Operators and retailers need to do more to stop consumers from running up unexpectedly high bills, Ofcom has said.
The regulator said as much as 3% of the population has experienced so-called 'bill shock' in the year to the end of July 2012. It said the main reasons for doing so were making calls to numbers not included in inclusive call packages, exceeding voice or data allowances, using data that is not included in a bundle or using a phone while overseas. Almost all of consumers who receive a high bill are charged under £50, with 70% receiving a bill to pay up to £20.
Ofcom is consulting on the issue and said while retailers and operators have provided guidance in how to avoid bill shock, more should be done. It said operators must be clear at point of sale about what is and is not included in a contract bundle, and should also provide tools for consumers to keep track of their usage. It said progress had been made by operators in sending texts when consumers have reached their voice allowance. However, it added that more tailored advice should be provided, such as detailing the costs of additional voice or data services once a limit has been reached.
Ofcom also floated the possibility of consumers placing a financial cap on their usage. While Three and Tesco do offer a limited version of this, the regulator said operators said it was a difficult service to offer in practice. It noted that capping would be problematic when a consumer is overseas as there is a delay in when foreign operators send information back to domestic carriers.
Author: Graeme Neill