Unexpected charges of nearly £500m on mobile phone bills

News, Smartphones

New research by price comparison service Uswitch.com has found that millions are racking up unexpected charges on their mobile phone bills. 

A third of UK consumers (32%) have faced additional costs over the past year, totalling £489 million. Those affected clocked up an average of £38.90 over and above their regular payment during the past 12 months.

Roaming charges emerged as the most costly surprise, with those affected reporting an average charge of £24 over the course of the year. This was closely followed by international calls at £21.90 and in-game currency at £21.80.

Table: The most expensive unexpected charges incurred by mobile customers

Common culprits

Average annual charge

Roaming charges


International calls


In-game currencies


App purchases


App subscriptions


Source: Uswitch.com

The analysis found that more than one in ten (11%) bill-payers were charged for calling a premium rate number, while 10% exceeded their data allowance, 8% were charged for making international calls and 7% picked up international roaming charges.

Table: The most common ways mobile bill payers are overcharged

Common culprits

Average percentage of people affected

Calling a premium rate number


Exceeding data allowance


Making an international call


Roaming charges


App purchases


Source: Uswitch.com

Despite so many people racking up unexpected charges, almost half of mobile users (47%) say they don’t check their bill every month. More worryingly, a fifth (19%) admit to never checking their bills.

A fifth (22%) of those who have spotted a nasty surprise on their bill attribute it to someone else who had access to their phone. Over half of these people (56%) blame their tech-savvy children, with kids responsible for adding £60 million to their parents’ mobile bills.

Ru Bhikha, telecoms expert at Uswitch.com, comments: 

“Once you’ve got your new phone, it can be too easy to ignore the monthly direct debits — and assume the amount you’re billed won’t change. But failing to keep an eye on what you’re being charged can leave you open to nasty and expensive surprises, especially as more and more of our communications are found online.

“At a time when millions of Britons are watching what they spend in other areas, it’s a surprise that so many are taking their eye off the ball when it comes to their phone. Keeping on top of your mobile costs is a good place to start when watching your pennies, and you should get into the habit of checking your bill every month.

“If you find yourself regularly facing unexpected charges, it’s worth having a chat with your network provider. They might have another tariff which suits your needs better, or they could tell you exactly how you’re incurring the extra costs and give you pointers on what to avoid.

“Meanwhile those who suspect their children of being behind the unexpected charges could try unsaving their card details, or turn on parental controls to stop little fingers racking up a big bill.”

Chris Price
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