UK operators agree £100 limit on stolen device call costs

The UK government said it has plugged another potential source of bill shock after brokering a voluntary deal with EE, O2 UK, Three UK, Virgin Media and Vodafone UK to cap costs accrued on stolen devices.

Ed Vaizey, minister for the digital economy, said the agreement to cap call costs at £100 (€137/$149) will offer peace of mind to the estimated 300,000 consumers who report their phone stolen each year, and is another step towards eliminating bill shock.

"Protecting hardworking families from shock bills through no fault of their own has been a priority for this government," Vaizey said, adding: "By working with the mobile operators, we have secured an agreement that will provide consumers with real benefits as well as offer peace of mind."

In a statement, the UK government said Three UK introduced the cap in January; EE plans to bring the cap "in the coming weeks"; Virgin will introduce it on Jul. 1; and Vodafone UK "this summer." The cap applies only to contract customers, and only if they report their phone stolen within 24 hours.

The call cap forms part of a new code of practice signed up to by all major operators in the UK. The companies also pledged to provide clearer information on out-of-bundle charges, details of how to turn data roaming off, and provide a barring function covering premium rate services and in-app purchases.

While 'bill shock' is a term more usually associated with roaming charges, the UK's Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) said some consumers have been hit with five-figure bills after their device has been stolen, the BBC reported. The CAB estimated the total cost to consumers was £140,000 in the period between April 2014 and February 2015.

Consumer watchdog Which? said the voluntary cap is not wide-reaching enough, arguing that consumers should not face any charges for calls made on stolen devices, the Independent reported. Mobile operators should also simplify the process of reporting a device stolen, the consumer group added.

For more:
- see this UK government statement
- view this BBC report
- read this Independent article

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