Don't make enough mobile phone calls and you'll be cut off

iPhoneYou just can't win with phone companies. Talk too much and they can cut you off. And if you text instead of chatting they can pull the plug on you for that too.

Just a couple of weeks ago Emma Lunn highlighted the problem of making too many calls from home if you've got a Sky phone deal in Sky customers: make too many calls and you may be cut off. But if you've got a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) mobile the reverse can be true. If you don't use your phone frequently enough your account can be terminated and any remaining credit lost along with your number.
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Vodafone has just cut off my husband's PAYG mobile which had £15-worth of credit on it. Admittedly it was his 'spare' phone, but he received both calls and texts on it including a weekly text from his bank with an account update and even made the occasional call.

So last week when his phone didn't work he rang Vodafone, only to be told he hadn't used it enough and his account had been terminated. His number and outstanding credit were both lost. Despite the fact that his main 'personal' mobile account is also with Vodafone, there was no call, text or letter to warn him of the impending cut off.

Why Vodafone cut him off

So what's the sense behind this? After all heaps of people have a second mobile for emergencies or keep one as a 'spare' in case they lose or mislay their main one.

Vodafone lays the blame for its cut off policy at the door of the regulator Ofcom, as it says it is under pressure to be 'economical' with the issuing of phone numbers, so it will simply 'recycle' the old ones.

And if PAYG customers don't make a 'chargeable' call within 180 days Vodafone will assume your number is no longer needed. So it pops that number in the pot for 'churning', which means it can be handed out to someone else. According to Vodafone's small print it doesn't actually have to warn you of any impending cut off.

What's the deal with other providers?

Most other mobile networks have clauses in their terms and conditions to the effect that if the account hasn't been 'used' for 180 days they will disconnect it. So you'll lose any remaining credit and in some cases your number too.

However there's an anomaly over what counts as 'use'. With T-Mobile and Orange sending a text, making a call or any data usage within 180 days is enough to keep your account up and running. With Virgin Mobile or O2 it's a text or call, whereas with others like Vodafone a text isn't sufficient - you must make a 'chargeable' call.

At Tesco Mobile the small print is somewhat unclear as its terms and conditions say, 'if you do not use your mobile phone for six months we will disconnect you and you will lose your credit and mobile phone number'. When pushed Tesco Mobile did clarify this by saying 'use' means a chargeable call, text or top-up within six months to keep your account active.

Is there an early warning system?

Ofcom says providers are well within their rights to recycle unused numbers and can set their own limits as to what counts as low usage, providing details are laid out clearly in the terms and conditions. And there's no obligation on providers to contact you if you're nearing the limit for non-usage.

While Vodafone, O2 and Tesco Mobile don't warn customers of any impending disconnection, T-Mobile say it does send customers two text messages to warn them of low usage.

Any way back once your phone's disconnected?

Beyond the 180 day cut off point (when your phone stops working) some companies do have a temporary grace period, which they call 'quarantine' or 'hibernation'. During this time, which can be up to three months with some providers, your number can usually be reinstated free of charge by calling customer services. However you'll usually forfeit any outstanding credit.

But with other providers like Tesco Mobile how long you've got to claw back your number can be a grey area. Tesco Mobile's press office first told me there was a 'three to four month' grace period beyond its 180 day limit, then they reneged on that saying it was just a week and finally came back to admit you actually had one month from the 180 day disconnection point to keep your number.

But watch out as the small print warns of a re-connection fee too.

Stray beyond any 'hibernation' or quarantine period and your number is gone for good along with any chance of any 'goodwill' credit refund.

Can you complain?

If you think your account's been cut unfairly or before any agreed time limit, contact your network provider and if the situation's not resolved to your satisfaction within eight weeks you can ask to use its Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme.

Ofcom says all operators must be signed up to one of these services, which act as middleman between both customer and company.

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Don't make enough mobile phone calls and you'll be cut off

Using a mobile phone to make and receive calls, send texts and browse the web while abroad can be extremely costly – especially if you are travelling outside the European Union (EU), where calls can cost up to 10 times as much as at home.

To avoid high charges, Carphone Warehouse suggests tourists ensure a data cap is in place, use applications to check data usage, turn off 'data roaming', avoid data-intensive applications such as Google Maps and YouTube and use wi-fi spots to update social networking sites.

Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is supposed to help people to continue meeting their loan, mortgage or credit card repayments if they fall ill or lose their jobs. However, policies are often over-priced, riddled with exclusions and sold to people who could not make a claim if they needed to.

At one point, sale of this cover - which was often included automatically in loan repayments - was estimated to boost the banks' profits by up to £5 billion a year.
Now, though, consumers who were mis-sold PPI can fight back by complaining to the bank or lender concerned and taking their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (08000 234567) should the response prove unsatisfactory.

It could be you, but let's face it, it probably won't be. In fact, buying a ticket for the Lotto only gives you a 1 in 13.9 million chance of winning the jackpot.

With odds like that, you would almost certainly be better off hanging on to your cash and saving it in a high-interest account.

No-frills airlines such as EasyJet may promote rock-bottom prices on their websites. But the overall fare you pay can be surprisingly high once extras such as luggage and credit card payment fees have been added - a process known as drip pricing.

Taking one piece of hold baggage on a return EasyJet flight, for example, adds close to £20 to the cost of your flight, while paying by credit card increases the price by a further £10.
It may therefore be worth comparing the total cost with that of a flight with a standard airline such as British Airways.

Cash advances, which include cash withdrawals, are generally charged at a much higher rate of interest than standard purchases.

While the average credit card interest rate is around 17%, a typical cash withdrawal of £500, for example, is charged at more than 26%.
What's more, as the interest accrues from the date of the transaction, rather than the next payment date, costs will mount up even if you clear your balance in full with your next payment.

Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda often run promotions under which you can, for example, get three products for the price of two.

However, it is only worth taking advantage of these deals if you will actually use the products. Otherwise, you are simply buying for the sake of it, which is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
To avoid paying over the odds, it is also worth checking the price per kilo to ensure that larger 'economy' packs really are cheaper than the smaller versions.

Buy a train ticket at the station on the day of travel and the price is likely to give you a shock - especially if you are travelling a long distance at a busy time of day.

However, you can cut the cost of train travel by 50% or more by going online and making the purchase beforehand - especially if you book 12 weeks in advance, which is when the cheapest tickets are on sale.
Other ways to reduce the price you pay include avoiding peak times and taking advantage of so-called carnet tickets, which allow you to buy, for example, 12 journeys for the price of 10.

Most High Street banks offer packaged accounts that come with monthly fees ranging from £6.50 up to as much as £40, with a typical account charging about £15 per month.

Various benefits, such as travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, are offered in return for this fee. But whether or not it is worth paying for them depends on your individual circumstances.
Before signing up, it is therefore essential to check that you will make use of enough of the benefits, and that you cannot get them for less elsewhere.

Overseas money transfers or travel money purchases attract the same high rate of interest as credit card cash withdrawals.

Worse still, most credit cards – and debit cards – also charge you a foreign loading fee if you use them to make purchases while abroad.
You can, however, avoid these charges by using a Saga Platinum or Nationwide Building Society credit card.

Numbers starting 0871 cost 10p or more from a landline, while those starting 09 can cost more than £1 a minute from a mobile phone.

And the operators of these high-cost phone lines, some of which are banks, often get a cut of the call charges.
Most 09 numbers are linked to scams and should therefore be avoided at all costs, while 0871 numbers can often be bypassed by searching for an alternative local rate numbers on the saynoto0870.com.
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