Millions hit by shock rise in phone and internet bills
Watchdog Ofcom has called for evidence from telecoms customers after it emerged millions of people had received higher than expected bills for their mobile, landline or broadband service.
The regulator said it planned to collect information from consumers across the UK - and then decide whether a full investigation into billing problems in the industry should be carried out.
A preliminary survey by Ofcom showed 6 per cent of mobile phone customers had received a bill that was far higher than they expected over the past 12 months, while 5 per cent of landline users had experienced the same problem. Some 18 per cent of those mobile customers had been charged at least 100 more than they had anticipated.
"Unexpected" costs for services - such as making or receiving calls while overseas and making calls that take them over their monthly allowance, as well as calling expensive or premium-rate numbers or downloading data - can be extremely high, Ofcom stressed.
It said it was already in discussion with phone companies to ensure they clarified the cost of additional services to their customers.
"Ofcom would like to hear from consumers that have received a one-off unusually higher than expected mobile, landline or broadband bill in the past 12 months to consider whether there is a need for further action either by Ofcom or by communications providers," the regulator said.
The investigation comes just weeks after Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) published a report showing the extent of "mis-selling" of landline, mobile and internet services.
Citizens' Advice Bureau advisers in Scotland dealt with 8,000 cases related to such issues last year. "Scottish CAB advisers have reported receiving a number of inquiries from people who have been shocked to receive bills which are much higher than they had expected," CAS chief executive Lucy McTernan said.
"In the current economic climate, with so many people struggling to get by, a bill like that can really hit families hard. Many feel they have no option but to borrow the money, and that gets them into the dangerous cycle of debt."
She went on: "Our evidence suggests that such bills are often the result of unclear terms and conditions in the service contract. Providers need to make sure their contracts are clear and transparent, so consumers can make informed decisions."
Douglas White, senior policy advocate at Consumer Focus Scotland, called for the issue of unexpectedly high bills to be monitored."The information that Ofcom is gathering will help get a better picture of whether people are being treated unreasonably by their operators or are simply on the wrong tariff for their needs," he said.
"Providers must accept this as being every bit as big a problem for them as for their customers. We would welcome anything that alerts customers when they are heading for an unusually high bill."
Ofcom would like to hear from consumers and other interested parties by 14 June.
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