Could you accidentally run up £7k mobile bill?

smartphoneChristoph Dernbach/DPA/Press Association Images

Chris Wilson, a decorator from Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, was left reeling when he received his mobile phone bill for just one month from Orange. He had been charged £6,875. The company says that the incredible charges came from downloading TV programmes and films.

But can this be fair, and could it happen to you?

Huge bill

Wilson told the BBC"I rung up to pay my bill and the lady said she wanted to warn me that the month's bill was going to be slightly higher than normal. Then she told me how much it was going to be - £6,875. I nearly had a heart attack."

He said that he had not downloaded excessive numbers of programmes - just one 43 minute TV programme.

Orange said he was billed for downloading over 9,000 MBs of data, well over his monthly allowance of 750MB. It has agreed to reduce his bill by £2,500. However, Wilson told the BBC that he cannot afford this, that he has been threatened with being cut off, and he is worried it will damage his business.

Can this be right?

In this instance, Orange told the programme: "Mr Wilson's bill resulted from very heavy and sustained data usage throughout the month, such as streaming films, TV programmes and podcasts on his business account. We have sent him an itemised bill with the exact dates, times and the amount of data used."

"Mr Wilson had previously incurred higher than normal data charges, in April this year. We agreed to credit a full refund as a gesture of goodwill and, at the same time, he was fully advised why he had incurred the charges and ways to monitor his data usage to avoid this in the future.

"We have acted responsibly and reasonably in investigating this case and offered Mr Wilson a significant and substantial reduction, which he has refused."

What about you?

Clearly there are arguments on both sides in this case. However, it is a useful reminder of the way that mobile phone charges work, and the risks we take when we don't understand either our limits or our usage.

Ofcom has warned that with the increased use of smart phones 'bill shock' is likely to be increasingly common. Its research earlier this year found that 1.4 million users had received an alarming phone bill at some point in the previous six months.

It would like to see a cap on excess charges - after which the user would not be able to use their phone - which would stop these charges being excessive. To spend more than the cap, the mobile phone user would have to opt out of the scheme. It has also suggested mobile phone operators should have a system of informing users when they have reached their monthly limit, and when they go a certain percentage over it.

However, at the moment, it has not enforced these suggestions, so it is up to your mobile operator whether or not to advise you on usage.

For now, therefore, it's vital you understand your limits and your usage. You need to know roughly how much data you are using, and keep an eye on it during the month to ensure you don't risk going over your limits. If you discover your use is very high, it may well be worth opting for an unlimited data package. These aren't cheap, but when you compare them to a £7,000 phone bill, they start to seem like a real bargain.
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