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Five UK operators agree to cap bills for stolen mobiles

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EE, O2, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone have entered into a voluntary agreement to cap bills at £100 for stolen or missing mobile phones, provided a report has been made to the network provider and police within 24 hours of losing the device.

The cap is part of a new code of practice created by the Mobile Broadband Group, which consists of the four UK MNOs EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. Under the code the telcos have also agreed to other measures designed to protect consumers from unexpectedly high bills.These include providing clear and transparent pricing information, alerting subscribers when they reach data limits, providing information on how to avoid roaming charges, and providing ways of barring unauthorised or inadvertent calls to premium numbers or in-app purchases.

“We advise customers to protect their phone as they would their wallet and make full use of the security features, including SIM lock,” Kip Meek, Director of Public Policy at EE said. “If a phone is lost or stolen, however, it is crucial customers let us know as soon as possible- we have a 24-hour hotline so customers can report loss or theft at any time.”

Annie Brooks, Director of Virgin Mobile, said: “This cross-industry agreement simplifies things for consumers by making the treatment of fraudulent use of lost or stolen phones consistent. It remains vital that people report their phone is lost or stolen as soon as possible.”

Three has already implemented the cap in January, while EE is apparently set to do so within weeks. Virgin will introduce it on 1 July, and Vodafone sometime in in the summer. O2 said its customers will be covered from September onwards.

Dave Dyson, Chief Executive of Three, said: “The liability cap is one of a series of measures we’ve pioneered to help ensure Three customers are protected and in control of their spending.”

Derek McManus, CEO of O2, said: “This agreement demonstrates our continued commitment to deliver usage safeguards and advice to our customers. O2 customers can already keep track of their usage though their MyO2 app and also benefit from O2’s overseas data cap. This new cap builds on the safety and security advice we already give to customers and should provide additional peace of mind if their phone goes missing.”

According to figures from the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit (NMPCU), in the UK some 300,000 mobiles are reported stolen or missing to the police every year. A Vodafone UK spokesperson said: “We will continue to do everything we can to protect customers from theft and believe our new cap will improve our customers’ experience at what can be a upsetting time. However, because it is very easy for criminals to rapidly build up high charges using stolen phones, we continue to encourage customers to report phones missing as soon as they can and make it as easy as possible for them to do so.”

Seemingly keen to ensure the government was also seen as having played a role in reaching the agreement, the UK Culture and Communications Minister Ed Vaizey had this comment to offer on the matter: “Protecting hardworking families from shock bills through no fault of their own has been a priority for this government. 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.”

While the £100 liability cap is a very welcome move by the operators from the consumer point of view, they have taken their time to do so. Ofcom made recommendations to take similar steps as have now been announced as far back as three years ago, when it said this in a statement: “We recognise that there are steps that consumers can take to protect themselves against the risk of unexpectedly high bills if they suffer the loss of a phone…

“Nevertheless, unexpectedly high bills can be generated in a short space of time prior to a phone being reported as missing. We will investigate this issue further; in particular, working with the MSPs to examine how feasible it would be to ensure that consumers face a maximum liability, rather than an uncapped amount, in the event that a phone is lost or stolen.”

Nevertheless, the agreement will ensure in the future subscribers whose handsets get into the wrong hands get a fairer deal- as long as they report the incident in the set time-limit of 24 hours.


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