By Daniel Hunter

Ofcom has today (Thursday) set out an action plan to tackle the problem of consumers being hit with unexpectedly high phone bills.

It follows an extensive review into the causes of ‘bill shock’ in the communications sector, which identified that mobile contract customers were the most likely to be affected by this problem.

Research conducted as part of the review revealed that as many as 1.4 million mobile phone contract customers may have been affected by ‘bill shock’ in the past six months.

Ofcom will now work with the mobile industry on a series of measures to address the main issues identified by the review. If these do not sufficiently reduce consumer harm, Ofcom may consider mandatory options to tackle the problem.

Ofcom is also calling on providers to do more to educate customers on how to avoid bill shock. As part of this drive to raise consumer awareness, Ofcom has published a guide on its website with information for consumers about how to take steps to protect themselves.

Bill shock review

Ofcom’s ‘bill shock’ review identified that the main causes of bill shock were:
downloading data, primarily while travelling outside the EU, but also when using data in the UK (for example, customers using smartphones which may download data without the customer realising, or not realising how much data they are using);

- using mobile voice services in the UK, mainly by exceeding inclusive allowances or calling numbers outside of allowances; and

- lost or stolen phones — where the number of consumers affected is low, but the level of financial harm can be substantial.

Ofcom also found that consumers have low levels of awareness about how to protect themselves and can find it difficult to find information about data charges from their provider.

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