn’t keep you informed about the extortionate cost of using your mobile overseas, or maybe your child’s unwittingly been making in-app purchases on your smartphone.

I’ve heard from people who’ve been hit by big bills for all these reasons, but the one thing they have in common is the understandable question – why didn’t my operator tell me sooner?

It’s a fair query. After all, banks and credit card providers are usually quick to alert us to unusual, out of character usage on our accounts, so why can’t phone and broadband providers do the same? This question becomes even more relevant when you consider a more sinister cause of some bill-shocks – fraud if your phone is stolen.

Why not cut the service?

When I’ve asked operators about mobile bill shock in the past, responses include the technological difficulties of monitoring customer usage closely (this from giants of technology), or arguments that consumers won’t want their phones cut off.

Yet, I don’t understand why it’s not possible to cut off usage that results in high bills – premium rate services and web access, say – while leaving less expensive services active (including the ability to call 999).

To my knowledge, no one ever died from an inability to access YouTube. And given the choice between a £1,000 bill and the relatively slight inconvenience of contacting my operator to sort things out, I know which I’d prefer.

It’s not all down to service providers though – we all hold some responsibility to monitor our usage. Nor do I want nanny-style regulation. From time to time, we’ll all go over our typical usage by a moderate amount, and that’s fine. But surely it shouldn’t be possible to run up bills tens of times higher than normal with no obligation on our provider to intervene or shoulder part of the financial burden.

Ofcom’s request to consumers to share their experiences is the first step in a process which could see better protection put in place. So if you’ve been a victim of bill shock and want to stop it happening in the future, don’t keep it to yourself.


I’ve just had a £6500 bill for 4 days in Eygpt , and I had world traveler , can’t seem to get anywhere with Vodafone only that I must pay or I will be disconnected with a further £2500 disconnection charge on top and have a black mark against my name.

Kelly garside says:
8 July 2016

I am having a similar problem with my bill from Vodafone and they are offering no resolutions for me either! Did you ever resolve this? It’s worrying me, thanks


Kelly -P.Crossley went to a country where the roaming charges for Vodaphone are extremely high = call/minute=£1.65–receive a call=£1.30/minute – send a text =35P +home rate – use data= daily charge -£3/MB for first 5MB–then £15 for EACH 5MB after that . Spain is a lot cheaper . Like the reply I gave to Rafael,s post below Vodaphone will not make an exception under normal T+C,s for usage as it was openly done by the customer , any excuse saying -I did not know is not acceptable under their contract . Its normal business practice -you use a hire car for example you pay mileage charges as well as the hire fee only some countries in the world when it comes to telecommunications charge large amounts of money , thats not Vodaphone,s fault as each country has different charges . I dont see any legal way out for you if you read the T+C,s


my mobile provider changed my contract reducing the minutes from 2000 to 200 causing me to go over allotted minutes costing £96 instead of the £25 I was used to having, they downgraded to an £18 package but I never agreed to this, apparently sending me a text was enough for them to change my tariff and I did not need to respond saying yes or no, can’t be right.

Hannah says:
2 April 2016

I’m with 3 and I renewed my contract in July but continuing with 2000 minutes as I know I can never go over it like I used to do with a previous company. Little did I know my contract is written down as 200 minutes and without written proof I am not getting any money back and I must have changed my minutes to 200 when I changed the contract… Cheers 3 👍🏼


My daughter went skiing to Andorra ,when she landed in Spain Vodafone said she could use her euro traveller , then she got a coach to Andorra
and 5 days later I have a £13000 yes 13k bill I have to pay Vodafone have stitched me up big time

Kelly garside says:
8 July 2016

I realise this is an old post, but I am having a similar bill problem with Vodafone! Did you ever resolve it with them? And how? Thanks


Hello Kelly, what problems are you having with Vodafone? You can drop us an email if you’d like – conversation.comments@which.co.uk

kk says: