Unable to pay a bill?

Published: 15 January 2024
Last updated: 3 July 2024

If you're having difficulty paying a bill, don't ignore it.

Talk to your phone provider as soon as possible. They might be able to help.

Ask about:

  • moving to a cheaper package;
  • paying the debt over time;
  • reducing the monthly payments to an affordable rate;
  • waiving part of the debt if you pay the remainder within a certain time;
  • changing the payment date or switching to direct debit;
  • selling old mobile handsets for recycling;
  • details of debt advice agencies.

Your provider is not obliged to offer you any of these things, but if you explain your situation they may be willing to look at options with you.

There is free advice on debt and managing money available. To find a free debt adviser near you, visit MoneyHelper.

If you're not able to make any of your repayments or if you're facing the threat of court action, seek free, independent debt advice straight away.

You might also like to read this leaflet produced by the UK Regulators Network, a group of regulators from different sectors. The leaflet offers information about cost-of-living support and advice for people in debt.

Avoid having your service disconnected. Some providers charge reconnection fees, which must be paid on top of the debt owed.

Disconnected customers might also be treated as new customers and have to go through credit-checks and pay deposits.

If a bill is unpaid, firms usually contact the customer.

If you do not pay, your provider might restrict your account. This could mean outgoing calls are restricted to emergency calls and calls to the provider only, while inbound calls are unaffected. You might be disconnected if payments continue to be missed.

Some telecoms firms have rules for certain groups of consumers, for example those who are vulnerable. They will make extra effort to contact these customers before restricting or disconnecting their service.

If you don't agree with the charges on your bill, check that no one else in your household has been using your phone to cause these charges.

If nobody recognises them, contact your service provider. It might be helpful to send them a copy of your bill, highlighting the charges and the reasons why you think they are incorrect.

If your provider doesn't agree, you can follow their formal complaints procedure. Details of this should be available on their website or from customer services.

If you remain unhappy, or if your complaint has been ongoing for more than eight weeks, speak to an ADR provider about an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme.

The ADR provider will look at your arguments, and your provider's, and come to a decision they think is fair.

There are two ADR schemes: the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) and Communications Ombudsman. All providers must belong to one of the schemes.

Your provider will tell you which scheme it is a member of, or you can use our ADR checker.

If you are referred to a debt collection agency while in dispute with your provider, contact the agency and explain this to them.

Communications firms have a right to chase money they believe is owed to them. However, we would expect them to allow you time to resolve your dispute. It's also important you follow your phone company's complaints procedure.

If you feel that you have been mistreated or harassed, either by a telecoms company or by a debt collection agency, complain about the way you've been treated.

Write to the telecoms company or debt collection agency explaining your complaint.

You can also complain to the debt collection agency trade association, the Credit Services Association, if the company is a member.

If you have a dispute about a billing or contract issue, you can seek advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service.

If you need advice about debt collection and dealing with your debts, you can find sources of free debt advice through MoneyHelper. You can find further information on what to do about mobile phone debt from National Debtline.

Falling behind with payments on a consumer credit agreement (say for a mobile phone) can harm your credit rating. Information about credit, credit ratings and how to dispute a credit rating is available on the Information Commissioner's Office and MoneyHelper websites.

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