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Vodafone: Don't make enough mobile phone calls and you'll be cut off

Sue Hayward
by Lovemoney Staff Sue Hayward on 09 November 2012  |  Comments 33 comments

Fail to make enough calls on your mobile and your network may cut you off, pocketing any unused credit and passing your number on to a new customer.

Vodafone: Don't make enough mobile phone calls and you'll be cut off

You just can’t win with phone companies. Talk too much and they can cut you off. And if you text instead of chatting they can pull the plug on you for that too.

Just a couple of weeks ago Emma Lunn highlighted the problem of making too many calls from home if you’ve got a Sky phone deal in Sky customers: make too many calls and you may be cut off. But if you’ve got a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) mobile the reverse can be true. If you don’t use your phone frequently enough your account can be terminated and any remaining credit lost along with your number.

Vodafone has just cut off my husband's PAYG mobile which had £15-worth of credit on it. Admittedly it was his ‘spare’ phone, but he received both calls and texts on it including a weekly text from his bank with an account update and even made the occasional call. 

So last week when his phone didn’t work he rang Vodafone, only to be told he hadn’t used it enough and his account had been terminated. His number and outstanding credit were both lost. Despite the fact that his main ‘personal’ mobile account is also with Vodafone, there was no call, text or letter to warn him of the impending cut off. 

Why Vodafone cut him off

So what’s the sense behind this? After all heaps of people have a second mobile for emergencies or keep one as a ‘spare’ in case they lose or mislay their main one. 

Vodafone lays the blame for its cut off policy at the door of the regulator Ofcom, as it says it is under pressure to be ‘economical’ with the issuing of phone numbers, so it will simply ‘recycle’ the old ones.

And if PAYG customers don’t make a ‘chargeable’ call within 180 days Vodafone will assume your number is no longer needed. So it pops that number in the pot for ‘churning’, which means it can be handed out to someone else. According to Vodafone’s small print it doesn't actually have to warn you of any impending cut off.

What’s the deal with other providers?

Most other mobile networks have clauses in their terms and conditions to the effect that if the account hasn’t been ‘used’ for 180 days they will disconnect it. So you’ll lose any remaining credit and in some cases your number too. 

However there’s an anomaly over what counts as ‘use’. With T-Mobile and Orange sending a text, making a call or any data usage within 180 days is enough to keep your account up and running. With Virgin Mobile or O2 it’s a text or call, whereas with others like Vodafone a text isn’t sufficient - you must make a ‘chargeable’ call.  

At Tesco Mobile the small print is somewhat unclear as its terms and conditions say, ‘if you do not use your mobile phone for six months we will disconnect you and you will lose your credit and mobile phone number’. When pushed Tesco Mobile did clarify this by saying ‘use’ means a chargeable call, text or top-up within six months to keep your account active. 

Is there an early warning system?

Ofcom says providers are well within their rights to recycle unused numbers and can set their own limits as to what counts as low usage, providing details are laid out clearly in the terms and conditions. And there’s no obligation on providers to contact you if you’re nearing the limit for non-usage.

While Vodafone, O2 and Tesco Mobile don’t warn customers of any impending disconnection, T-Mobile say it does send customers two text messages to warn them of low usage.

Any way back once your phone’s disconnected?

Beyond the 180 day cut off point (when your phone stops working) some companies do have a temporary grace period, which they call ‘quarantine’ or ‘hibernation’. During this time, which can be up to three months with some providers, your number can usually be reinstated free of charge by calling customer services. However you’ll usually forfeit any outstanding credit.

But with other providers like Tesco Mobile how long you’ve got to claw back your number can be a grey area. Tesco Mobile’s press office first told me there was a ‘three to four month’ grace period beyond its 180 day limit, then they reneged on that saying it was just a week and finally came back to admit you actually had one month from the 180 day disconnection point to keep your number.  

But watch out as the small print warns of a re-connection fee too.

Stray beyond any ‘hibernation’ or quarantine period and your number is gone for good along with any chance of any ‘goodwill’ credit refund.

Can you complain?

If you think your account’s been cut unfairly or before any agreed time limit, contact your network provider and if the situation’s not resolved to your satisfaction within eight weeks you can ask to use its Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme.

Ofcom says all operators must be signed up to one of these services, which act as middleman between both customer and company.

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Comments (33)

  • russbiker
    Love rating 70
    russbiker said

    What makes a call 'chargeable' as opposed to 'non-chargeable'?

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Aitken B
    Love rating 146
    Aitken B said

    russbiker poses a good question.

    Clearly a chargeable activity is any activity that is part of a service you can use as a result of a contractual agreement where your part of the contract requires you to pay money.

    Thus a text which is sent as part of such a contract, whether or not it reduces an "allowance" or reduces your credit, is a chargeable call. You have to pay money to be allowed to send the text, it is therefore, by definition, chargeable.

    There is no such thing as a free lunch.

    If companies are disconnecting people and retaining their money that, so far as I am concerned, is theft.

    However, you have a statutory right to be protected from theft and you cannot sign away your statutory rights. So any contract that attempts to remove these rights is unenforceable.

    That the companies appear to be supported in this "theft" by the regulator does not in the least surprise me. It is my experience that regulators, despite their much vaunted claims, are there to protect their industries not the consumer.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • patriciaf
    Love rating 1
    patriciaf said

    This happened to me recently. I travel to Spain several times a year and keep a separate phone with a Spanish SIM to use while out there to avoid roaming charges. It was originally an Amena PAYG arrangement, which became Orange. The arrangement used to be that you had to top up the credit within every six months or the number was discontinued. I was very careful to do this. However, last winter I tried to use it and was told the number was "not registered". On making enquiries I found that the phone company had purloined nearly 60 Euros worth of my credit on the excuse that the phone had not been used in the last few months! They had changed the rules without informing me, and since I had not been in Spain in that time, so I had not needed to use it. When I complained I was told that there was no way to resurrect the number and I had to buy a new SIM and new credit. The phone companies must be rubbing their hands all the way to the bank at this lovely - and legal - way of purloining customers' funds!

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Justkeepgoing
    Love rating 28
    Justkeepgoing said

    Given that the process of cutting you off is automated, tracking your lack of use of the service, then there can be no justification for failing to alert you either by a text message or an automated phone call that you are going to lose your account. Indeed as they will then steal your remaining credit the cost of notification could be charged to your account as a reverse charge payment.

    I can also see no reason why your remaining credit should not be placed in a dormant account fund so that if you can be traced or if you make a claim the money should be returned to you without delay. Losing your number, given that you haven't used it for some months, may be inconvenient, losing money is misappropriation.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  2 loves
  • chaamfood
    Love rating 0
    chaamfood said

    I have had similar experience in Spain. But in my case they said they had cut me off for not paying in a regular amount every month to top up the account as I did use it every two or three months. Five (5) Euro a month they said was sufficient. I normally topped up at fifity (50) Euro when it ran low. Better for Vodafone´s cash flow I would have thought.

    I think it is just an excuse to cut out unprofitable accounts. Obviously they won´t be having my business again. I´ve already changed to another provider in the UK and Spain.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Mark Harmer
    Love rating 33
    Mark Harmer said

    Happened to me too - on my normal, UK Vodafone account. Having used it a lot for years, I mislaid the phone and eventually found it in a camera case but the number had been taken away. I lost the credit but I was more annoyed about losing the number as it was my only mobile one (I didn't often need to use it, but very annoying as it was a number I'd taken with me from my previous employer and had used it there for years). I tried really hard to get the number back - after the shock of having it taken away - but to no avail. They had always had my email address for top-up and account purposes, so you'd have thought they could have warned me or at least checked! If you mislay your phone for a length of time, you're stuffed, it seems, as there is no way to prevent the number being taken off you.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Ian L Jamieson
    Love rating 5
    Ian L Jamieson said

    I have only ever owned a mobile for emergency use, should the car break down, for instance, and when I was with O2, I was cut off at least twice, although I did not lose my credit. But it took a couple of days to reconnect me.

    My wife and I have recently purchased Vodafone 155s at £25.00 each, again, for emergency use, and I am very concerned that either of us could be cut off without any warning - especially as we are always getting texts from Vodafone concerning other usage of our mobiles. This being so, why can they not give us warning of an impending cut off - it should not be difficult?

