By Daniel Hunter

The government is set to crack down on excessive mobile phone roaming charges, hidden price hikes in renewal notices and help consumers spread the bulk of costly annual bills into more manageable monthly instalments.

Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson announced two reviews aimed at helping people with spiralling living costs. One cross-government review will focus on how to improve the transparency and content of information presented to consumers about their bills.

The other review will focus on how payments by instalments can be made more widely available to stop people having no option but to pay heavy up-front bills for essential services. The government has given new rights for householders to pay their council tax bills over 12 months should they wish. The government is keen to work with councils to ensure that other types of payment — such as parking permits — have similar flexibility.

Household budgets will also benefit from a Telecoms Consumer Action Plan, making sure consumers have the right information and advice at their fingertips to get the best deals on phones, internet and the other telecoms products.

Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson and Communications Minister Ed Vaizey will be working with industry and telecoms regulator Ofcom to develop the Action Plan over the next nine months.

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson said: “People are understandably concerned about the spiralling cost of living. The Coalition Government is already helping by cutting taxes for workers on low and middle incomes. I want us to do more to ease the strain on household budgets.

“Many households spend more on insurance than they do on Council Tax, yet many consumers are paying over the odds. Making it easier to compare the renewal price with last year’s quote would encourage more people to shop around - and incentivise insurers to give more competitive renewal quotes in the first place.

“And lots of people have had a nasty surprise when unexpected roaming charges or data costs have suddenly meant a huge mobile phone bill out of the blue.

“So I’ll be working with industry to review how we can help consumers get the best deal on a number of unavoidable, everyday expenses, which have previously been inflated with hidden or unnecessary costs.

“I very much hope that businesses will see sense and change any unfair practices voluntarily. If they don’t, I am committed to using regulation to ensure consumers get the deals they deserve.”

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