If only it was an April Fools’ Day gag. EE, O2 and Vodafone have just increased prices for existing customers − and more mobile operators are planning to do the same. The price rises are in line with the 2.5% Retail Price Index (RPI) rate of inflation announced in February.
But how much are each of the UK’s major networks raising prices by, and when? And what is the RPI anyway?
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EE price increase 2019 – 2.7% from March 30
EE announced back in January that price rises of 2.7% would come into effect from March 30 2019, for any customers who joined or upgraded to a Pay Monthly or SIM-only contract between March 26 2014 and February 28 2019.
For a customer paying £35/month, this equates to an increase of 94p/month.
Ofcom’s rules mean that mid-contract rises can only apply once every 12 months, so if you were to sign up for a new deal from March 1 2019 onwards, you’d avoid this price rise, but you’d be on the hook for an RPI-related increase in March 2020. (There’s more on consumer rights further down the page.)
You can try EE’s price calculator here.
O2 price increase 2019 – 2.5% from April 1
O2 applied a price rise equivalent to 2.5%, from April 1. The change won’t apply until your bill for April is due, but it could affect all O2 customers, whether you’re on a Pay Monthly contract or SIM-only deal, or a mobile broadband subscription.
In an example sent to customers, O2 says that anyone currently paying £38/month would see a monthly increase of 95p.
O2 Refresh and business customers won’t be affected by payments made on the device plan, but airtime will still be go up by 2.5%.
You can try O2’s price calculator here.
Vodafone price increase 2019 – 2.5% from April 1
Vodafone brought in a price increase of 2.5% on April 1, for consumers on a Pay Monthly contract taken out on or after May 5 2016, or a Mobile Broadband contract taken out on or after September 28 2016.
For business contracts, Vodafone will increase prices by 2.7% at the same time. This hike will affect anyone on a business plan that started on or after June 6 2016.
You can find more details on Vodafone’s price hikes here.
Three price increase 2019 – 2.5% from May 1
Three takes the RPI rate of interest defined in January (2.5%), but will apply it a little later than the other networks – May.
“If you joined us or upgraded your phone or Mobile Broadband plan on or after 29 May 2015, your contract allows us to increase the cost of your monthly recurring charge each May by an amount up to the January Retail Price Index (RPI) rate of inflation,” the company says. “This has been announced for January 2019 at 2.5% and you’ll see this increase on or after your May bill and from then onwards.”
In an example given on its site, Three says that a £25/month contract would increase to £25.63/month.
You can try Three’s price calculator here.
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Refreshingly, Tesco Mobile has guaranteed customers that they won’t be hit with mid-contract price hikes.
“We believe that the price a customer signs up to is the price they should pay for the duration of their contract, no matter what happens with inflation. Just as you wouldn’t expect to pay more at the till for your weekly shop than what’s advertised on the shelf, we believe mobile contracts should be no different,” said Claire Lorains, the CEO of Tesco Mobile.
“That’s why we were the first network to introduce a promise not to increase prices mid-contract back in 2013; and it is a commitment to our customers that we continue to stand by today.”
Sky Mobile hasn’t announced any mid-contract price increases, but if it does, you’ll be able to switch to another operator without being hit with a penalty.
Its terms and conditions state: “Prices may increase and services may vary, including during your minimum term. If we increase your monthly subscription price you may cancel your subscription without early termination charge. Other prices and services may also vary. We will let you know about any material changes before we make them.”
Virgin Mobile has announced that price hikes are coming this summer, but we don’t yet know how big they’ll be.
“Each July your airtime plan will increase by the Retail Price Index (RPI) rate of inflation announced in April of that year,” a notice at the bottom of the company’s website reads. “We’ll give you 30 days’ notice of the exact increase.”
How can I avoid mid-price contract rises?
As mid-price rises are applied every year, one way you could avoid them is by taking out a short-term contract after a certain date and then shopping around for a better deal around the time that a price rise is expected to kick in.
For example, EE says that if you signed up for a new deal from March 1, and you were able to leave before an RPI-linked price rise took effect, you would be able to avoid it.
Realistically, you’d only be able to do this on something like a SIM-only or mobile broadband plan sold on a rolling monthly basis.
You’re otherwise not really in a position to avoid any RPI-related price rises if you’ve signed up for a contract that’s due to last longer than 12 months.
What is the Retail Price Index (RPI)?
The RPI is a measure of inflation that’s published every month by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
With regards to your mobile contract, mobile networks can raise prices mid-contract, provided that they’re in line with inflation, and don’t constitute “material detriment”, as per Ofcom’s rules.
What is Ofcom’s General Condition 9.6?
Telecoms regulator Ofcom ruled in 2014 that if mid-contract price rises issued by communications providers − whether they’re mobile networks or ISPs − are excessive, then customers are free to leave without penalty. These terms are spelled out in General Condition 9.6, aka ‘GC9.6’.
Sadly, for anyone looking at the above price rises and hoping that this means they can rip up their contract and walk away without paying, that’s not going to happen.
Ofcom explicitly states that mid-contract price rises that are related to the RPI are within its rules: “The subscriber agrees and enters into a 24-month contract for services on terms that the core subscription price will be £10 per month. The contract also contains a term to the effect that the [network] may increase the agreed core subscription price by up to a certain amount, percentage or index-linked level (such as RPI).
“Ofcom is likely to treat any exercise of the discretion to increase this agreed price during the fixed minimum term of the contract as a modification meeting GC9.6’s material detriment requirement.”
Unfortunately, Ofcom is vague on what exactly is detrimental, but if you’re stung by a price rise that’s greatly in excess of the RPI for that year, and a provider doesn’t give you at least a month’s notice of the price changes, you will be allowed to leave the contract without incurring any penalty charges, if the proposed increase is unacceptable.
Think you’re still being stung by these price rises? Let us, Ofcom and your network provider know how you feel on Twitter @TrustedReviews.