Many customers in the UK are be paying too much each month on their mobile phone bills, according to research by Citizens Advice research.
People are caught out when their contract ends, but they fail to upgrade or change plans, leaving them paying for a handset that has already been paid off.
Customers of Vodafone, EE and Three are being overcharged by an average of £38 a month for premium phones like the Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy 8 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium.
“Mobile phones are now an essential part of modern life, but the way that the cost of handsets are hidden within some contracts gives phone providers a way to exploit their customers,” said Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice.
Over 65s were the most likely to be caught out, the research found, with 23% failing to switch after paying off a handset. “It’s only right that mobile customers should be notified when they have paid off the price of their handset, and that their future bills should reflect this,” said Matt Hanock, the government’s Minister for Digital.
“I welcome Citizens Advice’s call for better billing information for consumers, and hope that providers will now take the initiative by clearly separating the cost of handsets and tariffs in mobile contracts.”
But the companies highlighted by the accusations say they do what they can to encourage customers to switch at the end of their contracts.
“Wherever possible, we contact customers nearing the end of their contract to offer them a range of options. These include being able to upgrade their handset, receiving an extra allowance to enhance their existing plan or, if they choose, a sim-only plan,” Vodafone said in a statement.
“Whenever a new customer signs with us, we make the end-date of the contract term very clear,” said a Three spokesperson. “We also let them know that they can contact us at any time to discuss the range of options available should they wish to change their plan with us.”
EE also commented: “Separating phone and tariff doesn’t always represent the best deal for consumers, it can sometimes result in them paying more.”
Citizens Advice said providers should reduce their bills as soon as their fixed contract is over. “It is clearly unfair that some phone providers are charging loyal customers for handsets that they have already paid for,” said Guy. “It’s especially concerning that older customers are more likely to be stung by this sharp practice.”
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