    I can see that companies have to monitor usage because there must be thousands of phones that can no longer be used because they have become mislaid, damaged beyond repair, or dropped overboard from a ship. But companies must realise that many of us purchase their units for emergency use, or reserve, and they should extend to their users notification of any change in policy, so that appropriate action can be taken.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  2 loves
  • cowbutt
    Love rating 5
    cowbutt said

    I have an Orange PAYG phone which I keep as a spare. I set up a repeating calendar event (using Google Calendar, but it could be anything that works for you) that reminds me every 80 days to make a call to myself or send my main mobile a text. As it happens, I tend to get Orange Wednesday text tickets often enough to suffice.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • richl
    Love rating 8
    richl said

    I'm not sure when this article was written (somewhat bizarrely it's currently showing as "the future"?!) but I used to work for Vodafone PAYT customer services and this was a fairly common issue that customers would phone up about. This was back in 2002 so it's not something that's "new" by any means. I'm certainly not going to argue the rights and wrongs of it in depth but it was mentioned "somewhere" in the terms and conditions. Whether these were clearly explained when people bought the phones / SIMs, who knows? We never had a particularly high regard for our retail colleagues who seemed to skip over "details" like this and leave us in customer services to sort out the problems.

    If I'm being honest, a PAYT SIM isn't a bad thing if you're aware of all the terms and conditions. It's like many things in life - you can get a fair bit out of it as long as you're aware of any potential pitfalls. You can keep a number active for years for hardly any expenditure. You can't say the same thing for a contract phone.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Quarket
    Love rating 26
    Quarket said

    Thanks Lovemoney (Sue Hayward). Just checked my PAYG and I haven't used it for 163 days, so this was a timely article for me. I've told 3 family members who use PAYG to read the article. This is an absolute rip-off and I agree with the comments about the regulator being useless.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Stoo73
    Love rating 0
    Stoo73 said

    Tesco Mobile like all other providers be it MVNOs or NOs will disconnect a number once it has not been used for 180 days, but the number will not be re-issued for 12 months from date of disconnection to allow for data cleansing.

    However, ultimately while this frees up numbers for new customers, the MVNOs and NOs are effectively committing theft as they refuse to refund any remaining credit, and this practice needs to be stopped.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • marram
    Love rating 49
    marram said

    My husband has a mobile for the main purpose of using it if he has an emergency in the car, as he is disabled. His phone was disconnected by O2 for not making enough calls, but when I phoned up and told them he was disabled and they could have put his life at risk, they reinstated it and gave back the call credit.

    I give then the credit for acting quickly, but what if he had been stranded in Rural Lincolnshire on a freezing cold night when he found it was cut off? It is absolutely shameful. If you pay for the phone, then it should be illegal to cut it off. A text message or something should be sent to assess the situation, giving the owner an opportunity to make a call to keep it active.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Justkeepgoing
    Love rating 28
    Justkeepgoing said

    It is interesting to note from Neil Faulkner's article in Lovemoney today about the Ffrees discount card that amongst their dubious practices concerning freezing or closing your account if you do not use it, even they say that you can claim back any money that was in your account when they closed it provided that you claim within 6 years. It looks as though the PAYG phone companies have chosen to stoop even lower.

    Shouldn't the OFT make an assessment of whether this constitutes unfair contract terms? If you do not use the service for 6 months it may be reasonable for the service provider to close the account if that is in the terms of the contract, but it cannot be fair and reasonable to insert a clause that says that without further warning we shall then steal any money that has been deposited in the phone account and to have no mechanism available for you to claim it back.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • pbiss
    Love rating 2
    pbiss said

    Its the way things are in this country at the moment.

    Business is entitled to play fast and loose with your money without fear of being accused of fraud(ulent practice).

    I can understand the providers' point of view regarding their pool of available numbers.

    However, beyond making a handling charge, they have no right to appropriate your outstanding credit.

    To cut the number off without warning and a reasonable period of grace is also inequitable, not to say unethical.

    The government (not just the present one) has increasingly encouraged the view that anything goes so long as it's "business".

    Time to take stock and get a bit stricter.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  2 loves
  • environmentaljan
    Love rating 8
    environmentaljan said

    My elderly parents have an emergency mobile that my dad takes in the car or when he goes shopping, whilst leaving my disabled mum at home. Suddenly finding it did not work could be a real problem. Thanks for the tip off . I'll tell them about it and hope they make enough calls.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • CuNNaXXa
    Love rating 410
    CuNNaXXa said

    If you have been charged a connection fee, then it should be illegal to cut you off. I was cut off once for not making enough calls, even though I received numerous calls, then was charged a £25 re-connection fee, and told I need to make at least one chargeable call a month to remain active.

    It is yet another case of being charged for the privilege of being dictated to.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • yocoxy
    Love rating 152
    yocoxy said

    What a ridiculous rant about something that is (and always has been) standard practice, is in the terms and seems completely reasonable to me.

