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Mobile phone prices up again – is Three your unlucky number?

Three Mobile has increased its prices by 3.6% for existing customer’s monthly plans following Orange and T-Mobile before it. For fear of bastardising Lionel Richie’s lyrics… ‘Three times a price rise’.

Anyone who signed up to Three before 8 March 2012 will be hit by the price hike from 16 July.

Mobile and mobile broadband customers will have to swallow a 3.6% price rise. On a £25 monthly plan that will be around 90p extra a month, or another £11 per year.

Only contract prices will change, with calls and data remaining at their current levels. Pay-as-you-go customers will also be unaffected. If you’re going to be affected, Three will contact you by text, email or letter between 21 May and 1 June to let you know. Three said of the price rise:

‘We know that increases are never welcome, so it’s not a decision we’ve taken lightly and we’re confident that your plan still represents excellent value for money.’

It’s all in the terms and conditions

It’s a case of deja-vu – Orange and T-Mobile have previously increased their own contract prices. Each time this has happened, their customers have come to Which? Convo to vent.

It’s understandable really – if you signed up to a contract, whether 12 or 18 months, your expectation would be that the £25 or so monthly price would stay static. Not so, mobile companies have a clause in their T&Cs that allows them to increase contract prices on a yearly basis as long as they’re under the rate of inflation (retail prices index).

And when we’ve questioned the regulator Ofcom on this, it has told us that the price rises are ‘not likely to be a breach of current legislation’.

But when we actually ask mobile customers whether they know prices can go up, 94% of 1,036 people voted in our poll that they didn’t realise their contracts weren’t at a fixed price.

It might be legal, but it’s not a line of fine print that many people are aware of. And when customers are told that they can’t cancel their contracts early without charge, the red mist starts to descend.

Make price rise terms clearer

The key is making the fact that prices can rise by inflation clearer to new customers, instead of hiding this clause in reams of terms and conditions. Our principal advocate Mark McLaren said:

‘On the one hand, it seems consumers’ expectation is that a mobile phone contract is a fixed price for a fixed term. On the other hand, mobile companies are able to increase prices by RPI during the term of the contract. This is a contradiction that can only be solved by either regulatory intervention or, at a minimum, better information to consumers at the point of sale.

‘That’s why we welcome the fact that Ofcom’s priorities for 2013 include “promoting effective choice for consumers by ensuring clear information on service, price and quality is available”.’

Are you a Three customer who will be hit by this price rise? How do you feel about it? Did you know that mobile contracts aren’t strictly at a fixed price?

[UPDATE 25/05/2012] – As you know, we’ve been talking to Three. Which? doesn’t think it’s fair to increase prices in this way without giving consumers the ability to cancel as a result of the price increase. We think that when you sign up to a fixed rate deal, that’s what you expect it to be. Fixed, for the period you agreed to.

We think that Three should recognise this and do the right thing by allowing those customers who can’t stomach this increase to cancel their deal without penalty.

A spokesperson for Three responded to us as follows:

‘Despite costs increasing in a number of areas within our business, we have not passed on an RPI level rise to our contract handset customers in the nine years we have been in operation. Increasing our prices for existing customers is a decision we have not taken lightly. We know that increases are never welcome and we have tried to do this in the fairest way possible for all of our customers. We are confident our plans continue to offer the best possible value for money.’

Barry says:
13 August 2012

Mr Steen you said “Hopefully you can see we’re doing everything we can to change the industry and stamp out this practice.”
If which was so sure of its self why have you guys not tried various test cases in small claims courts?
Why do you continue to allow mobile companies off the hook, pardon the pun!

brian says:
13 August 2012

Open letter to James Jones from Experian

James I am still waiting for a satisfactory response to my previous question and your “weasel word” reply, it’s you guys who are actually stopping us from leaving Three, please respond. Summary below.

I’ve asked Which 5 times now to pick up the phone and advise Experian that while this is going on and Threes terms are ambiguous and under dispute that it would be unwise to accept three’s credit determinations. If Experian accept this principle then three are left dead in the water and we can all leave without sanction. Of course they can still attempt to prosecute but that is far less likely and the courts are minded to take a balanced view which I for one would be willing to risk, but I wouldn’t risk my credit score.

Posted 15 July 2012 at 10:40 am Reply Patrick Steen
Hi Brian, we’ve asked James from Experian to make a comment. Thanks.

