/ Technology

Mobile providers keep deceased customers’ credit

Cartoon of smartphone and UK pound sign

If you don’t use your pay-as-you-go mobile for six months it will be disconnected, your number may be given away and any remaining credit lost. But what happens to your credit when you pass away?

Well, you might not know it, but if a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) customer dies, the provider pockets any remaining credit…

Which? member Sue Paton (pictured) discovered this when her 91-year-old aunt, who seldom used her phone, passed away with £185 worth of credit on her Orange PAYG mobile.

Sue believes that her aunt may not have understood that she didn’t need to keep topping up.


Orange refused to refund the money – as with other mobile providers, it states in its terms and conditions that credit is non-refundable.

And, although Ofcom asks providers to disconnect inactive numbers so that they can be recycled, there’s no guidance on what providers should do with unused credit – so they keep it.

Which? steps in to help

We spoke to Orange, which said:

‘We understand that the death of a loved one is a difficult time… and we have arranged for the sum to be fully refunded.’

This is great news for Sue, but a shame she had to turn to us at Which? to make it happen.

The case of Sue’s aunt is quite specific, but PAYG credit may also be lost if you don’t use your mobile for six months. So whether it’s due to inactivity or another problem, let us know if you’ve ever lost your mobile credit and what your provider did about it.


Unlike many people, I don’t always remember to take my mobile with me when I go out the front door, so I keep a spare mobile in the car. I contacted Vodafone when my spare mobile stopped working and was told that this was because I had not made a call for over 30 days. Vodafone reactivated the phone and restored the credit, and did this again when I forgot to use the phone for another 30 days. I now keep a T-Mobile phone in the car, and this is not cut off after 30 days.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to cut off a phone if it has not been used for 6 months and to reissue the number, but Ofcom should make the decisions and all the phone companies play by the same rules. There should be a way of reclaiming unused credit for up to six years, subject to payment of a modest administration charge.


Vodafone’s prepaid SIM expiry policy is 180 days since the last balance deduction, not 30 days. This is stated in many places on Vodafone’s web site and I can confirm it is also correct in practice, as I keep a Vodafone prepaid SIM card for data roaming in unusual scenarios such as on board aircraft.


NFH – It is probably three or four years since I called Vodafone to say that my PAYG phone had stopped working, and I was told this was because I had not made a call for 30 days. They reactivated it and the credit was unaffected. Since then, I had to make another call for the same reason. My solution was to switch to using the Vodafone phone and keep one on the T-Mobile network in the car for use in emergency.

Perhaps something has changed, but I have met someone who had the same problem and have heard about other cases via websites.


You’d be better off using Giffgaff, Toggle or Three instead, whose charges are significantly lower than Vodafone or T-Mobile. Toggle’s low charges also apply while abroad in many countries as they compete primarily for roaming. However, Toggle is part of Lycamobile whose 90-day expiry policy applies; you’d want to use this one only as your primary mobile.


NFH – I did have a PAYG phone on the 3 network and the credit expired after 30 days. I went back to the shop and they told me that they did not offer a tariff where the credit would remain active for longer. This may have changed, of course. Thanks for the other suggestions, which I will look into.


Three’s official expiry policy is also 180 days since the last balance deduction, not 30 days. However I have a spare Three prepaid SIM card which has always had a zero balance. Obviously with a zero balance, it’s not possible to incur a balance deduction, but it is possible (unofficially) to keep it active by only receiving a call every 180 days.


OK, but having to make a payment every 30 days to be able to make a call means that Three PAYG is not much good for an emergency phone.


Giffgaff recycle numbers just like everyone else but they are cheap. I use the £7.50 Bag which suits me perfectly.


I don’t understand your comment, wavechange. No UK network requires a payment every 30 days in order to keep a prepaid SIM card active. Nearly all UK networks require only a balance deduction (e.g. a call, text or data usage) every 180 days. I don’t understand why you say that Three isn’t suitable as an emergency phone.