/ Money, Technology

What if watching SpongeBob SquarePants cost you £3,000?

Spongebob Squarepants

He lives in a pineapple under the sea, and has a best friend named Patrick (sadly not our very own Mr Steen). But even SpongeBob SquarePants would be shocked to receive a bill for over £3,000.

That’s how much BT expected Conan Sturdy to pay after he gave his mobile to his little boy to keep him entertained on a rainy afternoon. Having reached his business account’s data allowance for the month he began to be charged 50p per megabyte, so it only took six episodes of Spongebob to run up such a staggering total.

SpongeBob SquarePants mobile phone bill

Mr Sturdy had gone over his data allowance by 5.4GB, which at 50p a megabyte adds up to a crazy £3,309. He told the Guardian:

‘One afternoon it was pretty miserable so I let him watch SpongeBob SquarePants on Netflix – it was an afternoon’s worth. I thought there’d be a charge – maybe £30 or £40 – as I received a text saying I had gone over. A charge is one thing but £600 per gig is another. I had no idea that the bill could be so high.’

When it comes to picking what mobile tariff we should be on, many of us struggle to know how much data, minutes or texts we’re actually going to need. It’s why our research found that 72% of people were on the wrong contract for their needs. And it’s costing them dear with a total overspend of around £5.42bn every year, either from being on packages far too big or far too small. It’s the latter case for Mr Sturdy who was charged three thousand quid for going over his monthly allowance.

Shocked by a massive phone bill

Although you might get a text alerting you to the fact that you’re about to reach your limit, not all companies will stop you from using any data until you buy more. No, you’ll often continue to be charged per megabyte, at anything from 2-10p. So if you’re streaming films or watching SpongeBob, you could soon be drowning in an eye watering bill.

Mr Sturdy was in complete shock:

‘I took my son on a quick and cheap, £7-a-night camping holiday and I end up owing thousands. I’ve complained to BT that this is just an unreasonable amount and they have at least put payment on hold while they look into my complaint. I am self-employed and I don’t have the money to pay this bill.’

And it might be in the T&Cs that you’ll be charged for going over your allowance, but it’s not always easy to find out how much it’s going to cost you. And who knows how much streaming a TV show is going to cost you?

Just to put the Spongebob story to bed, BT said it will waive the charge on this occasion as a goodwill gesture and will be moving Mr Sturdy onto a more suitable data allowance.

Have you ever been hit by a massive mobile bill after going over your monthly allowance? Do you think there should be more information so that customers understand how much data they’re going to need? Or should there be more safety measures in place so that people can’t rack up astronomical debts?

Useful links

Read our guide on how to challenge a high mobile phone bill

Comments
Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

We do need to clearly understand what we are buying when we enter a contract. Key issues, such as this, should be emphasised and not hidden in small print. However I think a cap should be mandatory on all contracts, requiring the registered user to take positive action to increase it.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

We certainly need caps on all contracts, better sooner than later.

But why are companies allowed to make extortionate charges? Why not add 10% to the bill if you exceed your allowance by 10%. We really need to tackle corporate greed.

Profile photo of conantheblacksmith
Member

you should be working for BT !

a 2gig data limit should stop sat 2gig…. theyre should also be some kind of data checker so you can keep track of it via an app from your mobile phone provider…

should all be unlimited really- can cost very much and it seems somoene is making an awful lot of money

Profile photo of Vanessa Furey
Member

Hi Conan, great to have you on here and glad to see BT have dropped the bill

So depending on which provider you are with, some will do that, or allow you to set a limit. My work phone on O2 will text me to say that i’m at 80% and then when I’ve used it all i’ll get another text. Without buying another bundle it won’t work.

With my mums phone on Three, I got her to put a cap in place so she couldn’t accidentally run up a huge bill. And some do have apps for you to monitor, but that’s only helpful if you are constantly checking and know how much it costs when you go over.

But chances are you most people won’t find out until they need to i.e they’ve used all their data for the month & get a bill.

Profile photo of Lee Beaumont
Member

Agree with all the comments here. I have just left Plusnet & had true unlimited with them, now moved to SSE and they “say” i have unlimited, but i have not found out yet, as I’ve only just started wit them.

Vanessa, I have a cap with Three too, so i can never go over my monthly limit, while this is good as i have no “shock” bills, i did need to phone the police the other day and 101 won’t work, becuase it’s a chargeable call of 15p. So I needed to DM the police on Twitter, and get them to call me. There is still work to be done 🙁

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Well certainly there should be some cap however whilst we can glibly talk of it I am not sure how the software is meant to be able to pick out those who are wildly in excess other than in an historical mode.