Report this comment
Posted 15 July 2012 at 11:01 am James Jones Experian
Brian – like any organisation that shares credit repayment information with the credit reference agencies, Three has by law to make sure the information it registers about customers is accurate and kept up to date. If you get your credit report from us and find information from them that you disagree with, you can ask us to raise a dispute with them on your behalf. If the outcome of that is still not to your liking we can advise you of the appropriate ombudsman to escalate your grievance to. You could also add a ‘notice of correction’ to you report to register your side of the story.

Posted 15 July 2012 at 11:43 am Brian
James, thank you for commenting but you have not really answered the nub of what I’m saying.
Yes we can all leave three…. then Experian can downgrade our credit status individually. Then we are all faced with raising this individually with the onbudsman, which is a very cold and lonely place to be.
The core of this argument as I see it is; Three have a sloppy contract and it can be argued, as many seemingly learned contributors to this thread have stated, that it doesn’t give them the right to demand penalty if customers leave due to the detrimental increase they have imposed. If they then downgrade customers credit rating this must surely be against any contract they have entered into with yourselves.
I understand that in these cases precedent has to be set in law with an actual court case but….. with so much riding on this very public dispute, doesn’t it move you guys to tell three that you will reserve your judgement on their findings at least in the short term….. to protect them (your customers) from unintentionally breaking the law.
Thanks Brian

Just imagine for one moment ,if you will,our economy suffers yet another massive financial hit but this time it raises the cost of living by 33% in one period !!! (its close to this,if not worse,cumulatively since 2008 anyway)
Under this new regime you would be able to rest assured (if you are a retailer) that you could raise your prices by said 33% and still be deemed to have met the criteria,acted in good faith and not caused detriment,material or otherwise to any consumer?
Which? is waving around a piece of paper entitled “fixed means fixed” (i would draw your attention to the piece of paper Neville Chamberlain waved around moments prior to WW2 “peace in our time”)
This should have been no less than a super complaint from Which? as the starting point for them to have any real credibility as the consumers champion (>18000 signatories and still rising)
Retailers are retailers are retailers ,the likes of you and me can afford to give them r.p.i. on top of r.p.i. in this brave new exercise of profiteering that has no champion to stop it
Keith Brooker

Sunjay Bhogal says:
15 August 2012

Hi everybody, this issue has been reported on LBC radio just now.

“Mobile misselling

If you bought a mobile phone or mobile contract, it must be of satisfactory quality, fit for its purpose and as described.

If either the phone or the contract is not as described when you made your agreement with the retailer, this is classed as mobile misselling.

If you bought your phone or mobile contract directly from a service provider (such as Orange or Vodafone), contact it and complain that you’ve been missold your mobile contract. If you can’t resolve your problem with your provider, contact Otelo or Cisas (see ‘How to complain if your mobile provider won’t help’, below)”
I’ve copied and pasted this from “Which”? “Dealing with mobile phone problems Your mobile phone rights” and just wondering how many of you have gone down this avenue (successful or otherwise)?
Keith Brooker

Glen says:
31 August 2012

Hi I posted a while back about Orange sharp practice rises in prices the same as the rest.
Any way I have two phones with them and one was out of contract so I decided to leave.
Orange said that I had to give a months notice which I duly gave and requested a PAC code, I didnt notice it had an expiry attached to it.
So as I had to pay for a month I thought I would use it up this month and move to another pay as you go.
Heres the sting as my contract was due to finish 2nd September I rang to confirm this an orange says that as I didnt use the PAC code then I am into yet another month, this is scandelous and it was because I did not use the PAC code they sent me.

I want to take this much furth and would like to take it to what ever body deals with communications, so do anyone know who it should be addressed to?
Also what exactly are which doing about the sharp “Arthur Daley ” practices being carried out by these phone network providers?
regards to all

You can order a PAC code every month of your contract whether you cancel or not, whether you use it or not, has no relevance whatsoever to your months notice given.
If you have notified orange in writing, either by email or written letter, then your contract ends.

Orange advisor that told you that you haven’t used your PAC code so it’s another months notice required, is quite frankly…. plain wrong.

I’ve copied and pasted this from “Which”?
“Dealing with mobile phone problems Your mobile phone rights”
and just wondering how many of you have gone down this avenue (successful or otherwise)?

