Ofcom wants penalty-free exits if fixed contract prices go up

Woman on phoneOfcom has announced plans to allow customers to exit a contract, free of penalties, if their landline, broadband or mobile phone provider introduces any price rises during a fixed contract term.

2012 saw a number of firms take advantage of the existing rules, which allow them to raise prices by the rate of inflation, with O2 the latest, raising mobile costs by 3.2% in December. However, O2 customers could not use such a price rise as a reason to leave the contract without paying a penalty.
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Ofcom now wants this to change.

Ofcom's proposal
The communications regulator has launched a consultation on how to protect us from prise rises during fixed contracts, and this is its preferred option. It wouldn't restrict providers from introducing price rises during fixed periods, instead focusing on the customer's right to use such a rise as a reason to leave, penalty free.

Ofcom also said it expects providers to be more transparent about the potential for price rises, so that we are more informed before signing up to a contract with a mobile, landline or broadband provider.

The other options
The consultation includes a number of other possible approaches to the issue of price rises within fixed term contracts.

1) Simply improve the current lack of transparency around the potential for price increases.

2) Make customers have to actively 'opt-in' to any variable price contract.

3) Maintaining the status quo.

That last one isn't exactly the most compelling. Indeed, I'm confident that of the options presented, Ofcom's preferred revamp of the rules is the best one.

Ofcom admits it did consider installing a complete ban on price rises within fixed contracts, but is concerned that it would not "be consistent with the European legal framework", hence why it has not been presented as a viable option.

Nothing will change for a while
Inevitably, this won't be a quick fix. The consultation on the change will not close until 14th March, and all stakeholders are invited to share their views on the various options.

A final decision won't be published until June, so I wouldn't expect any changes to come into force until the autumn. Not much help to those people who have been hit by O2's price rises – of which I am one – but at least Ofcom has this important issue within its sights.

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Ofcom wants penalty-free exits if fixed contract prices go up

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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