A catchy term, ‘bill shock’ describes the sickening sense of panic that can accompany a phone bill racked up while on holiday. There are already spending caps in Europe, but Ofcom wants these extended worldwide.
Is it wrong to expect protection from charges we’ve incurred due to how we’ve used our own phones?
Or would that be like objecting to a restaurant bill because you didn’t look at the prices and ate (and drank) more than you’d budgeted for?
Isn’t it a bit naïve to expect mobile phone companies to warn us that we’re spending too much?
Well no, no and no, actually. Vigilant as you may be, it’s not easy to monitor how much data you’re chewing through when you’re abroad – and mobile phone companies can be less than forward about what they’re charging you.
Widespread mobile bill shock
The European Commission has capped charges for calls made and received in the EU and a cut-off kicks in if you incur a €50 bill – but that doesn’t apply if you jet off to more exotic destinations outside of Europe.
According to Ofcom’s latest review, which closed yesterday after a long 10 month consultation, as many as 1.4 million mobile phone customers may have been affected by ‘bill shock’ over the last six months.
The most common unexpected charges are data downloads outside the EU, UK data use (when customers haven’t realised how much data they’re using), exceeding a tariff’s call allowances and charges on lost or stolen phones.
Ofcom’s ‘action plan’
So what’s Ofcom’s plan of action? To start with, it’s supporting proposals to extend the EU spending caps so that they apply worldwide.
However, this won’t come in to force until July at the earliest. In the meantime, Ofcom is simply ‘urging’ UK providers to voluntarily introduce spending caps and alerts. And worldwide caps may seem obvious, but how will this protection be enforced outside of Europe?
One proposal that does make sense is greater transparency for phone tariffs. Mobile providers should offer clearer information about what they charge for services in the UK and abroad.
We’re getting more used to tariffs allowing unlimited use, so it’s hard enough to keep tabs on the number of texts and minutes you’ve got left, never mind data when you’re using your smartphone as a computer, TV, sat nav and everything else.
Still, it should be easier to find your data allowance and translate it in to real terms, so you know what you’re using and what you’ll be charged if you go over your allowance.
And shouldn’t there be greater protection from hefty data charges? For instance, we helped one Which? Convo reader who was sent a £12,000 bill from their mobile provider – surely a spending alert could have been sent and a data cap implemented before this point?
What do you think? Should UK mobile providers be forced to protect their customers from bill shocks? Or is it our own responsibility to find out how much we’ll be charged if we use data abroad and make sure we don’t use too much?