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What to do if you’re seeking a refund for an unexpected charge on your phone bill

11 September 2018, Simon Towler, Policy and External Relations Director

As part of a new series of blogs examining how the PSA supports consumers, Policy and External Relations Director Simon Towler takes a look at refunds and how consumers should approach them. 

Most phone-paid services operate well and consumers are not just happy to use them, but also experience few problems. But when a problem does arise, many consumers will want a refund.  

Consumers are sometimes surprised to learn that it is not our role to handle individual requests for refunds or to handle individual cases. That’s because PSA is a regulator and not an ombudsman or an arbitrator. We are here to set the standards which the industry must follow - in our case in the form of a Code of Practice. We have an investigations and enforcement role, but that is focussed on determining whether the service and service provider are following our regulatory requirements - or not.

We are, however, happy to help consumers seeking refunds by pointing them in the right direction. The precise details of individual cases will differ of course, but we can offer some advice that should help you.

If you are seeking a refund for a charge on your phone bill:

  • Find out who made the charge and what it’s for: a crucial first step! It’s important to determine what the unexpected item on your bill is, and where it has come from. Many consumers are surprised to learn that somebody other than their phone company can charge them for a service via their phone bill. It is those services charged by third party companies that fall within our remit. If the service falls within our regulatory remit [learn more about what is in our remit], it has to comply with our Code of Practice. 

    Most consumers who have an unexpected charge on their phone bill naturally contact their phone company first.  Your phone company should be able to tell you what the charge is for and who the company making the charge is. 

    The PSA also has a very useful tool called Service Checker for this purpose. If there is a number or the name of a company or service listed on your bill, enter it it into Service Checker. If it is a service we regulate, you’ll find useful information about the service provider there, including their customer helpline contact details and/or a customer service email address. 
  • Contact the company that provides the service you were charged for: the company that provides the service is responsible for handling complaints about the service - including requests for refunds. If something has gone wrong with a service or with the billing system of the service provider, they are the people in the best position to fix the problem promptly. If it’s a subscription service – where a recurring charge is being taken from your phone account - the service provider is in the best position to stop the service and the recurring charge. The service provider should be able to explain the circumstances of the charge and why you were billed in the first place. It will help you if you have your phone bill to hand and can say when you have been charged – especially when the first charge was taken.    
  • Report your issue to the PSA:  if you have been through the steps above but feel that your issue has not been dealt with, you can get in touch with us. Service providers offering phone-paid services in our regulatory remit, have to register their details with us, and they and the service they offer must comply with our Code of Practice.

Your information helps us to investigate services and to determine whether or not they are complying with our Code. There are a number of outcomes and rules but key things that service providers must do include:  

- services must be transparent and priced clearly – it should be clear what you are buying
- sign up to the service should be clear – you should not be misled into a purchase,  
- your complaints must be resolved quickly and easily.  

If your information indicates that there may have been a breach of our regulation, we will look into it further.  This can turn into a formal investigation.

Formal investigations can lead to the service provider agreeing an action plan with PSA which aims to fix problems with the service. Where the circumstances warrant it, we will agree action plans that include a requirement on the service provider to give refunds to any eligible consumer – which will normally include any consumer who has complained to us.

More serious cases end in front of our Code Adjudication Tribunal. They have a range of sanctions available to them including imposing fines and banning individuals from providing services for a number of years. They can also order refunds to be paid to all eligible consumers.

Where a refund has been ordered by a Tribunal or is an agreed part of a formal action plan, the service provider must provide the refund. Failure to provide the refund or failure to do so promptly and in an easily accessible manner may be investigated and could ultimately lead to further enforcement action.  

If you have complained to PSA and become eligible for a refund by this route, you will receive an email or a letter informing you of the outcome of the action plan or the Tribunal case. Some cases are quite complex and it may be some months before you hear anything from us.