/ 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.

eunice kenyon says:
8 February 2015

My 83 year old Aunt went out for a walk today for the first time in many many months because she has major heart problems. I was very pleased with the effort she made to do this. I expressed this joy but added “I hope you took your mobile with you!”. Her reply astounded me. “Yes, but it doesn’t work. I have £27+ credit because the shop in Hanley Stoke-on-Trent told me I need to keep putting credit in the phone to make it work.” I thought all mobile phones had an emergency number facility. Woukd someone please explain why my aunt had no emergency access if she goes out for a walk yet vodaphone have £27 credit?

Marlene says:
27 March 2015

My old aunt died last year and we packed her phone away when clearing the house I’ve just unpacked it after everything else has been dealt with and the credit she had on the payg sim from Vodafone has gone, I contacted Vodafone and they were no help to me at all and said credit was now lost, surely when an 89 year old buys credit it belongs to her, I think this is a total rip off, had I been aware the credit would have been used.
So where does the credit go that my old aunt paid for ? it’s like taking from pensioners, time this was stopped someone is getting the benifit of old peoples money

Try speaking to someone else, Marlene.

There is no law that companies are obliged to hold on to money. As it stands, your aunt’s money will go towards the profits of Vodafone, paying their CEO about ten million pounds a year and maybe giving more discounts to other customers.

Best of luck.

I fitted a tracker to my sons car it was hard wired and well hidden and worked a treat but it had a lebara SIM card in it as the car was never lost there was no need to track it or top up but I did not read the instructions I was going to do it again to my caravan , but when I went to track the car just to see if everything was working it had been tuned off , lebara said nothing they could do but they would send another card free , there was 15 pounds on it which was nothing really but to get the tracker out would be a long job , I wonder how much money they get by doing this now I paid for that call time to turn it off is bad enough but to keep the call time is a bit of a swiz

Orange has now taken credit twice due to inactivity of phone. 1st time got back after phoning. Second time my father was rushed to hospital and my mother grabbed the phone. No credit again. My parents are old and both ill. Orange left them vulnerable and stressed. Protocol they say but I say it’s a rip off. I have requested a note on the file that this credit is not to be removed again and if the phone is not needed I will phone them. Disgusting that two old people were cut off from communication and in fact bought more credit thinking it was stolen. Oh £73 credit back on top Of the new credit. Orange offered 5 credit back. Joke.

I am in the process of changing from O2 to Giff-Gaff – I have about £20 credit on the O2 SIM. I have been told by O2 call-centre that I cannot reclaim the credit – they suggest I “use the remaining credit”.

I paid the money in advance to receive O2 services and they deduct money when I do this. They will soon not be able, or obliged, to do this but they are saying that they will keep my money. As I see it, any contract between us is now at an end and my money, paid in advance, which was not used to receive services, does not cease to be mine.

Even if there are some terms in the T & Cs, those terms will be unfair terms. The case of the lady who died was settled not by law, but by preventing a case being brought which would have established a precedent. The phone companies know they are on shaky ground.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

John Findlay says:
16 July 2019

In other words it is just another form of legalised theft.