A lost or stolen mobile phone can be much more than an inconvenience. It can quickly escalate into a financial nightmare. It’s one thing to lose your phone and know that your personal information may fall into the hands of strangers; but criminals are just as likely to use your phone for their own nefarious purposes, leaving you to foot the bill. By now we’ve all heard the stories of customers being hit with massive phone bills after losing their mobile, or having it stolen while on holiday. Indeed, many victims of smartphone theft have found themselves faced with thousands of pounds in phone bills, with little or no recourse of action. But that’s all about to change, as the UK’s five major carriers agree to place a £100 bill cap on lost or stolen mobile phones.
The New Code of Practice
Five of the UK’s largest mobile operators (EE, Vodaphone, Three, O2, and Virgin Media) have agreed to a voluntary £100 bill cap on lost or stolen phones. The agreement forms part of a new Code of Practice recently signed by the country’s leading network carriers, which also guarantees greater transparency in pricing, bundling fees, international roaming costs, and premium rate service charges. Minister for the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, helped to craft the new Code of Practice. In a statement following the signing of the agreement Vaizey told reporters “Protecting hardworking families from shock bills through no fault of their own has been a priority for this government. By working with mobile operators, we have secured an agreement that will provide consumers with real benefits as well as offer peace of mind.” The new Code of Practice, including the £100 liability cap, will go into effect almost immediately.
The £100 Liability Cap in Action
While the £100 liability cap is good news for consumers, mobile operators aren’t going to be taking any claims on faith. If your mobile is lost or stolen, you must report the loss to your carrier and file a police report within 24 hours of the incident. Once all reports have been filed, customers will only be liable for the first £100 of charges made after carriers and law enforcement have been notified of the loss. The liability cap on lost or stolen phones is seen as an equitable solution to the problem, but mobile operators continue to encourage customers to take sensible precautions against theft and to have actionable security features in place on their smartphones. Carriers recommend that all customers install a device lock, remote access control, or kill switch on all of their mobiles.
It must be said that not everyone is best pleased with the bill cap on lost or stolen phones. Consumer advocacy groups, such as Which? and Citizens Advice, point out that £100 is still a lot of money for working families. They insist that consumers should not be expected to foot any part of a phone bill racked up by thieves and fraudsters. At the very least, consumer advocates would like carriers to make it easier to report a lost or stolen phone, and would like the required notification time to be stretched to 48 hours. Citizens Advice is also urging mobile operators to apply the new liability cap retroactively, giving some financial relief to those hit with massive phone bills since the spring of 2014 when the cap was originally slated to go into effect. Which? and Citizens Advice agree that the liability cap, and the new Code of Practice, is a step in the right direction, but argue that more should be done to protect consumers.
It is perhaps too much to expect carriers to absorb all of the costs of a lost or stolen phone, and the £100 liability cap does go some way towards protecting consumers from massive phone bills. That being said, the best protection is still prevention. Mobile phone owners should have security features installed on their handsets that allow them to remotely deactivate the device, rendering the phone all but useless to thieves. Should a phone be lost or stolen, consumers are urged to notify their carriers and, if necessary, file a police report as soon as possible.
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