Four of the UK’s largest mobile phone networks have agreed to change some of the rules around pricing and contracts in a bid to reduce the charges that arise when roaming abroad or if a device is lost or stolen.
Announced today by Maria Miller, Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the agreement covers pledges from EE, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone. Notably, O2 has not yet agreed to the plans.
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The key changes consumers will want to know about include the introduction of a cap on phone bills for devices that have been reported lost or stolen; and greater transparency at the outset of a contract to help eliminate unexpected mid-contract price rises.
For the liability cap on lost or stolen phones, the DCMS said its aim was to introduce it from spring next year and to limit charges to a £50 liability.
The operators involved have also pledged to aid the government in pursuit of the elimination of roaming charges by 2016.
While the news is a welcome step in the right direction, it’s only a tentative first one.
For example, the omission of a commitment from O2, one of the UK’s largest network operators, sets alarm bells ringing. In a statement a spokesperson for the company said:
We have a track record of delivering for consumers and we welcome any measures that improve transparency, clarity and fairness in consumer contracts. However one area of the Government’s announcement relates to Ofcom’s recently published guidance on ‘price rises in fixed term contracts’. We need clarity on what the guidance means for us and our customers before we can sign up to all the commitments referred to by Government and we have been unable to obtain such clarity from Government or Ofcom at the time of this publication.
Similarly, the pledge to help the government in its aim of eliminating roaming charges isn’t quite the same as effectively promising to end roaming charges before 2016 – which they could have pledged instead.
Nonetheless, a step in the right direction is still worth taking, and with increasing focus on things like mid-contract price hikes and roaming charges thanks to the EU’s push for a single, simplified European telecoms market, the chance of consumers being hit with an unfair and unexpected bill looks set to fall.
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