“If you bought a mobile phone or mobile contract, it must be of satisfactory quality, fit for its purpose and as described.
If either the phone or the contract is not as described when you made your agreement with the retailer, this is classed as mobile misselling.
If you bought your phone or mobile contract directly from a service provider (such as Orange or Vodafone), contact it and complain that you’ve been missold your mobile contract. If you can’t resolve your problem with your provider, contact Otelo or Cisas”

I’ve been away for almost a month, so only able to follow this vaguely. Despite my clear “settled” credit rating, I returned to find a three-page letter from Three Customer Services, dated 7th August (almost certainly not posted on that date). It was just a more detailed version of the usual spin, lies and fabricated issues we’ve come to expect from Three and still contained absolutely no attempt to explain the core issue, i.e. how the words of clauses 4 and 10 supposedly allow them to do what they have done. The letter did however state that the “customer finance team” process had been delayed till 6th September in the hope that that would be time for us to settle the matter! I do wonder at the mentality of these Customer Services buffoons.

I remain certain that Three won’t do anything material about this, however, as they do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of making a legal case, but if they do I’ll continue to relate it here. Maybe the Customer Finance Team will have a clue about the actual issues, but I won’t hold my breath!

Belatedly following up on Patrick Steen’s comment of 13th August, I remain hugely disappointed at Which?’s approach here. Setting aside the – in my opinion, hopelessly misguided – assertion that paying under protest was the “best advice” I can see no evidence, as Rich pointed out, that it has benefited anyone.

The best advice clearly would have been to set out the options for people and give them some indication of the likely risks, benefits and the prospective odds.

I’m curious: why can I no longer “like” or “dislike” peoples’ comments?

I am sure I used to be able to, but I haven’t been able to for a while. I assumed the facility had been removed, but I can see that others can still do it (my above comment is 2-0 up at the time of posting this!) I seem to remember there used to be a thumbs up and thumbs down icon next to the “score” at the bottom, but now there’s nothing.

It’s the same whether I’m logged in or not.

I’ve been using Firefox for years. Pretty standard installation; no cookie blockers so far as I know.

In fact, the only change I can think of since I started posting on this forum is the change from Three (mobile tethering) to Giffgaff (mobile broadband). Ironic if that’s the cause, but a nuisance I’ll happily live with. 🙂

I have no new updates – no communication from Three, no change to my credit report status. It pains me, but I’ve just written our story off as far as Which? are concerned. No updates at all – I’d say we’ve been abandoned.

I hope a few others managed to break free under the circumstances, but fear the current status-quo will remain until news breaks of Andrew Dyson and his legal challenge.


I contacted three in writing a while ago to explain further how their price increase was in fact detrimental to me money wise (as stated clearly in their terms) and about 2 weeks later I got a bullying letter from them with the same old junk how they can do this that and the other and how “this is our final decision on this matter as we have told you many times”. But I am still stuck with them, great.

They are waiting for customers to be on a contract for a year and putting the price up and leaving the price for new customers the original price. That’s got to be illegal, hasnt it?
It cant be an introductory offer on every single phone for every single new customer.
When my contract is up i can then get a new phone as a “new customer” could and will be given the same deal, so they cant use that excuse as i have already been an existing customer.
I know this as i have already rung up and asked about phones and dongles.

I don’t see how that can possibly be illegal, it happens all the time across many types of businesses. The new contracts tend to be subtly different to existing ones in any case. I’m as annoyed by this as the next person but it’s not really enough money to get me seriously worked up, and the maximum length of just about any contract is 24 months so you’re only likely to get stung once before moving to a new contract (which I really need to do as mine has just run its term). It actually wouldn’t be so bad if companies had always done this, but they didn’t do it in the “good” times, when inflation was often higher.

This price increase is wrong and probably illegal under mis selling because I, and likely other customers, were not verbally told of the possibility of an increase (excluding govt legislated VAT increases) relating to inflation.

At a time of recession this is pure unmitigated greed by three (the same company that owns superdrug, whampoa – based in asia).

three claim that so long as it is ‘legal’ – that everything is OK from their point of view.

A complaint of ‘mis selling’ should be made to the ombudsman on 0330 440 1614 and furthermore, if you feel the increase is detrimental to your financial situation you can also express this to three and ask them to consider waving it, although they likely won’t.

