BRITISH TELECOMS REGULATOR Ofcom has bowed to public pressure by announcing customer protection from mid-contract mobile phone price rises.
Consumer groups campaigned for some time to end the practice, which allowed mobile operators to increase contract prices without affecting customers' contracts, providing the price increases remained within the rate of inflation.
The loophole saw most major mobile providers regularly increasing prices just within the legal amounts, with consumers not clearly told it was a possibility, except in the small print buried in their contracts.
However, Ofcom has now ruled that in addition to the 30 days notice period already in place, customers have the right to contest price rises if they believe they will cause them "material detriment" and therefore end their contract without penalty. Ofcom also reiterated that mobile network providers must make their terms clear and the possibility of price rises transparent.
The ruling comes into force in three months and applies to new contracts signed after that date, and it also makes clear that a reduction in included allowances, such as a reduction in included minutes, will equally be viewed as a price increase.
Notice of price increases must be given in the subject line of the email or on the outside of an envelope, not buried within the text.
The decision does not represent a change in legislation, but rather an interpretation of the existing rules by Ofcom that will bring them into line with European rules and leave mobile operators with a stark choice - comply or face fines of up to 10 percent of their annual turnover.
This ruling by Ofcom is a victory for consumers against the mobile phone companies, which increasingly have started behaving like the energy companies in recent years. µ
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