Don't believe O2 when it says it's halving bills

Laura Whitcombe's picture
Did you see the O2 adverts loudly proclaiming it’s been busy automatically halving bills? You couldn’t miss the ads in London – they were plastered over the enormous 40-metre long digital billboard at Waterloo Station, and all over the Tube. They annoyed me – greatly.
The ads are all to do with the two-year anniversary of its Refresh tariff, which separates out the cost of the handset (the ‘Device Plan’) with the cost for calls, texts and data (the ‘Airtime Plan’). 
It’s a good tariff because unlike many on the market you don’t overpay for your handset. As our recent news story points out, customers on tariffs that bundle the handset and usage charges all together end up paying almost £100 more than they need to for the handset. 
02 is to be commended for making it easier for customers to understand exactly what they’re paying for. And I am one of its customers. I took out the Refresh contract to get the iPhone 5 around 18 months ago and when I did it was made clear to me that at the end of the minimum two-year term, I would have paid for the handset in full with monthly instalments of £20 through the Device Plan. It was explained that should I choose to continue on the tariff thereafter, I would only have to pay the Airtime plan, which costs me about £10 a month.
What annoyed me about the adverts was the claim 02 was automatically halving bills, and the supporting press releases journalists were sent told us that 02 was “offering substantial and automatic savings”. 
No, it wasn’t! All it was doing was abiding to its side of the contract and not continuing to bill customers for their handsets once they had paid for them in full. So 02 wasn’t automatically halving anything, it just wasn’t overcharging its customers. But I guess a national advertising campaign built around a slogan of “Hooray, we’re not overcharging you” probably wouldn’t have been as effective.
In my case, when I reach the end of my two-year contract, the amount I spend to use my phone will be two-thirds less than I currently pay. But that won’t be because O2 has suddenly given me a terrific discount. It will be all down to me – because for 24 months I will have repaid 02 for the cost of my handset.
Claiming to be slashing bills when you’ve done no such thing is reprehensible. 
I’m glad that the more recent ads have been improved and now make some mention of bills reducing “when your phone’s paid off”, even if 02 is still banging on about how your bill “automatically halves”. 
The whole point of Refresh was to demonstrate a commitment to transparency and simplicity. That message still gets lost in this cheap promotion for what remains a classy tariff.