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Here's how to take control over your phone bill

We have a consumer expert here to help answer questions on phone bills and contracts. Plus, we’ve a Facebook Live coming up today.

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WE’RE OVER MIDWAY through our Live A Better Life series, where we want to help you and your phone get on a bit better.

That’s why this week we’re looking at the tech things which can lead to stress around your phone.

One element of this is your phone bill and your phone contract.

If you find yourself asking ‘am I on the right contract?’ ‘Could my bill be lower?’ or ‘should I change providers?’ it’s good to have a consumer expert to help. So for today’s article, we’ve enlisted the help of bonkers.ie, the consumer guide website, who are experts in this sort of thing.

If you have any more questions for Bonkers, we’ll be holding a Facebook Live event today from 12pm where you can send in your queries. Just email them to aoife@thejournal.ie

Here’s Bonkers.ie’s Simon Moynihan to answer some of our questions:

shutterstock_471457247 Source: Shutterstock/SOUTHERNTraveler

What are the most common queries about mobile phones that you get at bonkers.ie?

The most common mobile phone-related query we get at bonkers.ie is ‘which mobile provider is the cheapest?’. This tells us that consumers often find it difficult to compare different options by themselves, and who can blame them? With so many different features and plans available, it can be hard to know which provider is the best.

We’re also asked if it is possible to bundle a mobile phone plan with a TV, broadband and home phone plan with certain providers. Virgin Media, eir and Vodafone all offer these so-called ‘Quadplay’ options to customers.

Customers also sometimes ask us if “unlimited data” is actually unlimited. In fact, “unlimited” data packages are subject to fair usage policies and are usually capped at 30 GB or 60 GB per month.

Are there types of hidden charges with mobile phones that people might not be aware of?

In many cases, yes.

Sometimes, a customer’s first bill will be higher than expected. This is because the first bill covers the period from when the service was connected up until the beginning of the first bill cycle, as well as the cost of the first full month.

Customers are also usually hit with a penalty fee for breaking their contract before it expires. It’s important for customers to carefully check what this fee will be before switching to a new plan or provider.

The most common “shock” fee which customers can be hit with is for exceeding the limits on their plan. Many plans have limited calls, texts and data and the penalty for going over these can be significant, especially for data, which is often charged per megabyte.

Even “unlimited” data plans have limits, outlined in a provider’s fair usage policy.

Can you save money by switching phone carrier?

Yes, absolutely.

The mobile operator market is highly competitive and operators are constantly coming out with new package deals. There are often savings to be had by bundling a mobile phone plan with a home broadband and TV deal. For example, Virgin Media recently announced that its existing broadband customers can get unlimited calls, texts and data with Virgin Mobile for €5 a month for five months.

Customers can also use cool apps like Killbiller, which takes usage patterns and recommends the best current plan available.

How easy is it to move phone carrier/company?

shutterstock_443781640 Source: Shutterstock/IhorL

Switching is relatively easy and can be done in a few steps:

Step 1 – Choose a mobile operator. Customers can compare the price plans on offer from the main mobile operators on the market on ComReg’s website or use an app like Killbiller. Customers should check to see that their contract is over and if it’s not, what penalty they are likely to be charged.

Step 2 – Contact the new operator. Customers should then make contact with their chosen new provider and ask about contract length, penalty fees and fair usage limits to make sure it’s the best option for them.

Step 3 – Switch! It should take no more than a few hours for a mobile operator to transfer a customer’s number across and get him/her up and running.

Customers can compare operator packages using apps like Killbiller or Comreg’s price comparison tool.

If a person is confused about their bill, what should they do?

If a customer is confused about a charge on their bill, they should contact their provider, either by phone, email or social media. In many cases, a tweet is the fastest way to get attention and an answer these days.

It’s also wise for customers to have a look at the terms and conditions of their contract if they are confused by their bill. In some cases, this will be the quickest way to figure out the issue and might also help a customer get a deeper understanding of their plan, overall.

If a person is unhappy with their phone carrier/company, what would you advise them to do?

There are so many providers and plans available now that nobody should settle for being unhappy with their service – customers should shop around for alternative options and switch. But it’s important to check what contract breakage fees will be charged before doing so.

If a person is in the middle of a contract, is there anything they can do to get out of it?

When a customer signs up for a bill pay mobile phone service and are offered a “free” phone it usually means you they have to sign up to a contract for a minimum time, usually 18 months.

This means that if the customer wants to switch providers during the contract term, there may be a penalty for ending the contract early, which can sometimes involve paying up to the end of the contract.

So, if a person wants to cancel their contract midway, it’s essential to find out exactly how much they will be charged for doing so. Customers who like to switch providers regularly and don’t like the commitment of an 18-month contract may be happier to sign up for a rolling 30-day contract or a per-pay plan.

Another way customers can get out of a contract early is if their operator makes changes to their contract (as Three recently did) – in cases such as this, the customer has 30 days to leave without a penalty fee.

What should people know about the new roaming situation?

The new roaming laws will mean that people can use whatever calls and texts their domestic plan allows while travelling in the EU.

When it comes to data, mobile operators will be allowed to impose special “fair usage” limits to customers when they’re travelling and, if those limits are exceeded, penalty fees will follow.

However, the amount that an operator can charge as a penalty fee will be capped.

From the 15th of June 2017, the most a customer can be charged for exceeding their operator’s roaming limit is €7.70 per GB of data, and this will steadily decrease over the course of the next five years; €6/GB (01/01/2018), €4.5/GB (01/01/2019), €3.5/GB (01/01/2020), €3/GB (01/01/2021) and €2.5/GB (01/01/2022).

If you have more questions, we’re holding a Facebook Live event today from 12pm with bonkers.ie. Email your questions to aoife@thejournal.ie.

What do you make of the tips above – will they help you?

Live A Better Life: The series so far>

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