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Mobile Billing and Charges Explained

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 27 Aug 2017 | comments*Discuss
Consumer Rights Mobile Bill Mobile

Mobile phones are ubiquitous these days. We all use them for calling and texting, but also for a lot more - taking pictures, listening to music, keeping track of appointments and even watching TV. You can either get your mobile on a contract, which usually involves the provider giving you a free phone, or pay as you go where you buy your phone and "top up" your credit.


A contract with a mobile phone company is generally for a year or 18 months. The company will generally provide you with a phone free of charge. They offer a range of tariffs, which allow a certain number of calling minutes and texts per month for a set fee.

The tariff you pick depends on how much you use the phone, but if you go over the allotted minutes or texts be aware that you'll pay extra per minute or text, which can increase your bill substantially.

The problem is that there are literally hundreds of different tariffs available from several different networks. There are a number of websites available where you can compare tariffs. Before making any changes (under the law you can move your mobile phone number when you change suppliers), keep notes on when and how much you use your phone over the course of a month; this will help you select the right tariff and the supplier with the best deal for you.

Pay As You Go

With Pay as You Go, you only pay for the minutes you use calling other people, or per text. You pay a higher amount per minute than you would with a contract, often including a higher rate for the first few minutes of each day you make a call on the phone. But there's no set amount to pay each month. You top up in denominations of £10 or more using a swipe card. Whilst there might be an expiration date on the top-ups, if you rarely use your mobile, this offers a much cheaper option than a contract.

Calling To and From Abroad

In most instances, if you want to make overseas calls on your mobile, you'll need to contact your provider first for them to unlock this service. Your provider will be able to tell you how much per minute it costs to call particular countries, but it's far more expensive that a call within the United Kingdom.

A much cheaper alternative, if you're going to make a number of overseas calls or make long overseas calls, is to buy a Post Office International Calling Card. You'll still pay per minute, but your phone bill will only be charged at the domestic rate, and the card's rate of international calls is cheap.

If you're taking your mobile abroad with you on holiday or a business trip, the first thing to do is check it'll work there - your provider will be able to tell you. But making "roaming" calls from abroad can be horrendously expensive, up to £2 a minute. Also, if you're making calls within the country you're visiting, they'll be charged at the higher roaming rate. Unless you need voicemail, deactivate your voicemail diverts before leaving your home country, as you'll be charged for any messages left or received (in general you'll be charged at international rates for the part of the call that goes from your home country to your destination). If you want to retrieve your voicemail, remember that you'll pay to make a call from the country you are visiting back to your home country. You should also remember that when roaming you'll be charged for receiving calls.

However there is a way to make it cheaper. Whether on contract of pay-as-you-go, you can be a SIM card from the country you're going to. Make sure first that it's the same network (O2 or T-Mobile, for example) or it won't work in your phone. This will allow you to make calls overseas at a lower rate. Alternatively, you could rent a mobile in the country where you're staying; they can easily be found in airports and some hotels for a small fee.

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[Add a Comment]
O2 has charged me "international " rates for a phone call I made from the UK to Ireland, is this allowed under the New EU roaming legislation?
Alan - 27-Aug-17 @ 3:08 PM
Ronnie - Your Question:
I've been with 3 mobile for 12 years and for the last 10 years I've decided to pay my bill by debit card instead of setting a direct debit up through my bank but because I do this 3 have charged me a extra £5 a month they say it's a administration charge.what I would like to know is are they allowed to or is it a illegal charge because I certainly don't agree with it. If it is an illegal charge is there anyway I can claim it back.

Our Response:
Yes many companies offer a discount for customers who pay by direct debit because it's a more efficient way for them to collect their money.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 28-Apr-16 @ 10:43 AM
I've been with 3 mobile for 12 years and for the last 10 years I've decided to pay my bill by debit card instead of setting a direct debit up through my bank but because I do this 3 have charged me a extra £5 a monththey say it's a administration charge.what I would like to know is are they allowed to or is it a illegal charge because I certainly don't agree with it. If it is an illegal charge is there anyway I can claim it back.
Ronnie - 27-Apr-16 @ 11:22 AM
@ruth. You will need to write to Vodafone, requesting evidence of when and how the tariff was changed. These things cannot just happen accidentally. It seems very strange that someone would do this, check the original contract, did the terms and conditions include changes to the tariff? If so, the phone company is supposed to write to inform you in advance of the increases taking place. Make a record of all your phone conversations and any written correspondence. Send a letter requesting that your original tariff be reinstated, if your reasons are genuine (ie. the tariff was increased by someone without your consent), then you should take it up with the Ombudsman.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 14-Oct-14 @ 10:15 AM
I got a contract with vodafone in February 2013-feb 2015. Unknown to myself someone changed the tariff from £37.00 to £47.00 per month and although I informed vodafone that I had not changed the tariff and asked how this could have been possible they will not allow me to go back to the original contract and are insisting that I have to pay them £282.02 for failing to fulfil my minimum contract. I have paid charges right up until July 2014 although not using the mobile I don't want to be blacklisted for non payment. I have stated that fraud has been committed but was just laughed at. Is there anything I can do?
Ruth - 13-Oct-14 @ 8:55 PM
Iv got an o2 contract over 24months. iv had it just over a month and its not very good. they tell me that it has good network coverage in my area how ever if someone tries to phone me it goes to answr phone as thers no signal, I can be on the phone to somebody and it will cut straight out cause of the signal, I try phoning them back and my phone wont leave me as it has no signal, its like that all the time. is there anything I can do. do I have any right?? im paying for a contract and it never works.
marley08 - 13-Aug-12 @ 8:40 PM
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