Why does having data turned on rinse the credit on my PAYG phone?



I bought a new Samsung smartphone last week through network O2. I transferred £4 over from my old phone and topped up £10 a few days later.

I’ve barely used the phone but my credit has gone down to £6.50. Some advice online advised me to turn off data usage and I’ve done that.

But I’m being sent messages from O2 saying I’ll only be charged £1 for that day but if I’ve done nothing on the phone – why are they charging me £1?

I’ve always had PAYG and never had this problem before although my previous phones weren’t smartphones. What’s going on and why am I being charged?

One This is Money reader found that her phone credit was going down without her using it (stock image)

One This is Money reader found that her phone credit was going down without her using it (stock image) 

Grace Gausden, This is Money, replies: Unknown phone charges can be a source of frustration – especially when it isn’t clear why money has been deducted from your credit.

You said the problem started after you moved from a basic mobile phone to a PAYG Samsung smartphone.

Even though you have always had pay-as-you-go phones, previously with no issues, you realised your credit balance was much lower than it should be.

After looking online and speaking to O2, you realised that the phone comes with data usage automatically set to on.

With those on contract phones, this isn’t usually a problem, but with PAYG customers it means that they will be charged for any data that is used, whether that be when searching for something on the internet or when app updates are processing in the background.

This is certainly an annoying quirk of the technology and means in order to stop your credit being regularly reduced, you will have to turn your data usage on and off as needed to avoid being charged for background usage.

For those who are regular users of the internet on their phone, or even of WhatsApp, for example, they will have to keep turning their data on and off or just use their phone when they have Wi-Fi in order to avoid expensive charges.  

Many may not realise their credit is being run down this way: you might not be browsing the internet, but apps are continuously updating in the background when they get a connection. 

PAYG customers need to be aware that having their data usage automatically on could cost

PAYG customers need to be aware that having their data usage automatically on could cost

It sounds like this is something that you were not explicitly made aware of when taking out the contract and suggests that other customers may not be told upfront. 

However, on the O2 website it says to PAYG customers: ‘Your top-up balance will be deducted after every 20MB block of data usage or if the data session is ended (whichever happens first). There is a minimum charge of 1p per data session. 

‘The cost of each data session is rounded up to the nearest whole penny.’ 

It urged customers to use WiFi where possible in order to cut down on costs.  

Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at uSwitch, replies: Mobile phone users will be familiar with their apps regularly needing updates – always requiring a connection to the internet in order for them to download.

However, what many may not realise is that your phone can – depending on file size and settings – be indiscriminate when it comes to which internet connection it uses to download updates.

Unless you specifically choose to only do so when connected to a Wi-Fi network in your app download preferences, your device will automatically download updates once ready – eating into your data allowance in the process.

This can be an expensive oversight – in particular if you’re on a PAYG deal – potentially leaving you out of credit when you need it most.

To prevent this from happening, go into the relevant options in your settings and make sure your updates only download when connected to a local Wi-Fi, or ask your preference every time that one is ready.

A spokesperson for O2 replies: O2’s classic pay and go packages charge for what is used. Devices need to have data switched off to prevent automatic updates taking place, which will result in the customer being charged.

We’ve spoken with Ms S and have restricted data access on her Sim card so she incurs no further charges, we’ve also credited her account to restore her £10 balance as a gesture of goodwill.

Grace Gausden, This is Money, adds: In recent times, we’ve seen the number of PAYG options narrow. 

For example, the service is being cut altogether by Virgin Media.

Meanwhile, O2 also recently announced they are scaling back their options, potentially affecting a number of elderly customers who often rely on PAYG phones as they don’t see the need for more pricey, contract devices.  

Customers who are on PAYG should speak to their provider if they are concerned about their service to see what options are available.

It is also worth looking at deals from other phone firms to see whether they are offering more PAYG alternatives. 

  

 

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