Millions ‘risk’ signing up for mobile contracts that leave them paying ‘twice’ | Personal Finance | Finance

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Britons could be signing up for mobile contracts that leave them paying hundreds of pounds more, as taking out a split deal to separate the handset from airtime costs remains a challenge, a secret shopper investigation has found.

Combining airtime costs for minutes, texts and data with the cost of the handset can lead to consumers paying more than the value of their smartphone. This is because they receive little discount, if any, at the end of their contract yet continue to be charged the same amount.

To find out how difficult obtaining a split contract can be at first instance, Virgin Media O2 sent independent, professional mystery shoppers onto UK highstreets and operator’s websites posing as new customers looking to take out a contract on a new handset.

As per its investigation, no secret shoppers were able to sign up for a split contract with EE. Meanwhile, Vodaphone and Three fared better, with shoppers proactively being offered a split contract in all Vodafone and most (80 percent) Three stores.

The secret shopper investigation, carried out by Virgin Media O2, follows its research earlier in the year that found Britons are collectively overpaying £530million each year for handsets they already own, with many potentially paying for their devices twice over.

Gareth Turpin, chief commercial officer at Virgin Media O2, said: “It’s time for the industry to end this half-a-billion-pound problem by providing consumers with choice, consistency and clarity on their phone contracts. This is not about picking a fight with our competitors, it’s about increasing awareness of a key consumer issue and urging others to help solve it.”

Mr Turpin told Express.co.uk: “Other operators are clinging to the practices of the past. More than a decade after O2 first launched split contracts to ensure customers never overpay for their phones, others are continuing to charge customers for phones they already own.

“Today, shoppers up and down the country are walking into stores and being denied split contracts that could save them hundreds of pounds each year. It’s just plain wrong.

“More than nine in ten people simply don’t understand that they could be paying twice – which makes the lack of urgency to address the issue even more concerning. This is a problem that impacts millions of consumers and is costing them over half a billion pounds every year.”

At a time when money is tight and people are actively looking to save, Mr Turpin said this is a problem consumers “shouldn’t have to battle with”.

Based on the mystery shopper findings, Virgin Media O2 is encouraging consumers to check what happens at the end of their contract to get clarity on their mobile plan.

As part of its campaign, Virgin Media O2 is urging customers to ask:

  • Can I get a split contract?
  • What happens at the end of my contract? Will I still be charged for my handset?
  • How will I know when I’ve paid off the cost of my phone?

Mr Turpin added: “We’ve built a new online overpayment calculator so anyone can check if they’re at risk of overpaying in just a few seconds.

“It puts the power back into consumers hands so I’d encourage people to check that, speak with their provider and get themselves a split contract.”

A BT Consumer spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “We find these claims from Virgin Media O2 to be misleading and unnecessary – designed to chase headlines, at a time when consumers need confidence that the industry is clear and straightforward.

“Like VMO2, we offer spilt contracts with EE Flexpay, while providing all customers with clear end-of-contract notifications, including the best offer for them based on their usage. With EE Flexpay, once the handset is paid off no further charges are applied. We don’t position this as a discount because it isn’t – the handset is owned by the customer.

“Along with providing customers with great value, we are also doing all we can to support our financially vulnerable customers with our market-leading social tariffs. We currently have 80 percent of all social tariffs customers in the UK.”

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