We are the UK regulator for content, goods and services charged to a phone bill.

Top 3 most complained about service types

Over the past few months, you’ve complained to us about three service types in particular. We thought we’d give you a few tips on how they work and how to avoid being charged unexpectedly:

Alert services/vouchers and lifestyle services

What they look like
These services are often promoted on co-registration websites, meaning websites where you sign up for free product trials, prize draws for things like free holidays or receiving voucher ads for reviewing services. You may tap repeatedly through these forms and if you’re not paying attention you might have agreed to subscribe to a phone-paid service.

Some apps and websites now offer lifestyle services, such as fitness and exercise information, recipes, diet and health tips. These can also be charged to your phone bill, sometimes on a subscription basis. We’ve tightened the rules up on these services so that you’ll need to enter a password or PIN.

Be aware of:
Be aware of sites offering free products, free trials, free competitions and discount websites. If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is! If you do want to use such services, pay attention to what you tap on, don’t just click away as you might be subscribing to services you’ll be charged for on your phone bill/pay-as-you-go credit.

Call-connection services

What they look like
These services connect you to specific companies or organisations, such as HMRC, banks or parcel companies. You may come across these when looking for the helpline of a well-known organisation online using a search engine – call-connection services are promoted but are third-parties that often operate on a 09, 087 or 084 number. These services can make it quick and easy for you to reach the organisation you need but can be more expensive than calling the company you want directly. All call-connection services must clearly state the cost, explain what their service does, and make it clear that they are a third party, not the company you might have been looking for.

Be aware of:
Most official helplines begin with 080 or 03. When looking for the helpline number of well-known companies or public organisations, pay attention to the number and your search results. If the search results display paid ads with a phone number, it’s most likely a call-connection service and not the organisation’s official helpline number. Phone number starting with 09, 087 or 084 will incur extra charges.


What they look like 
Many of us play games on our phone. Some games may include in-app purchases, where you can choose to pay for extra content within the game with extra money. For example when playing a free game, you may buy virtual coins to continue playing or to move to the next level and this might cost you real money. Service providers must make it clear that there is a cost. Sometimes access to games is charged on a subscription basis.

Be aware of:
Pay attention to what you tap on, as with any other service the price should be clear and usually found on the button you next click on.
Pay extra attention if you hand over your smartphone or tablet to a child:

  • if it’s a younger child make sure you have parental controls in place

  • if it’s an older child make sure you have parental controls in place and also explain to them game options might cost real money.

Regardless of what services you’re using or not, always check your phone bill regularly. The earlier you spot an unexpected charge, the easier it is to manage your costs.

And remember if you receive any text messages informing you about services, don’t delete or block them thinking this will stop the service; it will only stop the text messages, but you will continue to be charged. Instead follow their instructions for stopping the service and if in doubt contact the provider of the phone-paid service. 

For more practical ways to avoid unexpected charges, see 5 tips to stay in control of your phone charges.

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