How to avoid a shock mobile phone bill

Ever been hit by mobile phone bill shock? Accidentally going over your allowance or making a call to a premium rate number can result in a sky high mobile bill. If you want to feel totally in control of your monthly spend or ensure that your child can’t run up a hefty data usage fee after bingeing on mobile internet perhaps you should consider a capped contract?

Best mobile phone networks – read our ratings for Vodafone, O2 and the like

What is a cap?

Both T-Mobile and Tesco offer contract caps that only allow you to use the texts, minutes and data that are included in your allowance. This means that you will never accidentally go over the cost of your monthly tariff.

Do all of the big providers offer this?

No. O2, Vodafone, EE and Orange don’t currently offer customers the option of capping their contracts. We asked them why. Here’s a selection of the top reasons they gave for not offering caps:

  • Pay As You Go service – Customers who want control over their spending can use Pay as You Go.
  • Don’t use your mobile – Customers can choose to wait until their next bill date to use the internet again, meaning there is no need for a cap.
  • Apps – Customers can monitor their own usage through apps such as My 02, My EE and My Orange.
  • Text Alerts – These notify customers about their usage and when they’re nearing their limits.
  • A range of price plans – These have plans to suit a wide range of consumer needs.

Why use a mobile cap?

O2 suggested that restricting customers on their spend through a cap could take away the flexibility and freedom to use the mobile they have. However, if you are on a tariff with combination of texts, minutes and data that suit your needs having a spending cap shouldn’t feel like a limitation.

Besides, in the event you do need to override the cap, you can always top up with credit to cover your needs. Secondly, you can avoid premium rate numbers by contacting companies through other channels such as Twitter and online chat; you may even get a quicker response.

Both Tesco and T-Mobile argue that caps or fixed contracts offer the great value of pay monthly but with the levels of control that Pay as You Go gives. T-Mobile offers one form of fixed contract called You Fix and Tesco Mobile offer caps on all of their contracts.

Your thoughts

So, are you tempted by a cap? Or do you agree with o2 and think that you’d feel too limited by not being able to call premium rate numbers or go over your usage without topping up with some extra credit?

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43 replies

  1. Self control. I assume that people have the thought process to think that if their account only has say 1GB of data they might have that in mind and use WiFi when they can or go completely crazy and monitor usage. More and more the consumer needs the actions of others to control their own.

    If you sign up to a pay monthly account for a member of your family, lets say a son or daughter and react with utter shock when you get a bill or see that lots of money has been spent on buying extras from apps then there is only one person to blame, yourself.

    1. Its not always a lack of self control, there are many sneaky charges with mobile phones they even charge for services that simply haven’t been used. When we were with T mobile the last 3 months of the contract we took the sim out and changed to giff gaff, amazingly the next two months there were small extra charges on the bill! when we rung them up to say it was not possible as the sim wasn’t even being used we just got a sorry and a refund. How many people really check their mobile bills if they did I bet they would also find things that they have been charged for that they shouldn’t have .

    2. I strongly belive that you should be able to cap usage on your mobile phone . My teenager son has recently gone over his minute allowance and I received a £240.00 bill

      The next month it was an extra £54.00 on internet allowance.

      I think these firms prey on the teenagers and just rake in money when the user does not know they have gone over.

      Further more EE the provider of this phne is very illusive when trying to talk to a REAL person.

    3. Talk Mobile put me over the limit twice on my data £98.00, I paid it.
      Although the data I used for 18 months when in Contract with then I never went over?
      Then they persuaded me to go to Chip only Contract with the same allowances, second month worth first informing me about reaching my limit, they let it ride to £127+ before informing me, then I had to inform them that I would not pay because they had not informed me as I reached my limit, never heard from them again….?
      I wonder if the old habits of this miscreant company never abate but resurface with just another scam… to screw whomsoever they can?

    4. My son has recently way overspent on his account and there is a cap on it. Still trying to figure out how this could possibly have happened. I mean what’s the point of capping accounts if it doesn’t work? I can’t afford it. That’s why I capped it in the first place.

    5. Tesco mobile are supposedly leading the way with capping. Please be aware that it is very easy for your teenage child to remove the cap by ringing the automated top-up service and entering your bank account number. Capping works OK on an adult’s phone but don’t assume that Tesco are helping you to protect your children. They send send your child an SMS reminding them how easy it is to raise the cap.

  2. It is essential to be able to set a cap on spending. Children need limits to help them learn responsible use and parents need them to protect the family budget. Phone companies that have not implemented limits are choosing that course for cynical commercial reasons rather than providing controls that customers need. Congratulations to Tesco and T-mobile for providing this capability. I am signing up now!

    1. Well said. PAYG solutions charge a huge premium for their calls and texts 40p per min or 15p a text (with the exception of ASDA) . A monthly contract is much better value so why can’t a parent set a limit of £5 a month and have a handful of texts and minutes and optionally NO data for their youngest to say be in touch if they miss the bus home from school. This can be gradually upped as and when and possibly added to by the child in a PAYG voucher manner with their pocket money. I note that some networks too allow an ’emergency number’ to allow phone home or parent with a couple of minute limit even with no credit.