More depressing is the use of a smartphone as a toy. Perhaps a book might be more appropriate.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I suppose you can’t expect people to have books on a camping holiday, and colouring books seem to be for adults these days, but the overcharges for exceeding the allowance are extortionate. You could almost buy a caravan for that money

Unfortunately it seems that Master SquarePants himself get’s nothing out of this unfortunate ransom demand. I just hope the boy Sturdy is kept in the dark over it.

Profile photo of Vanessa Furey
Member

I think with the trend in people increasingly using tablets and smart phones to stream downloads, as well as live TV, people are going to be more interested in how much data they get with their bundle. As it becomes our priority you’d expect the different providers to start competing on price. Already some offer unlimited.

I remember when I got my first phone (the trusty old Nokias that were almost indestructible) and my only concern was how many text messages I could get out of my credit. Now most tariffs give you unlimited text messages.

Profile photo of conantheblacksmith
Member

BT can cap on personal mobiles but not on business mobiles, wierd !

ps we are reading Biggles at the moment.

Profile photo of NFH
Member

What is the objective justification for the price per megabyte increasing as consumption increases within a particular month? Why isn’t the price per megabyte the same pro-rata as the monthly bundle or allowance? Most industries give volume discounts. What is the rationale for a volume surcharge?

Profile photo of Vanessa Furey
Member

So the reason why this one seems to be particularly high is because he was on a business plan, where data was at 50p/MB. Where as when I looked at the personal plans on BT it was 10p/MB. Some had it as low as 2p/MB whilst others cut you off until you buy another bundle, some in the region £5-6 1GB, and one or two charge you a flat day rate.

However, when most people buy a contract they are looking the cost of their tariff and the handset. I imagine less will have a look at the extra costs, unless like in this case they suddenly find they need to.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

A little bit difference, but I avoided using my mobile phone while I was abroad in America. I’m with giffgaff and the charge per MB is £5 when data roaming. So I was forever searching for wi-fi (well, not all the time!). My friends who were with Three were getting free data roaming. Lucky chumps.

Anyway, back to Spongebob, here’s my namesake in case you wondered.

Profile photo of NFH
Member

Yes, I don’t understand how giffgaff calculates its charge of £5,000 per gigabyte for usage in the United States. Why should it cost 800 times giffgaff’s charge of £6.25+VAT for a gigabyte in the UK? It’s absurd.

Profile photo of Vanessa Furey
Member

Thankfully you have better taste when it comes to outfits. I’m not sure the office could handle the lime green and purple floral pants.

I’m actually one of the lucky chumps who has Three and I’ve also gone for unlimited data. I’ve had it for about 3years now and find myself watching a lot of things on my mobile and I’m constantly streaming music. Well until I’ve drained the battery.

Profile photo of DavidMcDonald
Member

I just have a basic mobile phone for calls and texts and that does me fine and the thought of watching any programmes on a very small screen does not appeal to me.
When I go on holiday I only use my mobile in an emergency as I want to relax as much as possible . If I want to take photographs then I will use a camera . Contracts and tariffs can be very confusing and we do not always read the small print to fully understand what you can use freely or what might cost you an arm and a leg .

Profile photo of LynnThomas
Member

My daughter was watching TV on her phone via WiFi one evening. A few weeks later we were hit with a bill for £160. We were horrified as was she; when I queried it they said the WiFi connection must have dropped out. My argument was that she had no knowledge of this and there is no way she would have continued had she known. After a great deal of discussion they eventually dropped it to £90 but that was still almost the annual charge and a lot of money. As soon as the contract ended we switch to Tesco Mobile who apparently are the only company that do instant capping, although Talk Mobile said they did it, it took 24 hours to take effect, by which time the damage was done. If you have a contract to pay an amount of money you should be asked before incurring any payments over this amount.

Profile photo of NFH
Member

Why had she enabled app through which she was watching television for mobile data? It is madness to enable a high data consumption app for mobile data unless you specifically want to use it when not on wifi and are happy to pay the charges incurred. If she had disabled mobile data for the relevant app, then as soon as the wifi dropped out for whatever reason, the app would have stopped working.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

NFH – I am aware of users who don’t have a clue about whether their phone is using mobile data or connecting via WiFi. Fortunately they are not those who stream video but obviously there are some, like Lynn’s daughter, who are caught out.

If we tackle the ridiculous charges for using additional data it can only help.

Profile photo of Ian
Member

I agree. It’s not charging per se that angers most, but the level of those charges. And any app should immediately alert the user when the connection is no longer through wi-fi.

Profile photo of joannaYouel
Member

Had a new kitchen fitted bought a neff single Pyrolytic digital oven and compact oven with microwave . very disappointed with both difficult to navigate small display.
Compact oven door gets too hot to use as a oven nearly burns inner upper arm trying to extract dish. Anyone else had problems?? Customer service no help nor my kitchen people.