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Were you told your fixed mobile contract could go up in price?

Mobile phone company logos

Mobile phone shop assistants are still telling customers that their ‘fixed’ contract prices won’t increase, despite hikes from all major mobile companies. This is even after they’ve promised to improve staff training.

It’s been 10 months since we last went into mobile phone shops to see whether staff were making it clear that fixed mobile contracts weren’t actually fixed in price.

Last September, we went undercover into shops from the mobile networks O2, Orange, Three, T-Mobile and Vodafone, as well as independent chains Carphone Warehouse and Phones4U. Back then, only 8% of mobile shop assistants mentioned that prices could increase on fixed contracts.

Shockingly, they fared even worse this year when we repeated the exercise – none of the assistants told us upfront that contract prices could increase!

This is despite providers last year promising that they would improve staff training. We’ve also seen new mid-contract price rises, including from Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, O2 and Talkmobile (owned by Carphone Warehouse).

When our mystery shoppers asked assistants outright, 57% still maintained that prices would stay the same over the length of the contract. And even when we pointed out that most networks had increased their prices in the last year, 42% said it wouldn’t happen again – up from 28% in our last investigation.

Government and the recession blamed

There were poor and confused answers as well – some staff claimed prices were ‘guaranteed’, while others said that price changes were down to the government. One member of staff pointed to the recession: ‘We had a price increase but it was by, like, 0.2%, that’s nothing we can control, it’s to do with like recession and all of that stuff’.

None of this is true. It’s the sole decision of mobile providers themselves to hike prices on contracts that most people believe are fixed in price, not just fixed in length. Inflation and rising business costs have been pointed to by providers, but these explanations don’t fly with consumers. More than 45,000 people have pledged support for our Fixed Means Fixed campaign, which launched following more than 3,000 comments from unhappy mobile customers here on Which? Conversation.

We think fixed should mean fixed, and if mobile providers want to break their end of the bargain, you should be able to escape your contract without penalty. We’ve submitted our latest research to Ofcom, and now await the outcome of its consultation into the issue. We hope the regulator will announce new rules that will ensure phone companies play fair by their customers.

Were you clearly told that your ‘fixed’ mobile contract might go up in price before you signed on the dotted line?

Comments
Member

When I complained to Orange, I was told that this was just like the price increases in gas, electricity and petrol etc. When I pointed out that although the wholesale costs in those commodities have increased, the wholesale costs in telecommunications have been continuing to fall for years. She had no answer to give. Fortunately I’m now beyond the end of a 12-month SIM-only contract and am free to go elsewhere. Despite the increase, Orange remains the cheapest choice.

A few years ago, 12-month contracts were the norm but then 24-month contracts became common. A handful of 36-month contracts appeared, but the EU banned them. I think we likewise need a ban on 24-month contracts. There is no need to lock customers in for such a long period. Consumers should be encouraged to buy SIM-free handsets and SIM-only contracts, as is the norm in many other countries.

Member
Bob says:
21 June 2013

My wife was being pestered by someone saying they were from O2 on her mobile to change to a contract phone, she was told she could have a new phone so many texts and calls for £12 a month.She mentioned this to me and I advised her not to take up the offer as I doubted it was from O2 and it was just someone trying to make money out of her, she incidentally thought it was a good deal. I told her I would look on O2 site and see if the price was good, this I did and found it to be under £9 for the same deal.
I told my wife of my findings and told her to ask the person if the contract price was fixed for the term of it and would under no circumstances rise and him to send all this in writing before committing herself,this she did and surprise surprise he stated it would not increase during the contract but was a bit put off by being asked to confirm this in writing.
Since then there has been no communication from him.

Member
John McQueen says:
26 June 2013

I believe this issue is dealt with under existing consumer protection legislation – including the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 – and would rule the ‘hidden’ price increase provisions in the contract small print invalid.

Which – have you investigated this and/or brought a test case?

If not, please do so!

Member
Alex says:
4 July 2013

Last year I had contracts with 3 and left to go to Virgin Mobile because of the midterm price increases and poor service.When I went into the Virgin Media shop in Colchester I asked and was told no price increases with Virgin. This was either poor training or mis selling by Virgin. I have now been informed price rise of 2.9%.Have asked Ofcom result nothing!! We have a consultation and will publish the result sometime. How many mobile operators left who have not put their prices up mid contract? Why have we got regulators in this country who do not regulate, what a waste of money

Member
Dawn says:
5 July 2013

Just had our letters informing us that fixed price contracts are going up to cover Virgins increasing costs. Outrageous and totally misleading contracts and advertising. Whilst the amounts are not huge its the principle That Virgin and the other Suppliers can do as they want the consumer who pay there wages can do nothing.

Member
Anita O'Brien says:
8 July 2013

A contract should stay in place for the duration of the contract. If as a customer I couldnt decide to pay less halfway through. So Virgin should not be able to increase the charges halfway through. They force you into a two yr contract instead of 1 yr. Then they increase at short notice. Today is the 7/07/2013 and they are increasing from 22/07/13 not even 1 month notice. On the same letter they state roaming has improved from 01/07/13 every time i go abroad my phone never works. I have phoned and asked if they can put it on but it never ever works.

Member
Ian says:
15 July 2013

I was never told verbally my contracted price would change or not. I did get letters from Orange saying it was going up. I queried this and I was directed to read the T’s & C’s in which there was a paragraph which stated they could increase prices but by no more than inflation. As I understand it they cannot do that under Consumer Law, they must give you the opportunity to leave the contract if they change anything.

Member
Frisbygwen says:
8 August 2013

I have a good contract with T Mobile, and have been with them for a few years. Despite the mid term price rises, I still think that the deal I have is good. I am limited in choice of providers, because of poor signal coverage in this area.

However, I am irritated, having just had a phone call from a sales person for T Mobile, (offering a very cheap sim only deal). When I asked him about potential price rises in the future, I was told that the previous rises had been due to rises in VAT and, as far as he knew, that was not likely to happen again, so a future price rise was not likely!!!!

It would appear that T Mobile, at least have done nothing about training their staff.

Member

The same story – more evidence that the training clearly hasn’t been done properly.

Member

Who trusts anyone in mobile phone shops these days anyway? They are all out (like all salespeople, of course) for a quick profit; far better to do the research (and reading the fine print) on one’s own 🙂

Member
Alan Mulvey says:
12 September 2013

If they put the price up, have they not broken the contract. If we where to leave they require us to pay the remainder of the contract up, so if they alter it in anyway they should pay us the remainder of the contract with us.SIMPLES

Member