Avoiding ‘bill shock’ when using your mobile in the UK

Published: 17 December 2021

Going over your call allowance of calls, sending texts with emojis or using too much data can all lead to a bigger bill than expected.

Follow our tips so you don't get caught out.

Work out how you normal use your phone.

Don't guess how much call, text or data allowance you need - underestimating can end up costing you more.

The best way to find what you need is to look at your last couple of bills. You may have an online account where you can access this information, if not contact your provider.

Once you know how much you normally use, use a price comparison website to find deals that suit your needs.

If you make a lot of calls, look for a generous allowance, and check if this includes the type of calls you make. If you make a lot of calls to certain numbers not covered (like international numbers), think about buying a special add-on bundle to avoid additional charges.

Make sure you know how much it will cost if you use more than your allowance of calls, texts and data. Some providers charge a lot if you go over your monthly limit.

Remember also that  your smartphone might convert a text message from SMS (Short Message Service) to MMS (Multi-Media Service), which can be more expensive. This may happen, for example: If you send long text messages (longer than 160 characters);

If you send a message to lots of people at the same time ;

If you send a text message to an email address;

If you include a subject heading in your text message;

If you send pictures or photos in your text messages;

Or if you use emojis in your text messages (some handsets automatically convert an emoticon like :) into an emoji.

You may be able to turn off the MMS function in your phone's settings.

If you choose a mobile contract rather than a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) product, this means you will be billed for charges above your monthly allowance. With PAYG, you can only spend the credit you have bought. - This gives you  more control over what you pay.

If you find yourself regularly using more than your data allowance, speak to your provider about a more suitable one.

If you regularly go over your allowance, check to see if you can change your allowance. Some providers let you do this without charge. If you’re worried about going over your allowance, speak to your provider to ask if you can set a limit on your account, which will stop you spending over a certain amount.

If you choose a deal that offers ‘unlimited’ allowances, check if it comes with a fair-usage policy. If it does, check what the maximum usage is and what happens if you go beyond this – you may be charged or have your usage restricted.

If you’re nearing the end of your contract, think about changing your tariff or switching provider to get a package that best suits your needs. Your provider must tell you when your contract is coming to an end and they must also tell you about their best available deals.

If you are already out of contract, your provider must remind you of this and tell you every year about their best deals.

If you can't switch, ask your provider if you can buy extra allowance - such as extra data or calls. If you do this, check when you can start using it and whether it's provided on a one-off or rolling basis.

You can usually monitor your usage from your smartphone by using an app from your provider.

Most providers also offer an online account where you can check what you have used. Providers must make sure that the billing information they provide you is up to date and reflects your current usage and expenditure. Your provider must also notify you when a service included in your tariff plan is fully used up and the notification must include information on the charges you will incur outside of your tariff plan.

Also check your bill for any items you don’t recognise and speak to your provider if you spot any.

Even if some or all parts of your allowance are ‘unlimited’, it’s still worth keeping tabs on your usage, especially if there's a 'fair usage' policy in place.

Your usage can change over time. Check whether you can increase your allowance, ideally before you sign up to the contract

If you let others use your phone, keep an eye on what they do. for example, avoid your child inadvertently racking up large bills from 'in-app' purchases by keeping your handset password private, or setting up a password.

Some devices allow you to turn in-app purchases off altogether. Our video guides offer step-by-step instructions for turning off or password-protecting  in-app purchases on some popular handsets.

Check your package offers enough data to cover your needs. Speak to your provider if you’re unsure.

If you are new to smartphones, remember that they seek out internet connections automatically and can use data even if it is not included within your allowance.

If you want to regularly use data, using wifi instead of your phone's mobile internet connection can save you using data from your allowance.

Your provider must notify you when a service included in your tariff plan is fully used up and the notification must include information on the charges you will incur outside of your tariff plan.

You may wish to request a bill limit for your mobile phone service (calls, texts and data). Once a bill limit is set up your provider must let you know if you are likely to reach that limit before the end your billing period. If you then reach that limit, your provider will give you a further notice and you may not be able to make calls, send text messages or use data above your monthly allowance. However, you will still be able to access emergency services. If your provider allows you to continue to use mobile phone services after your limit has been reached, they cannot charge you beyond the bill limit unless you have agreed to go over it.

For more information on bill limits, including what services they cover, see Ofcom’s guide on mobile bill limits.

Charges that apply to these calls are made up of two parts:

An access charge: This part of the call charge goes to your mobile phone company. Your provider will tell you how much this when you take out a contract.

A service charge: This is the rest of the call charge. The organisation you are calling will tell you how much it is.

See our guide to call costs.

Always treat your phone as carefully as you would your bank or credit cards.

Take care when using your phone in public, don’t let it out of your possession.

Smartphones can be worth hundreds of pounds and thieves can quickly rack up huge bills on stolen phones.

It is important you contact your provider as soon as possible as you may have to pay for unauthorised calls from your phone before it is reported missing.

If your phone goes missing and you are with Three, Virgin Mobile, Vodafone, EE or O2 for mobile services, you should only be responsible for paying up to a maximum of £100 for any unauthorised usage - if you report your phone as missing within 24 hours.

If you are with Vodafone and you miss the 24 hours but report your phone as missing within five days, you should only be responsible for paying up to £500. See the Government's  announcement.

Once you have reported your phone as lost or stolen, your provider can stop calls being made on your account or from using your phone at all. Your provider can also stop anyone else from using your phone by blocking its IMEI. You can get your IMEI number by keying *#06# into your handset. Make a record of this number, as well as the make and model of your handset and keep it somewhere safe.

You can also download an app which can trace your phone if it is lost or stolen and can enable you to wipe details remotely - such as findmyiphone and Android device manager.

Some mobile insurance policies may provide some cover for unauthorised use.

If you do decide to take out mobile phone insurance, you may be obliged to let your insurer know if your phone is lost or stolen within a certain time frame.

Make sure you put a passcode on both your handset and SIM to make it more difficult for thieves to use.

Ofcom's guide on keeping your smartphone secure and the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit are also useful sources of advice on how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of phone crime.

To report your phone lost/stolen

ProviderDialling from the UKDialling from Abroad
3 333 (Three phone)
0333 338 1001 (any other phone)
+44 7782 333 333
EE 07953 966 250 +44 7953 966 250
Orange (report online via EE customer service) 07973 100 150 (pay-monthly) 07973 100 450 (PAYG) +44 7973 100 150 (pay-monthly) +44 7973 100 450 (PAYG)
O2 0344 809 0202  (pay-monthly)
0344 809 0222 (PAYG)
+44 344 809 0202 (pay monthly)
+44 344 809 0222 (PAYG)
T-Mobile 0845 412 5000 +44 7953 966 150
Vodafone 03333 040191 +44 7836 191 191
Tesco Mobile 4455 (Tesco Mobile phone)
0345 301 4455 (any other phone)
+44 345 301 4455
Virgin Mobile 789 (Virgin Media phone)
0345 6000 789 (any other phone)
+44 7458 333 789

Since 1 October 2018, all mobile providers must give the option to limit the cost of bills to new customers, and to any existing customers who agree to extend their contract or enter into a new contract. We have published some useful FAQs on setting a mobile bill limit.

Request an alternative format

Call 020 7981 3040, use textphone 020 7981 3043 or write to the Digital team.

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