    I doubt that I know anyone who doesn't know that PAYG phones need a call made every six months to keep the account active.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Quarket
    Love rating 26
    Quarket said

    yocoxy, you have just read about 10 reports from people above who didn't know about it, so why is it a ridiculous rant and why is it reasonable to steal the credit without notice? To some extent banks have started doing this to accounts that aren't used for many years and there has been an outcry over it even though it is usually possible to claim the money back.

    180 days is too short a period and there is no excuse for not trying to notify the customer. The main reason that these rip off companies are doing it is in order to steal the credit after a meager 180 days in the hope that most people don't read all of the terms and conditions.

    Report on 09 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  5 loves
  • MK22
    Love rating 169
    MK22 said

    Well said, Quarket, had no idea they could steal your 'phone and money without warning. But then its a business and they're all crooks. (Which should allow a further rant from the far right....)

    Report on 10 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Justkeepgoing
    Love rating 28
    Justkeepgoing said

    One problem that could also occur when your number is withdrawn is that your phone may have been locked to that provider and it could be well nigh impossible to unlock it to use on another network. In which case they have taken your service, your money and your phone. It's rather like being mugged but with no possibility of anyone being prosecuted.

    Report on 10 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • hopefultom
    Love rating 50
    hopefultom said

    yocoxy

    Are you, by any chance Andrew Mitchell in disguise ?

    Report on 10 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • oldhenry
    Love rating 343
    oldhenry said

    Not a rant at all. Shows what a useless regulator we have in that it is totally pro-business and all for ripping off customers.

    I have bank accounts that I do not use for 180days , do you think it fair game for the bank to assimilate the balnce into their funds and reuse my number?

    Cameron probably would as long as they give him a job when he's booted out in 2015.

    Report on 10 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • worlduser
    Love rating 4
    worlduser said

    Well Aitkin b, you have saved me from giving a piece of my mind, you have said it all for me regarding statutory rights and theft. Large companies think they can run roughshod over everyone.

    It goes to show... we are not customers - we are just numbers!

    Old henry, good point.

    Report on 11 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • JustAThought
    Love rating 0
    JustAThought said

    A fairer way would be for Ofcom to make a distinction between 'stale' numbers and those where the owner is choosing not to make calls or send texts for whatever reason: emergency use etc. as has been commented on. The distinction is simple for network operators and it should be made illegal for them to re-use the number of a phone which has registered with the network (i.e. by being powered up and in coverage) at least once during a 180 day period.

    Report on 12 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • richl
    Love rating 8
    richl said

    As I said above, I *used* to work for Vodafone and don't work in the mobile industry any more but I think people are overlooking the whole line rental concept. A pay as you go SIM isn't the most cost effective way of owning a mobile if you use it a lot but for occasional use it is a dirt cheap way of having a telephone line without having to pay a regular line rental charge.

    The cost of handsets is subsidised on contract and so the same phone on pay as you go will cost more but if you really are just using a phone for occasional use then you can get a perfectly good cheap phone. You need to be aware that your phone and SIM and two totally different things. Buying a pay as you go SIM with a phone doesn't give you the "right" to an endless connection on that network. Would you expect the same from BT if you decided to stop paying the line rental for your landline?

    I must point out, however, that I don't agree with the networks keeping unused credit and yes, they ought to text you or something before your phone is cut off but due to the way texts are retained for only a short time in the system if they can't be delivered then if you've not had the phone switched on for months this might never turn up anyway.

    With regard to firms keeping money you've paid them just because you've not used their service for a while, why does Apple expire their iTunes gift cards after two years? I can't see how they justify that at all and if you want to talk about theft then that's a much better example. At least the mobile operators appear to refund you if you poke them enough.

    Finally, I know a lot of people have pay as you go phones for emergencies and to find that it's been cut off when you need it is a bad situation, I totally agree. However, I'm not sure what could be done about that as I'm fairly sure that you used to be able to make calls to 999 without even having a SIM in your phone but this was changed due to the number of untraceable hoax calls the emergency services were receiving. So, I guess that you've just got to blame all the morons of the world for that. I don't know about landlines but I'd imagine that a disconnected line wouldn't be able to call 999 either. Vodafone stopped free calls to customer services on Pay As You Talk as they were getting hundreds of hoax calls and the problem dried up straight away. And before anyone says anything, the cost of calls for genuine queries were refunded to callers.

