Consumers are increasingly being hit by big mobile bills for exceeding the data download limit of their ‘unlimited’ plans, watchdog says.
More and more of us are receiving higher than expected mobile bills as a result of breaching the data download limit of “unlimited” data plans.
According to communications watchdog Ombudsmen Services: Communications, this issue - dubbed “data download bill shock” - is an “emerging problem” which could cause “real consumer detriment”.
We download and stream data whenever our smartphones are connected to the internet, whether we are browsing the web, emailing, watching videos online or downloading music.
Ombudsmen Services: Communications describes data download bill shock as being when consumers on mobile plans offering “unlimited” downloads believe their bill won’t go above a certain amount when it comes to downloading.
However, the watchdog said that some unlimited plans contain a clause in the small print which reveals there is in fact a limit, meaning consumers rack up bigger bills when they go over this limit.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has looked at the use of the term “unlimited” to describe these plans and gave mobile networks the green light to keep using it, as long as their customers are aware of the limits and it doesn’t affect the “typical user”.
Four of the country’s leading mobile networks responded robustly to Ombudsmen Services: Communications, advising operators to “be very clear about the limits on the packages they sell”.
O2 stated: “We tackled this over a year ago by introducing data bundles, so customers never spend more than they agree to. We also text our customers to tell them how much data they’ve got left each month, and give them the option to buy more if they need, so they are always in control.”
A spokesperson for Orange said: "We take our responsibilities seriously and have a number of measures in place to ensure our customers can manage their bills for data usage in the UK."
A T-Mobile spokesperson also said the company takes making charges for data use transparent seriously and added that, whether customers are on its pay monthly, pay-as-you-go or fixed pay monthly plan, they will “never pay more than they expect for their mobile data usage in the UK”.
Vodafone explained that it clearly publishes the data limit of each plan it offers and texts its customers to let them know when they are getting close to their limit. Those that use the network are also able to check their data usage online and via a free mobile app.
However, the fifth, Three UK, agreed with the concerns of Ombudsmen Services: Communications over unlimited plans containing a limit in the small print, with CEO David Dyson saying that customers prefer its "genuinely unlimited internet use" data plans to "fair use policies or worse still: out of bundle data bill shock".
Ombudsmen Services: Communications advised consumers to make sure they understand the limits, terms and conditions that apply to any plan before signing up to it.
If the watchdog receives a bill shock complaint and establishes that the information provided with the plan was missing, insufficient or misleading, it has the power to make companies that participate in its scheme correct any mistakes.