I received a shock bill for using my mobile phone abroad with O2

I recently travelled to Saudi Arabia for work and while there used my phone, which is with O2.

However, after leaving, I checked my bill from the phone company and found a charge for £1,710.66 which was taken for 285.09MB worth of data usage.

It was taken on Thursday 13 February 2020 at 4:56am. But at this time, I was asleep and my phone was turned on to low data mode, meaning it wouldn’t have automatically updated.

I was also connected to the hotel’s wi-fi so cannot see how using this much data was possible.

An O2 customer has been charged over £1.7k for data usage when he was away in Saudi Arabia

O2 also charged me a roaming fee when I had left Saudi Arabia and my phone was on flight mode, however I did manage to get this waived.

When I spoke to O2, it said the charge was valid and it couldn’t tell me what the data was used on due to GDPR.  

I have cancelled my direct debit as my colleague travelling with me at the time, who is also with O2, only incurred costs of £300, which suggests mine are wrong. What can I do? Miss I, via email

Grace Gausden, This is Money, replies: This is a huge unexpected charge for data.

Altogether, you were billed £2,103.11, excluding VAT, with one data charge coming in at £1,710.66 for usage of 285MB. 

This is a massive chunk of usage equivalent to spending around eight hours on a Skype voice call with someone or the same as downloading 50 songs. 

Your usual monthly bill is just £20.50 and you were alerted right away that you were about to charged more than 100 times your usual cost. 

After challenging O2, you claim the phone giant was not able to explain what you are meant to have used this data on, citing GDPR protocols.

These are rules surrounding data protection and privacy that came into force nearly two years ago.  

As well as the £1,710 spent on data overnight, the phone company also charged you for data when your phone was on flight mode, although you had your money refunded in this scenario, suggesting it shouldn’t have billed you for that. 

O2 has not been able to explain what the data was supposedly used on, quoting GDPR protocol

O2 has not been able to explain what the data was supposedly used on, quoting GDPR protocol

When comparing the charges with your colleague, who was only charged £300 for roughly the same usage, this reiterated your belief that O2 had clearly made a mistake.  

According to O2’s website, customer’s data usage will be capped to 50MB – priced at £51.50 per month – for those who are travelling with their phone outside Europe.

Those who need more data are also given the option of paying an additional £120 a month which gives customers up to 200MB. 

Outside of this, those travelling to Saudi Arabia and looking to use data will be charged £7.20 per MB of data. 

You say you did have your data capped at this £50, but had to remove this as you needed to use your phone for work.  

You add you have cancelled your direct debit to O2 in response to the firm not refunding you for the high amount but in most cases, this is unadvisable as you are likely to be in breach of your contract which means you are potentially subject to added charges for missed payments. 

What was the data charge for? 

After speaking to O2 at length, it revealed the data charge was delayed and in actual fact, you had used 285MB while abroad. 

It said foreign networks collect a customer’s data use in sessions, which are downloaded to it in packets, and then charged to the customer – hence why there may be a delay in billing. 

O2 confirmed you had advised you just wanted access for one day only and unfortunately, it seems you were unaware how much this could add up. 

After further pushing, it also revealed that you had used Google Maps, WhatsApp and other messaging services in Saudi Arabia, which were the reasons for the high charge. 

You had been using messaging apps abroad which, in turn, added up to £1.7k worth of charges

You had been using messaging apps abroad which, in turn, added up to £1.7k worth of charges

A spokesperson for O2 replies: We have spoken to Miss I regarding the data charges incurred during travel to an area not included with O2 Travel Rest Of World. 

The customer increased her data cap on two occasions before calling us to request we remove the data cap fully.

Foreign networks collect a customer’s data usage in sessions which means some charges may appear delayed in the customer’s bill.

We’ve spoken to Miss I and she’s confirmed use of apps, messenger apps and maps while in Saudi Arabia whilst her data cap was removed, resulting in these charges.

As a gesture of good will we have waived the charges incurred after the data cap was removed on this occasion. 

Miss I will pay for the standard limit charges she removed herself via SMS – she has confirmed she is happy with this resolution.

How to avoid a bill shock 

Fortunately, we were able to secure you a refund on this occasion but your case highlights how important it is for any mobile phone user heading abroad to check the charges they may have to pay when on their travels.

Holidaymakers are advised to check their phone networks pricing plan before travelling and make sure they aren’t racking up thousands of pounds worth of charges. 

Whilst mobile phone holders will be able to use their contract plan as normal when in other EU countries, prices differ dramatically when outside of this zone. 

To ensure that you will not be charged over the odds, turn data roaming off on your phone or keep your phone on flight mode.

Making sure you only use your phone when it is connected to wi-fi is also strongly advised.  

For any other customers that have received a bill they think is incorrect, the first thing to do is to make a formal complaint to the provider, either over the phone or preferably, by letter.

Ask the Post Office for proof of postage so that you have evidence of when you sent the letter.

If your complaint isn’t sorted out in eight weeks, or if you receive what’s known as a ‘deadlock’ letter from your provider, you can bring your complaint to the Ombudsman Services, completely free of charge.

It will then try and resolve the issue between you and the company you have raised the complaint against.


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