Press release

Government vows to end unfair consumer bill and subscription practices

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The government is set to crack down on excessive mobile phone roaming charges and hidden price hikes in renewal notices

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The government is set to crack down on excessive mobile phone roaming charges and hidden price hikes in renewal notices and help consumers spread the bulk of costly annual bills into more manageable monthly instalments.

Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson announced 2 reviews aimed at helping people with spiralling living costs.

One cross-government review will focus on how to improve the transparency and content of information presented to consumers about their bills.

The other review will focus on how payments by instalments can be made more widely available to stop people having no option but to pay heavy up-front bills for essential services. The government has given new rights for householders to pay their council tax bills over 12 months should they wish. The government is keen to work with councils to ensure that other types of payment – such as parking permits – have similar flexibility.

Household budgets will also benefit from a Telecoms Consumer Action Plan, making sure consumers have the right information and advice at their fingertips to get the best deals on phones, internet and the other telecoms products.

Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson and Communications Minister Ed Vaizey will be working with industry and telecoms regulator Ofcom to develop the Action Plan over the next 9 months.

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson said:

People are understandably concerned about the spiralling cost of living. The coalition government is already helping by cutting taxes for workers on low and middle incomes. I want us to do more to ease the strain on household budgets.

Many households spend more on insurance than they do on Council Tax, yet many consumers are paying over the odds. Making it easier to compare the renewal price with last year’s quote would encourage more people to shop around - and incentivise insurers to give more competitive renewal quotes in the first place.

And lots of people have had a nasty surprise when unexpected roaming charges or data costs have suddenly meant a huge mobile phone bill out of the blue.

So I’ll be working with industry to review how we can help consumers get the best deal on a number of unavoidable, everyday expenses, which have previously been inflated with hidden or unnecessary costs.

I very much hope that businesses will see sense and change any unfair practices voluntarily. If they don’t, I am committed to using regulation to ensure consumers get the deals they deserve.

Notes to editors:

1.The Telecoms Consumer Action Plan will look at:

  • making it easier to switch telecoms and broadband providers
  • increasing the transparency in contracts
  • ending “bill shock” – unexpectedly high mobile bills
  • working to end roaming charges when using mobiles abroad
  • how to ensure poorest in society can get the best deal so they can access vital communications services
  • improving customer service to minimise frustration for consumers when things go wrong

The government will work with industry and Ofcom to develop self-regulatory solutions to these issues. We will also work with the EU on ending roaming charges.

2.The government is to launch a review looking at widening the use of payment by instalments in household transactions with the public and private sector. Paying by instalments can spread the cost of bills over several months, smoothing the budgetary impact of large purchases and helping households to manage their outgoings over time. This review will report to Ministers in the spring.

3.Jo Swinson is calling on companies to introduce greater price transparency into their communications with customers at the point of renewal. Consumers should be able to see how much they have paid over the last year on their renewal notices. This will help increase transparency for consumers so that they are better informed. This review will report to Ministers in the spring.

4.The government’s economic policy objective is to achieve ‘strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries’. It set 4 ambitions in the ‘Plan for Growth’, published at Budget 2011:

  • to create the most competitive tax system in the G20
  • to make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business
  • to encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy
  • to create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe

Work is underway across government to achieve these ambitions, including progress on more than 250 measures as part of the Growth Review. Developing an Industrial Strategy gives new impetus to this work by providing businesses, investors and the public with more clarity about the long-term direction in which the government wants the economy to travel.

Published 17 September 2013