Moneywise helps a reader who could no longer afford their mobile phone contract
Mobile phone contracts can be hugely expensive and, once you’ve signed up for one, it can seem impossible to escape.
But phone companies are required by law to allow the customer a 14-day cooling-off period. That means if you change your mind for whatever reason – perhaps you realise you can’t really afford the deal – and return the phone within two weeks, you can walk away from the contract – unless you bought the phone in store.
You also have a potential get-out clause if your tariff rises. If your mobile provider doesn’t warn you about a price rise, or if the increase is higher than the rate of inflation, then you are entitled to cancel your contract within 30 days of receiving the warning, without incurring any fees.
Actually, the truth is it is possible to cancel your contract at any point but if you do so you’ll have to pay off the remaining costs, which can be hugely expensive. That effectively means most people are trapped in their contract until it runs out.
But what if you lose your job and can no longer afford the monthly charge? That is the situation that reader PC from the West Midlands found himself in.
He was signed off from work because of mental health issues and realised that, with no income, he could no longer afford the monthly £60 EE mobile phone contract he had signed up for.
“After 20 years of loyalty, EE offered me nothing”
He went into an EE store to try to move to a more affordable tariff but was told that he had to stick to his contract.
He returned to the store after noticing two Google Play charges of £80 on his bill, which he knew he hadn’t run up.
A salesperson told him that EE couldn’t do anything about it and that he should contact Google. He did, and, to Google’s credit, it was sorted straightaway and scrapped the changes.
He asked again about switching to a cheaper tariff but was told again that he had to stick to his agreement.
“I’ve always been a customer with the same mobile firm,” he told me. “I started off on T-Mobile and was then moved to Orange and on to EE. That’s almost 20 years of customer loyalty and I always paid my bills.
“But then when I needed help, EE offered me nothing. It seems loyalty is worthless.”
His story surprised me as I thought phone companies would help people who are struggling. Thankfully, that proved to be the case.
An EE spokesperson told me: “We know events happen that are out of our customers’ control and they may need help with their bills. We’re flexible and can offer a range of options as we understand no situation is the same.
“If a customer contacts us about financial difficulty, we can provide extra time to pay and make sure that follow-up for payment is held, which is really important for those who are facing money problems.
“We can also reduce customers’ monthly bills or move them to a Pay As You Go plan if they prefer. We can also discuss the option of a payment plan with them too.”
The spokesperson added: “We would always welcome customers to contact us if they need some help with their bills to ensure their services remain up and running.”
Once I passed on PC’s details, EE acted very swiftly and positively, switching PC to an affordable tariff as well as waiving some outstanding charges.
PC told me: “EE was quite incredible and has cut my monthly bills by about £50 and waived all but £17 of the current £80 one, so thank you so much for the help.”
Why he didn’t get the help he needed in the branch I don’t know, but I would urge EE to ensure all staff understand the importance of being flexible when people are struggling financially rather than demanding they keep to the contract they signed.
OUTCOME: EE waives some charges and arranges a cheaper tariff
If you or anyone you know suffers from depression and would like some support with managing your money or with any other concerns, contact the charity Mind at: Mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression.
If you or someone you know needs urgent help, contact the Samaritans (Samaritans.org) on 116 123.
He didn't get help because…
He didn't get help because there is no process in place for this situation. EE only did this because they were being contacted by moneywise. Good luck getting this done as a normal person, speaking to anyone in store or over the phone. It will never happen.