Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Shock mobile phone bills are creating financial burdens

14 March 2014

Ahead of World Consumer Rights Day Citizens Advice is calling for the mobile phone industry to do more to prevent bill shocks

Shock bills, phantom charges and billing errors that are driving people into debt are just some of the problems reported to Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland in the last six months about mobile phones.

Twenty-eight thousand issues with mobile phones and contracts were reported to the consumer service in 2013 which is run by Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland and 102,000 people sought help online.

The new figures come ahead of World Consumer Rights Day, Saturday 15th March 2014.  This year the theme for the day is mobile phones.

Making calls abroad, using the internet, scams and stolen phones has led to some customers being hit with a shockingly high phone bill.  Citizens Advice is calling for action from mobile phone providers to stop people being tipped into the red by unexpectedly high bills.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Mobile companies are hanging their customers out to dry with shock phone bills.  Some people are facing bills of hundreds or thousands of pounds.  Others are being driven into debt as they struggle to cope with these unexpectedly large bills.

“The 28,000 issues reported to Citizens Advice in 2013 shows people are experiencing a myriad of problems with mobiles including faulty phones, services that are not up to scratch and misleading practices.  It’s time the industry looked at how it could banish bad behaviour and help customers avoid large bills.

“Phone providers could help people by sending them text messages with reminders about the costs and any limits they have.   There is also an opportunity for firms to be innovative by creating tools for people to keep day-to-day track of their charges, calls and data use. Consumers can also take steps to steer clear of running up a large bill abroad including checking costs with their network before they travel or getting a local sim card if you visit a place regularly.”

As it stands if you are using your phone anywhere in the EU there is a limit on how much you can be charged for data. Citizens Advice would like mobile phone firms to extend this cap to cover countries further afield.

Consumer Minister Jenny Willott said:

"Nobody wants to be stung by sky high and unfair charges on their mobile phone contracts. This is why we've come forward with strong measures to introduce a cap on bills when phones are lost or stolen and stop unexpected mid-contract price rises. If people think they are getting a harsh deal then they should get in contact with Citizens Advice who can advise them on their rights."

Margaret Lynch, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said:

“The consumers that speak to us often feel powerless in the face of problems with their handset, shock bills or unexpected changes to their contracts – compounded by poor customer service from their operator.

“Citizens Advice Scotland’s services are here to help with free and confidential advice from our consumer helpline, self-help advice online or our network of local bureaux.”

Real life mobile phone misery

  • A woman faced a £2,000 bill after she travelled to the US. She had only used the Wi-Fi in her hotel lobby to keep in touch with family but the mobile phone operator insisted she pay, as her data roaming was not turned off and she didn’t buy a package before going.
  • A long-running dispute with a mobile phone provider ensued after a client was charged over £200 for data usage. The client had never used the phone to access internet at all.
  • A man took out a loan to avoid going £408 into debt with his bank after a billing error meant he was charged more for his mobile phone costs that he should have been.  When he complained to his mobile phone provider he was initially only offered an apology.
  • A pay as you go customer bought a phone on the understanding she could make calls abroad without roaming charges. She was charged even though the trader specifically told her that roaming charges would not apply in European countries.
  • One provider attempted to make a customer pay for phantom charges on her bill, which included calls apparently made whilst she was on the plane, in addition to calls made every couple of minutes at 50p. The mobile phone provider even suggested that someone else had used her phone.
  • A client felt bullied into signing her mobile phone contract and then found it impossible to switch. Despite the seller’s assurances, she could not get any signal in her home. The contract required a tag was put on her landline, so she was trapped into using a service that wasn’t fit for purpose.


In 2013 the mobile phone issues most commonly reported to Citizens Advice were:

  • 11,615 problems with defective goods
  • 8,756 problems with substandard services
  • 2,731 problems with misleading claims or omissions
  • 1,621 problems with business practices

Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales helped with 64,000 problems of telephone and broadband debts in 2013.

Anyone who needs advice on a consumer problem can contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06.


Making a mobile phone complaint

  • Some companies charge customers extra for a late payment or if they do not pay by direct debit. Ofcom, the regulatory body for phone and TV service providers, says that these charges must be fair. They must also be made clear in your terms and conditions.
  • In general, if the complaint is about tariffs, billing and coverage you should contact your service provider.If the complaint is about the initial sale or handset, for example, about mis-selling or a faulty phone, and the handset was bought from an independent outlet you should contact the independent outlet.
  • To dispute your bill, write a letter to your service provider. Send the letter to the service provider’s customer services department. If you want to be sure they receive your letter, send it recorded delivery. Or get a proof of posting certificate of evidence that you sent it. Keep a copy of your letter.
  • If your complaint is not resolved satisfactorily, you could complain to the Telecommunications Ombudsman, if the company is a member. You could also report your complaint to Ofcom.

Before you go abroad

  • Check with your network and find out the cheapest way to use your phone at your destination.
  • If you do need to use the internet on holiday, check the price before you go and avoid any heavy downloading or streaming.
  • Turn your phone off when you are not using it to avoid being charged to receive calls or texts.
  • If you regularly visit the same place, consider getting a local SIM card.
  • Research before you go to see if you can use free WiFi facilities to access the internet and other online phone services. Your hotel may have this or there may be a place nearby.

Notes to editors:

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit You can also get advice online at
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014  service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.