/ 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

i tinknhi si terible

Kendal says:
25 February 2016

I have just been landed with a £399 bill from EE, £277 of which is supposed to be to 118118 for nearly 2 hours of directory enquiry call. I couldn’t have called on the date stated and in any event, 118118 have a call cap of 19 secs for a ‘no caller at beginning of call’ enquiry, which this what this supposedly 2 hour long call is described as. It’s all very well EE saying ‘my sim must have done it’ but what protection do we have against out-of-control sims, or ones which are maybe under some other control? I’m not paying the bill and thye can do what they like. Ombudsman next port of call if no satisfaction.

Rafael says:
17 March 2016

I’m reaching out for help here and hopefully someone will be able to point me to the right direction, last Dec/15 I went to Brazil on my last day over there 3rd Jan/16 I ran out of my capped usage and my provider O2 sent me a msg alerting that I could not use data any longer unless I sent a txt back quoting NODATALIMIT to lift the limit I had in my account, which I did so I could order an uber to the airport and catch my flight back, once I sent the msg they txt me back confirming the the switch to unlimited and that if I wish to have the cap back I should call them once I arrive in UK. Unfortunately I did not call them back upon my arrival, and last month I travelled again to Brazil and for my surprise on Mon 29th Feb I woke up reading an email from O2 informing that I had spent £14,748.16 up to that time re to 2.4GB data usage which 97% of it was on Sun 28th night. I called O2 right away and they advised me that my cap limit was off since the 3rd Jan, now, knowing my average usage and monthly bill costs (average of £67pm) why didn’t O2 blocked my phone right away? Or firstly, why haven’t they reminded me that my cap limited usage was off upon arrival in Brazil? Is there any consumer law that can help me out on this case, I’m not denying my responsibility to the usage but why the provider which are monitoring the account with ALL the tech assistance existent in the planet could not remind me to turn the cap limit back on? Or block mu usage when it reached 500MB which would have been already an extortionate cost under my account?

Well, Rafael I have your conditions of service in front of me ,I take it you went from the £120 option ,as you say by being told to text NODATALIMIT when you ran out of data ? According to their contract you can only move back to the previous option at the end of the billing month , by agreeing the NODATALIMIT you were in effect signing a legal contract with O2 under their==Pay Monthly Roaming Bolt Ons . The contract does NOT state they are under any legal obligation to notify you (as per a bank) that you have incurred massive usage bill . I must state ,although I have read the English Laws of Contract I am NOT a lawyer and as you have been landed with this enormous bill I advise you to contact a contract lawyer but as you have not denied usage and O2 will certainly bring this up and the print out of all your data in any legal action , I personally cant see a lawyer as being able to justify in court your admonishment from this debt . You could of course declare yourself bankrupt . If there is any lawyer reading this can they provide Rafael with any positive help that allows him to avoid this debt as I dont see any legal means of doing so except bankruptcy ?? I hope this sinks into those who dont realise a phone/text call can and will be taken as a binding contract with most UK companies including utility companies of any sort.

camilaparker says:
21 April 2016

Last month I received my BT broadband bill and it was quite high then my usage. I even called BT customer care service. They told me that it may be due to following reasons:-
-If you have connected more than one device to the wi-fi. For example, if you’ve got more than one computer at home, or devices such as games consoles or mobile phones that uses your wi-fi connection.
-Viruses on your system can access your internet connection in the background. For this you have to install up-to-date virus checker on your system.
-Switch “on” your BT wi-fi security so that other people cannot use your BT wifi connection
-Certain applications or softwares keep on installing in the background.

While BT are asking you to check what is using up your bandwidth and I take it you are not a “tech” user ??? (correct me if I am wrong here ) there are many checkers which while being deeply technical with total info would need understanding . I have the very thing for you and other users with windows ,I have Linux so I dont use it as it has not come out for use by it. It is on my other system which I dont use now but I can wholly recommend it for easy viewing of who or what is using your bandwidth its called Glasswire –glasswire.com/ website . Big coloured moving display you can check out going and incoming and can block any app if you are using Windows firewall . Go to that website ONLY –not c,net.com OR any other website ,only glasswire.com/ and download this is the simplest easy to use app I have seen in relation to this type of problem ,highly rated in the US and worldwide. Will reveal viruses your own protection has missed.

graham says:
24 June 2016

Have a monthly contract with TPO (the peoples operator), originally the contract stated that if i went over my data i would not be charged, but later they changed the rules and sent me an email which i didnt see (my bad perhaps but it is easy to miss an email), this email stated that they would now charge me per mb for exceeding my data and it is my responsibility to monitor or enforce my own cap. Apparently consumers had complained about their data being capped so now TPO kindy let them run over. For a few months i was fine as i did not exceed my data, bu last month i did and recieved a text message after 1gb saying i have exceeded by 1gb and now owe an extra £30. So, i can accept that maybe i should have sen the email, but for everything else important i seem to receive a text message (which you cant not see) yet did not receive one regarding the change in contract details. Also, although i guess they have no legal obligation, they could still send a courtesy message on approaching your data limit or when you have just exceeded it, unless of course they actually want people to have to pay more. I certainly would not have carried on using my data knowing that it was costing me so much extra.

Graham -other companies do the same one poster ran up many £1000,s when abroad on another telephone company he was with , his circumstances were that he inputted a code that allowed him to overrun but the rates were extortionate I told him he had no choice but to pay as by inputting the code he was contractually accepting the terms + conditions attached to it . It was so much money that I told him maybe he would be better becoming bankrupt , not something you do lightly but he was in dire straights and would have had a court action taken against him .I never heard from him ,as to whether he was able to scrape up the money or not. If a company changes the contract you have a set time to leave that company without financial loss , just leaving it and not personally complaining allowed the legal get out time to run out and the contract became fixed with the new T+C,s I must point out that although you would like a courtesy email/letter sent to you the telephone company is not obliged to do so even though you now run over the limit and occur large costs. If you had never been originally notified of the change in the t+c,s then that is a different case which you could pursue. I will check the company t+c,s out. – I had a look at the t+c,s ,sorry graham they have you every which way including changing the t+c,s you have to log into their website to see changes although they do say they send you an initial email . Also if you visit the website you can check your charges up to date . 10 % of your bill goes to charity (their choice ) but wait for it —YOUR data is held and used by THIRD Parties even after you LEAVE . There are so many t+c,s I wouldnt touch this company with a barge pole .

Unknown says:
6 August 2017

I was mad at my mum so I spent 160 pounds with her sim card from Vodafone and now they are saying that she has to pay 400 pounds and has to go to court? Why that much? How do I help my mum??

As they say in the States –get a job – sweat+toil to pay her back . Try before court to reason with Amazon (if possible ) as to a means of paying it back slowly otherwise get legal advice and show that you are poor and have little means but are willing to pay slowly , if not poor , it will have to be paid back quickly , sell your X-box- sell your TV -sell anything you own. When you rob your mother it always comes back on you as your mother supports you , do you want to end up on the streets ?

I wonder why the £160 bill has become a £400 claim. Are there costs to pay to a debt recovery company? Seems an extortionate penalty.

Sounds like Unknown’s mum might have declined to pay the bill.

Alfa if that is true -sorry she wont get away with it , if the child is under age then its the parents responsibility to ;pay for the child s misdemeanors . I don’t think she will be able to “get away ” with this legally .