      Which should investigate further!

    2. Out of “bundle”, giffgaff payg is only 10p per minute or 6p per text and 0800 calls are free. So this is a good deal for low volume users.

      Tesco capped contracts can be very good value too though….

  3. The cartel of the big 4 only send SMS reminders for data because they have to by law. They could very simply send a reminder for Voice minutes and texts but they would rather put their hands in your pockets when you’re not concentrating than play fair. Make your voices heard. Facebook, Tweet, other social media sites. speak up and spread the word, you can’t drown out the words of the crowd. The EU is introducing a raft of new measures that will save users much gold. Don’t sit in silence when that bill comes in, let the world know how you have been cheated!

  4. i have had a capped contract for over 2 years now and i cannot reccomend them enough.
    i have a phone for me and for my partner and i never have a surprise bill at the end of the month, nor do i have to worry if i go on holiday about those roaming charges.
    i have quite a good deal anyway 600 mins 5000 txts and 500mb data, although i have never hit my cap its nice to know that i can top up with credit should i need to.

    as i said i cannot rate the capped contracts highly enough. great idea if you are paying for your kids phone bills as well

  5. Three let you do this on any of their pay monthly contracts via the website as my daughter had it. We are swapping her to T-Mobile as we got a great deal on a phone and contract which no other network could match. I now need to check I can limit her out of contract spending.

  6. It is clear that many customers want this facility, ie to cap their contract, they ARE being responsible,
    It is a lack of ethics that allows some companies to refuse to,provide this facility,
    Shame on Orange and Vodafone

  7. I have a capped pay monthly contract with Tesco which has worked very well until recently. When I go abroad I top up in order to use my phone as the cap prevents calls, texts etc outside of the uk. I was advised by Tesco to do this to avoid the cap. I was shocked to receive texts from tesco whilst on holiday saying that my credit was low and I needed to top up. I knew full well that was not the case. When I made enquiries with Tesco when I came back to the uk they told me the top up balance had been used to pay my monthly bill!! My bill is paid monthly by direct debit and yes I had sufficient funds in my account. If I had known tesco would do this I would not have spent 20 minutes on their awful automated system trying to top up. Next time I have to reset the cap when I go abroad and when I come back. Beware!!

  8. EE are so unhelpful, I’ve been charged nearly double my actual bill every month, all the women could say was ‘keep an eye on your bill then’ caps should be put in place as soon as my contracts over I’m moving over to tesco.

  9. I want to get a contract for my elderly aunt but an too afraid she could accidentally use up too much data.
    Is there any operator in the UK that will allow you to cap the data to the amount you sign up for and then block or restrict data after that amount. Tesco is rediculous, if you get the 500MB plan then any other data after that is 60p per MB which means if you go over by about 20mb then all your calls and SMS are blocked also.

    1. Actually the Tesco capping system is pretty good. You can choose a contract with a reasonable bundle of minutes, text and data and then add a cap – a monthly fixed cash ceiling on any overspend.

      Then if you overspend by exceeding your data allowance, you can still make calls and text within those allowances.

      For example, you can get 3000 minutes, 5000 texts and 3gb data for £20/month. If you set a £5 cap, you would run out of data after 3gb + £5 other data but you would still have the other allowances. What you won’t be able to do, if you hit the cap, is make out-of-bundle calls, like 0800 and 0845 numbers.

    2. Derek,
      You are right, Tesco seams to be quite good, the only issue is that once you have spent your allowance you are then charged 60p per MB for data so that £5 would be burnt through in about 8MB, that is just ridiculous.
      I want to restrict data after the included bundle not get charged an unreasonable amount for it

    3. I see some phones (e.g. the Motorola Moto G) now let seem to let you set a data limit via the phone itself….

      (We are still getting to grips with our newly purchased Moto G – so far the apparent absence of standalone mp3 player seems to be a minor annoyance, otherwise it seems like quite a good phone for the £90 we paid in Tesco for an unlocked one.)

  10. We have T Mobile comtract for our daughter. We a put a cap of £50 on overspend on monthly amount for whuch we were to be informed when that amount was reached. We have now been told we have to pay £600 plus as they let this overspend carry on. Apparently we have “good credit” We now have a dispute with them. Not happy. How we meant to prove this.

  11. O2 have better contact than some other companies, but I have twice gone over my limit. On one occasion their app was down so I couldn’t check my time available. However, I am not in the habit of making £20. phone calls and a simple text to me would have saved me a fortune. I am so impressed with their views on that , that I have left them.

  12. My daughter is 17 and her contract that I pay for is £21.00 PM with O2 my daughter was unaware of her bill being £111.00 and because I don’t have t phone I can’t monitor it. I asked O2 for some help, like the banks with responsible lending. Put a cap on it. No help and no answer, they actually cut me off from the on line chat. It is possible for phone companies to do this but why would they? Profit profit profit. The government should help out I believe.

