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What you liked and what annoyed you last year: lessons from the Annual Market Review

25 September 2018, Lewis Evans, Senior Communications Executive

Whenever you vote on a TV show, donate to charity by text, pay for an app or make a purchase in-game, call a premium rate helpline, or subscribe to content or services you want through your phone bill, you are using a phone-paid service. There are thousands of great services out there, some of them operated by huge brands like Amazon, Spotify, and Cancer Research UK.

Another great piece of news for consumers and industry alike is that satisfaction with these services is growing. 65% of consumers, according to figures in the PSA’s latest Annual Market Review, are satisfied with the phone-paid services that they are using, up from 55% last year.

That is a clear indication that in most cases, people are getting high quality service and value for money when they choose to charge content, goods and services to their phone bill.

Furthermore, the number of people reporting issues has decreased. According to our Annual Market Review, only 15% of users of phone-paid services reported a problem last year, down from 17% the previous year. The number of complaints to us has also decreased, down to 15,800 for 2017-18 from 33,600 the year before, a reduction of 53%.

This has real implications for perceptions of the market. We want consumers to be able to use phone-paid services with confidence, and the numbers in this year’s report suggest that confidence is growing. The number of people reporting trust issues has come down by 15% since last year, from 36% to 21%.

The star performers in terms of trust are charity, music, and video services. Charity text donations have been a market success story in recent years, offering a convenient and effective way for consumers to give to causes they care about. Likewise, there are clear indications that phone payment is a strong area of future growth for subscription-based entertainment and streaming of music, film, TV and video content.

These then, are among the many high-performing areas of the market, driving growth and delivering consumer satisfaction.

There remains some areas of the market where the evidence is that consumers are experiencing problems. This is an issue for the industry, as it represents a challenge to those high and growing levels of trust and confidence we’ve seen.

The services causing issues for consumers attract a disproportionate amount of attention, both in the press and with the public. We’ve taken action in the past to tighten regulation around such services. For example, complaints to us about online competition and online adult services have come down significantly since we introduced Special conditions in January 2017.

Likewise, we’re currently seeking views on how subscription services should operate in the interests of consumers.  Services offered on subscription are currently the source of over 90% of the complaints that we receive, but there are also services (e.g. some of the music streaming services) which generate almost no complaints to us. We’re advancing the interests of consumers by responding to their complaints and adjusting our approach accordingly. We recently issued a call for inputs on this.

For most services which comply with our Code of Practice, we like to take a hands-off approach. We don’t believe that it’s in anyone’s interest for the regulator to get in the way of consumers or businesses unless there is a clear need for us to do so.

Likewise, we have to be wary of creating requirements that could inadvertently disrupt services that function well and which consumers like. It would not serve the interests of consumers if, say, you went to sign up to a popular entertainment service, only to find that regulation was getting in the way of its performance.

We have a mission to maintain and facilitate a healthy and innovative market and to protect consumers. Our focus is on outcomes rather than enforcement of rules. This approach enables flexibility. We provide service providers with all the information and support they need to understand the regulatory requirements and can get on with delivering great services.

When there is evidence that a service is breaching our Code and harming consumers, we act fairly, proportionately and decisively.  When enforcing our Code, we seek to resolve concerns with providers where we can. Where services are found to breach our Code of Practice we have the power to issue fines, bar services and prohibit companies from operating in the market, and order refunds.

This is where you come in. If you’ve had a bad experience with a phone-paid service, we want to hear from you. Whether it’s that you’ve been billed more than you expected, charged without your consent, signed up to a recurring charge unknowingly, or that you’ve struggled to secure a refund from the service provider or to get a complaint heard, we want to know about it.  

We don’t take up take up individual cases or pursue refunds. But we do look at services at a market-wide level in order to protect consumers. Your information and experience can help us to resolve problems in the phone-paid services market.