Skip to content Skip to footer

This advice applies to Scotland. Change country

Pay-as-you-go – mobile phones

Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) is when you pay for your mobile phone calls, texts and services such as emails and internet access, in advance. You’re not tied into paying for a certain amount of calls and texts each month and you can stop the service whenever you want. If you don’t use your mobile phone to make long calls, or you rarely use any free minutes that come with your pay-monthly contract, then switching to a cheap PAYG contract can save you money.

This page will help you decide if PAYG is the right option for you.

Top tips

A pay-as-you-go service is probably right for you if:

  • you don’t use your phone to make long calls
  • you don’t use access the internet or download music on your phone
  • you’re not worried about having a big choice of handset or upgrading to the latest model.

How does pay-as-you-go work?

Before you can start using a PAYG service, you’ll need to have a mobile phone. You can usually buy a phone as part of your PAYG deal along with your first top-up voucher which you use to buy credits. These are what allow you to make and receive calls or texts. Once the first voucher has run out, you will own the phone and can choose to keep topping up your airtime as PAYG or change to a SIM-only service.

If you choose to stay with PAYG, there are lots of ways you can top up your mobile phone’s credit, including:

  • buying vouchers from shops like supermarkets, petrol stations or newsagents
  • through cash machines
  • using a credit or debit card which you’ve registered with your mobile phone company
  • making payments directly from your bank account
  • by text message.

When is pay-as-you-go a good option?

PAYG services are worth considering if you don’t make a lot of calls or texts and don’t want to use your phone for other things, like sending e-mails, downloading music or accessing the internet.

If you’ll use your phone for more than an hour each month, send lots of texts and want to use services for things like e-mail, downloading music or accessing the internet, you might want to think about taking out a mobile phone contract or a SIM-only service instead.

If you already use a PAYG service and find that you are topping up your airtime several times a month, it may be cheaper for you to take out a mobile phone contract.

The advantages of pay-as-you-go

There are advantages to paying for your mobile phone services as you go:

  • you can end the service any time you want to
  • you only pay for the services you use, no monthly contract fee to pay
  • you can only use your phone when there's credit on it so you can’t run up unexpectedly big bills
  • you won’t have to have a  credit check.

The disadvantages of pay-as-you-go

Think about the disadvantages, before you decide:

  • you'll probably have to pay full price for a handset up front
  • there's often less choice of phone models
  • calls per minute and texts may cost more than with a contract
  • you’ll have to top up every time your credit runs out
  • other services such as accessing the internet may be more expensive.

Is pay-as-you-go right for you?

To help you decide if a pay-as-you-go service is a good option for you, here are some things to think about:

  • how many minutes a month do you spend using your phone for calls, texts and other services? PAYG is best suited to light users – for example less than 50 minutes of calls and 50 texts a month
  • if you’re already using a PAYG service and you’re topping up your credit several times a month, it might be cheaper to switch to a contract or a SIM-only service
  • are you under 18? You won’t have to sign a contract for a PAYG service
  • have you had problems paying bills in the past that make it difficult for you to get credit? If so PAYG might be the best option.

If you decide you want a PAYG service, it’s important to make sure you choose the right deal which suits the way you use your phone.

Next steps

Other useful information