    Report on 12 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • MK22
    Love rating 169
    MK22 said

    richl, no I wouldn't expect BT or anyone else to allow me to use a landline without paying the rental, but by buying a PaYG SIM card strange to relate I have paid for it so it is mine, it isn't rented whatever weasel (=unfair!) words there are in the contract. But mobile 'phone operators are saying "No you haven't". If they had given me the card FREE I would accept that. But I have paid for it and I have paid for the use of it. I see no reason why their greed should result in my loss and I look to the Government to stamp on them. (Sorry, forgot, the Tories are in charge so that won't happen)

    Report on 13 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • richl
    Love rating 8
    richl said

    MK22, as I said, I don't agree with phone operators keeping unused credit but I don't agree that buying a SIM (or being given one for free) automatically gives people the right to a phoneline in perpetuity. Off the top of my head I can't think of any other products or services where you make one payment and then that's it for the rest of your life. I bought my telly and expected it to last me until I was retired (a long way off!) but the inconsiderate and greedy company that made it had conspired against me and society so that it broke after 15 years. I was extremely angry I can tell you!

    OK, that's me being somewhat(!) sarcastic but I don't see how it's any different when you buy a SIM and aren't actively using it. If you play the game well you can buy a SIM card, make two phonecalls a year, occasionally top it up and keep a phoneline active for pretty much your entire life and spend very little on it. You can't tell me that isn't pretty good value. If I stop paying on my contract phone my phoneline will be cut off. Why should PaYG users get to keep theirs if they're no longer paying anything?

    I agree that some companies are greedy and I moan about them as much as the next guy but the very basis of a company is to make a profit and I feel sometimes people forget this and want everything to be free and mobile phones aren't a luxury item but are a human right.

    Incidentally, me and the majority of my colleagues where I worked were made redundant by Vodafone so it's not like I have any love for them but I do understand how businesses work and won't criticise a firm when they're not really being unreasonable (apart from the "keeping your credit" thing!). As for their tax record, well.... that's another matter! ;-)

    Report on 13 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Meduza78
    Love rating 18
    Meduza78 said

    this is not a new practice. i remember, several years ago, a different country of europe. i used to have a sim card, before i started to work in the uk and i used to go back to my home country for a short time and come back. only THREE months of no activity or top-up were enought to swallow my remaining credit. and if nothing happened, after a year the number was discontinued and sim worthless. but imagine that: 3 months of no activity and they just kept the credit. i got angry and stopped purchasing any new sims, any new credit when i came back for another short break. i used the sim of someone from my family to make couple of necessary calls and fcuk you, operators!

    Report on 14 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Meduza78
    Love rating 18
    Meduza78 said

    on the other hand: i remember, just a month ago, when i returned from europe to the stansted airport, there were young people giving o2 sim cards for free to the incoming travellers. just to catch new potential customers. one could take 10 of the sim cards and throw them straight into the bin. is this what they call being economical with phone numbers?

    Report on 14 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Justkeepgoing
    Love rating 28
    Justkeepgoing said

    If a phone company suggests that they can not support dormant accounts, then they should openly suggest a fee for line rental. Anyone could reasonably allow that provided that the cost was proportionate (will it ever be?) The error here is that irrespective of the amount of pre-payment that you have made, not for a service, but simply by way of a deposit to the account, that, if you have failed to use the service within a prescribed time you are not only barred but your deposit is stolen from you. This is the simplicity of theft and should be regarded as such.

    Report on 14 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • MontyWolverine
    Love rating 4
    MontyWolverine said

    Vodafone have twice taken my money once for £24.78 and a second time for £38.94 I wrote to them, for them to offer me a £5.00 voucher to renew my PAYGO. I am disabled and needed the phone urgently and found I had been cut off, this caused me some distress and problems, they were even rude in their reply to me by letter.

    This is just legalised stealing and should not be allowed.

    Report on 16 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • yocoxy
    Love rating 152
    yocoxy said

    So everyone expects free line rental (I bought it so its mine for ever and ever and ever) without using the service or paying any further fees?

    I want you to provide a service where i can keep receiving free incoming calls for the rest of my life without paying you a further penny for keeping the service up and running?

    Odd.

    Report on 21 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Tujags
    Love rating 1
    Tujags said

    If they are so short of numbers why do you get a new SIM whenever you buy a Vodaphone pay as you go phone it should be an option as you may just be updating your phone.

    Report on 20 December 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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