  13. I am giving EE one more Chance!! As I have 6 months left . I couldn’t believe when I got a bill that was nearly 144 pounds . A friend gave me some advice and told me to just use my sim only in a basic phone then I wouldn’t be using any data at all lol Also avoid using 0800 and use a alternative number instead. Its gonna either Tesco or O2 next !!

  14. It’s a scandal in my opinion – all mobile companies need to be forced to allow a limit to be set as well as the ability to block premium rate numbers. If your contract phone is stolen criminals can clock up huge bills before you get a chance to inform the mobile company – yet they say you are liable for them!

  15. The reason these other companies don’t offer capped contracts is because of those extra £100 bills. You WILL pay it and they know that. We have a capped contract for our daughter, Tesco @ £12.50 per month. No more no less and no horrible surprises.
    Best thing for kids by far.

  16. I wanted to cap my daughter’s data usage with her Vodafone contract but they said they couldn’t cap her allowance without me taking out a ‘secondary line’ (i.e another contract) with them. My daughter has learning difficulties and whilst I want her to be able to own a contract phone so she can be like her friends, I also need to ensure she doesn’t inadvertently run over her allowance and rack up a huge bill. That is only being responsible, I think. Vodafone are simply interested in getting as much money from you as possible. They don’t care about my daughter, or people in similar situations, they are just interested in profits. Once her contract ends, I won’t be renewing it, so that’s going to cost Vodafone in the long run.

  17. I strongly believe in the cap,I recently was with Vodafone they charging you big price for little data I had a Samsung galaxy with them, when I use to see my bill I was in shock they are to thieves so I took out a contract with tesco I got a better deal with including with the cap.and also the model of the phone was less than the Vodafone one which I couldn’t believe when my contract came to an end with Vodafone I cancelled was so happy and now am less stressful with not having a huge bill for nothing. Having the cap is by choice and theirs no harm having it other companies not having it is a way for them to make more money that’s all they care about money so of course they will disagree to not having a cap for phones.

  18. Surely the problem is not that we are going over (after all, you lose minutes you don’t use, so don’t want a contract for your maximum possible useage). The problem is the ridiculous amount for 1 minute of calling over the allowance, or 1MB of data. 30 days is a long time!

  19. Problem = £1000 bill shock yes u read write £1000 (teenage son) Solution = give customers software ability to set caps on their accounts online. Customers could control spending then !! Phone operators don’t want this as no more high bills for them to make money off. Will keep fighting for bill refund. Good luck readers.

    1. Same situation my son has built up a £750 bill on orange as he believed he had unlimited phone use (started contract 21 months ago) sent recorded delivery to head office requesting a good will gesture. Took me 4 weeks to find out about extra charges once I looked at a bank statement. Call centre put phone down or do not want to phone back (extremely rude behaviour). Also difficult to get address so went to OFCOM for help.

  20. 2 years of carefully controlled, very low budget phone and data useage with talk mobile and then I got hit hit with a £140 excess data charge. My ‘mobile data’ had somehow been enabled (a genuine accident that I can’t explain). I asked them to consider my history with them and how this was an obvious anomaly, that I always connect with Internet via wifi and that they should have informed me immediately or at least capped it. They took £85 off in the end. I don’t want to pay the remainder but really don’t want the hassle or possible bad credit rating. I did not trust their reasoning that it was out of their hands because vodaphone wouldn’t allow caps, Contract ends in February – I’ll vote with my feet.

  21. Just had a long and fruitless conversation with Vodafone about data capping on a monthly account used by my son. They don’t care about customers, just profit. I’ll be voting with my feet when the contract is up!

  22. I just took out a sim only contract for a 16 yr old with EE as Vodafone told me the only company that puts caps on is EE. This was confirmed by EE also. However I have just read on their website that although they stop usage if you go over – they also send the phone a text asking if you want to buy more! What is the point of capping it if it is so was to get more charges.

  23. Be very aware – Tesco capped contract does not give you as the contract holder any control over the limits. Their downloadable app gives anyone using the hand set the capacity to CHANGE your cap settings WITHOUT your permission – Tesco capped is NOT capped and you are still subject to your teenagers running up massive bills as they can change safety buffers and purchase extra data all without your knowledge and consent. Tesco state there is no way to stop anyone downloading the app and changing the cap settings of the contract.

  24. The comments from the carriers are not helpful nor customer focused. I had an incident where I suffer “in pocket dialling” where I didn’t kill the screen (just popped phone into my pocket after reading an e-mail) and it found a number in my address book and dialled. Luckily I took my phone back out and noticed it was ringing someone! Impossible? I would have thought so too but it happened and Vodafone agreed that this does happen but just said I was lucky the call had not lasted longer (it was INTERNATIONAL so out of contract and expensive). I fully support a spend cap across the whole contract (say double the monthly price?). Also, I advised my friends always to make sure their phone is in a secure state before pocketing it.

  25. My Teenager ran up a huge bill because she topped up her cap. I have been right through the complaints procedure with Tesco Mobile and Ombudsman services. The verdict is that there are no consumer contract regulations covering capping. It is viewed as a “commercial offering” according to Ofcom. This is because the government persuaded them to do capping and they agreed voluntarily.

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