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Help! I’m struggling with my mobile phone bill

By Dan Howdle
Wednesday, May 9th 2018

So what should you do if funds run short and you find your mobile phone bill is regularly unaffordable? Don't panic – read on for some practical, straightforward advice.

Thousands of people struggle with their bills due to the rising cost of living. If you miss just one payment you can quickly find yourself in a downward spiral of final demands and debt. So what do you do?

First and foremost, don't ignore it

  • Identify the problem
  • Review your budget
  • Contact your provider
  • Agree a repayment plan
  • Consider selling your phone
  • Look at cheaper alternatives

If you're regularly struggling to pay your bills, or receive a bill you can't afford to pay, contact your provider and acknowledge the issue. Delays allow more arrears to build up and can trigger a debt cycle that is even harder to break.

If a direct debit payment bounces, you could be hit with a double whammy – incurring penalty charges from both your bank and mobile provider – so try to pre-empt problems before they happen.

figuring out your phone bill

When you take out a mobile phone contract, you commit to paying for the service for the minimum term. If you don't pay on time, you are in breach of this contract, prompting the provider to pursue the balance before ultimately passing it on to a debt collection agency that continues to chase the payment.

You'll be told in writing before a debt collection agency becomes involved, but you should make every effort to avoid reaching this stage as collection agencies can be aggressive, while the next step – legal action – can be particularly stressful.

Ask yourself the these questions

What's the problem?

Perhaps you know you're going to struggle to meet a bill this month, or have already missed a payment and received a reminder by post or email. Whichever it is, try to identify if it's a one-off issue – you've had an unusually expensive month, for example – or an increasingly frequent problem as a result of a change in your financial situation.

What can you afford?

Providers can disconnect you if payments are overdue because you are no longer paying for the service, so review your budget to see if you can clear the debt and get back on track. If it's an ongoing problem and your monthly bill has become unaffordable, work out how much you can realistically afford to pay.

You must commit to paying something to avoid both a default notice on your credit record and follow-up action from a debit collection agency.

Where do you stand?

Look at the terms and conditions of your contract (or the relevant section of the provider's website) for the policy on late payment and service disconnection so that you know where you stand. Even if you do get cut off, incoming calls and 999 calls should still be allowed.

Can your provider help?

Get in touch with your provider at the earliest opportunity to explain the situation: they will be more sympathetic if you are proactive and show you're willing to pay. Once you have raised the issue, your provider is under obligation to work with you to arrange a payment plan based on what you can afford to pay.

How can you repay?

Talk to your provider about your payment options for the debt and agree how much you can pay on weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. Don't commit to paying more than you can afford. If you are tied into a 12, 18 or 24-month contract, you will normally have to continue to pay monthly instalments even if you are not using the service.

monthly payments save your pennies

Some providers only allow this after you've had a phone for at least six months, while others don't allow it at all, but it is always worth asking. You can then either cancel and pay it off in one go (but check for any extra penalties) or let it run until you're out of the contract.

Look for alternatives to your existing plan

If you've had your fingers burnt with a pay monthly contract, you might want to consider cheaper alternatives. Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) is the most flexible, allowing you to pop a SIM card into any phone and top-up with pre-paid credit so you can keep control of your budget.

SIM-only offers great flexibility and good value

The next option is SIM-only, which again allows you to use any phone as long as it was either previously used with the SIM provider or has been unlocked to work with any network.

You'll still need to sign a contract and pay via direct debit but the tariffs are far cheaper than those provided with a phone, and you can select between 12-month or more flexible 30-day terms that are easy to escape if you struggle to pay again. You can see what's currently available in our SIM-only comparison page.

Cashing in your phone may help

Many mobile phone users upgrade whenever the opportunity arises, and often don't do anything with their previous handset. If this sounds like you, it may be the case that you can sell your newer smartphone to any number of phone recycling services and put your SIM in an earlier model.

Alternatively, you can check whether any of your previous handsets have a recycling value, and hold on to your current phone instead. As a rule of thumb, the newer the handset, the more valuable it's going to be, but even some slightly older models can sometimes bring in some easy cash.

Who to call

If you're having problems with your mobile phone bill, we've gathered together the customer service numbers you need in order to talk to someone about your account.

  • EE – 150 from an EE phone or 07953 966 250
  • Giffgaff – No customer service number. Log into giffgaff.com to ask an online agent.
  • O2 – 202 from an O2 phone or 0344 8090202
  • Three – 333 from a Three phone or 0333 300 3333
  • Tesco Mobile – 4455 from a Tesco Mobile phone or 0345 301 4455
  • Virgin Mobile – 789 from a Virgin Mobile phone or 0345 600 0789
  • Vodafone – 191 from a Vodafone phone or 0333 304 0191
  • Dealing with wider debt problems

    If your mobile phone woes are part of a wider financial problem, don't suffer in silence. Seek free help from an independent debt charity, such as the Citizen's Advice, Step Change or National Debtline. Avoid any agencies that charge for debt advice and beware claims management companies that offer to get your debts written off for you in return for a fee.

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