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7th April by Josh Janssen
Have you ever had an exorbitant bill from your mobile phone provider? Whether you’re with Telstra, Optus, Virgin, Vodafone, or Three; in most cases you can have excess usage charges waived. The reason I write this post is that over the past 6 months I have saved friends and family members from paying well over $7,000 in excess mobile phone charges.
Although you have an obligation as a consumer to understand your contract, telcos still must provide correct (and clear) communication with what you can, and can’t do within your contract.
I have mixed feelings about caps. When mobile phone caps first came to Australia, I was extremely excited by the idea. ‘So, I pay you $49 a month, and you give me $300 worth of calls?! This is amazing’. The problem is, calls are expensive and this disconnect between how much you PAY and how much you RECEIVE is breeding a system where bills are hard to understand and consumers are rarely looking at them. This combination is perfect for the telcos. This false sense of security encourages people to use their phones more, and in a lot of cases, cause excess usage charges.
If you ever receive a bill where the amount doesn’t equal your cap — query it. If your cap is $49 a month, and you get a bill for $75, you should look into what these charges are. Did you go over your data allowance or was it phone calls to ineligible numbers (like 13 numbers)? By finding out the issues when they are small, you can take action to avoid larger bills.
The best way to lose control of your money is by allowing direct debit from your account. Although it’s the ‘easiest’ option, there are a couple of things built into direct debit to promote failure in managing your bills. With direct debit you aren’t actively seeing the amount you are paying to the telco company. If you Bpay however, you are actively typing the total amount to pay it. This makes you hyper aware of how much your bills are costing. If your bill is wrong (in your eyes), and you are using direct debit, they will still take the money out of your bank account. It is a lot easier to get back money that they haven’t yet taken, than money they have.
The reality is, that no-one sets out to have a huge phone bill. So why do people go over their cap? Most of the time, it comes down to the user not understanding how much their ‘$300’ will actually get them in calls. Other users are just on the wrong cap to begin with.
When calling telcos, the person on the other end generally wants to sell you something. In this case, you can use this desire to your advantage. If you went over your cap by a mile, you aren’t on the right cap. Tell the operator that you didn’t understand your original cap. Normally, it helps if you can pinpoint the issue. Be specific. “I thought I received unlimited text messages”, “I thought I received free calls to other Telstra phones”. As the original sales person didn’t properly communicate to you what you could, and couldn’t do with the cap, you are happy to upgrade to the next cap, as long as you can have the full amount of excess charges waived. Most operators will offer a portion of the excess amount as credit — this is always going to be their first approach. Don’t accept it. Explain that you want the full amount credited.
The easiest way to get data fees waived is to say that you didn’t receive any notification that you went over. “I was told by the salesperson that I would receive a text message when I hit 80% of my usage”. Be willing to learn from the mistake “If I don’t receive a text, that’s fine, i’ll check my dashboard in the future, but this time, I shouldn’t have to pay”.
Always be polite and professional. The most effective way to persuade the operator to waive charges is by telling a story. A story about the salesperson’s promises, or the fact that the telco website wouldn’t let you login to check your balance.
You have put in a decent amount of work talking to the operator, sometimes it can be upwards of an hour. I have saved over $1,800 on one phone call. Getting a bill from $1,900 to just $100. Don’t let all that work go down the drain. Ask for a reference number, you may need to follow up with the telco again down the track.
Before ending the call, ask for the details. When will my bill now be due? How much will it be next month?