Another point customers should consider is getting their own back on three by filing complaints for compensation for failure of service, for example when one of their numerous outages when it comes to internet access – as you are paying for a capability they cannot provide when there is a technical issue. That said, calling three and demanding your costs for alternative internet use or even the daily rate of line rental is worth a go, and pursue it through their ‘complaints dept’ back office in india if the first agent refuses to help you – simply ask for escalation.

I’ve got so fed up with Three’s inane letters I’ve told them I won’t respond any further unless their letter deals in detail with the actual words of clauses 4 and 10. To date, they have studiously avoided it. Their reason is obvious (they have no case) but they should not be allowed to get away with this.

In previous posts, I’ve invited Three to explain and debate this here on this forum, to no avail, so I have no illusions that they will do so.

So I ask Which? instead: have you actually raised the issue of Three’s ambiguous (and that’s being kind to them) T&Cs?

Assuming you have – you must have – please outline for us their legal argument, with reference to the actual words of the T&Cs and the different versions thereof.

Hi all well my saga with orange has partially closed, not in any part to Orange but simply because I left them with the phone that was out of contract, although after paying the unlock fee to Orange and then having problems with battery discharging, guess what Orange shrugged their shoulders and said nothing to do with us speak to apple. I rang Apple and they wanted £25 to sort over the phone , I went into their shop and they said that there was nothing wrong with phone, however that night is stopped the battery drain. I am now with Giff Gaff and just on a monthly rolling contract.
I worked it out my phone was £56 per month thats £672 per year and on the 2 year contract that is £1344 without the little added bits that go on each month unnoticed.
pay as you go simm only deal over 2 years £360, so £1000 for phone. I bet the loan sharks are envious of Orange and other modern day Dick Turpins sorry I meant phone providers.
there is also a consultation on consumer services proposed changes, you might wish to make comment on the document , I have.



Dr C F M says:
2 October 2012

I went into the Eastbourne, Sussex 3 shop today to ask why my 15 Gb broadband dongle which I have had for three years ( was a 24 month contract initially ) had increased in price and was now costing more than those advertised for new customers. The assistant said that Offcom had MADE them increase the prices to be in line with other industry competitors. I expressed surprise and said surely that could not have been the case, as it was hard to see Offcom making a company increase prices.But the assistant was quite firm on this and repeated it twice! Now having read this I realise that they choose to increase prices and nobody made them. What I hate about 3, is the dishonest representation. Complaints sadly do little good – so I have terminated my contract and have found a cheaper once elsewhere! 3 you could do much, much, much better!

Re: the above undercover video evidence.

For technical reasons I haven’t been able to view the video(s), but from the descriptions I have read surely it must be clear evidence of the commission of offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, specifically, bait advertising prohibited by section 12 and Schedule 1, paragraph 5?

Have you (Which?) passed the evidence to Trading Standards and/or the Police/CPS? If not, why not?

David heath says:
8 October 2012

Quite frankly it serves you right for having a 3 contract. You should count yourself lucky it didn’t go up by more.

I didn’t have a 3 contract but they still set no less than 6 debt collection agencies after me; to recover money I didn’t owe! I hate this company with a passion; they appear to have no moral standards what so ever..

3 even KNEW that the phones that had been sent to my home address incorrectly had been RETURNED by me!…

Oh; just wait until you have a complaint; and you speak to customer services just to get transferred time after time; as none of their agents can be bothered to deal with the issues; or just clearly don’t understand English.

Then after 2 years; they still fail to apologise.

re: returning the unsolicited goods.

That was very decent of you, and even more disrespectul of Three.
Given that the UK law currently (Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971) says such items are yours to keep as you never requested them. (unlike goods or possessions legitimately provided but left by accident, or forgotten eg by a tenant or visitor)

Unsolicited items:


Sunjay says:
16 October 2012

If you think this price rise was bad, sky tv has increase phone line rental by 20 pecent. This just came out of the blue. I was warned about the some of the tv subscription will be going up before I signed the 12 month contract which is fair enough but nothing about the phone line rental. All the big companies are doing this.

Withheld says:
16 October 2012

I was amazed at the sky phone increase so set to work finding a cheaper line rental provider.a company called primus I think? Offer line rental at £7.49pm which is nearly half of what the major players are charging.we called sky,asked the question”can I use sky broadband with another line rental provider” we were passed on to cancellations and they straight away offered us 6months at £7.25. Just thought I’d pass this on, hope it helps