Three in four mobile phone customers are overpaying for unused data, a consumer survey by Citizens Advice (CA) has revealed.
The UK survey found that unused mobile phone data is costing consumers a total of £800 million annually with 71% of mobile customers on a SIM-only plan, 12 million people, overpaying and that those on bundled deals were similarly affected.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has teamed up with the CA group to call for an industry-funded telecoms regulator that will champion consumers, similar to regulatory bodies in other markets such as energy and water. CA is calling for more mobile networks to refund unused data or to make it easier for customers to reduce their monthly allowance if they find they are regularly left with an abundance of unused data.
CA recommends that people check their data usage and opt for a cheaper deal if necessary, estimating they could save £63 a year. Last year, CA discovered that 4,000,000 customers had been charged for a mobile phone they already own, costing them an additional £500 million on contracts.
More shockingly, the group found that EE, Three and Vodafone continued to charge customers for handsets even after the cost was paid off.
Nina Ballantyne, CAS policy manager, said telecom businesses need to be held more accountable. “An industry-funded, independent, telecoms consumer advocacy is a significant gap in the current telecoms landscape that CAS would see as a priority for government to address,” she said.
“The last time consumer advocacy arrangement changed was in 2003 when neither the iPhone nor Facebook even existed,” she added.
The survey found that those who bought their contract in store were likely to waste more data than those who did so online. Customers who selected their contract in store face-to-face with a sale person on average wasted 4.2GB, while online customers wasted 2.6GB, this finding implies that store sales practices could be misleading consumers to take up deals with excessive data allowances.
CA, which exposed broadband providers were earning £1.2 billion annually by charging loyal customers more for their services, believes that an internet consumer champion could cover both mobile and internet companies. Currently, complaints are handled by Ofcom.
Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy, said: “Mobile companies should be doing more to help their customers save on data they don’t use, especially when it’s clear people are consistently under-using their allowance.
“This is another example of mobile companies overcharging their customers. It’s time for a consumer champion to stand up for people and push for change on issues like this.
“While we wait for industry to improve support for customers, individuals can take action too. Anyone looking to save money should check their data usage and see if they can switch to a cheaper deal that matches what they use.”
Digital Minister Margot James said: “People’s use of mobile data is growing steadily, but many are still paying for data they’re not using.
“We’ve made it easier for people to switch to better plans, including ones that allow you to gift unused data to family members or charities, and I’d urge people to shop around for a deal that works best for them.”