There is no shortage of advice on the web about kids and their mobile phones – be it safety, screen time or costs. Despite this, there is relatively little written about the increasing cost it represents in parents’ budgets as their children get older. A survey by Tesco in 2016 discovered that 60% of parents with kids over the age of 16 helped pay for their mobile phone bills. And a more recent survey by iD Mobile this November has revealed that £224 is the average monthly contribution parents make towards their adult children’s bills in general. What’s more, 40% of those parents found the cost of supporting their adult children a financial strain given the cost of living crisis.
So, how best to help manage their mobile bills, and in particular so they don’t produce an unwanted surprise.
What type of plan are they on?
The same survey by iD Mobile revealed that when it came to their children’s mobile plans, 49% were on a pay-monthly contract, 21% Pay As You Go (PAYG), and 20% SIM only. Only 16% of parents cited the plan they had chosen for their children was done so in order to them help control the monthly cost.
While monthly phone plans appear good value at the outset and often have the added benefit of providing you with a new phone, they tie you into longer-term contracts and are generally much more expensive at around £30 or more a month. This allows the network to pay off the cost of providing you with the phone. It’s a type of credit.
Equally, Pay As You Go used to represent good value, but despite offering better control, these days the usage costs are exceptionally high, often coming in over 30p per minute for calls and 10p for texts once you have used your minimal allowance. A recipe for disaster.
SIM only on the other hand, offers flexibility with good cost control. There are excellent bundles with good amounts of data for around £10 per month. And you can buy re-conditioned handsets direct from the provider without being tied into a longer-term contract. While they are not the latest models, they are not far off and represent excellent value that should keep your child going for a couple of years at least.
Avoiding bill shock
Despite there being an increasing amount of measures put in place by Ofcom over the years, ‘bill shocks’ are still a regular occurrence, and in particular when it comes to our kids’ mobile bills. The same iD Mobile survey found that the average cost of children’s unexpected mobile bills – which parents had received as a result of over usage – was a genuinely shocking £307.
This should be an avoidable problem. Since 1 October 2018, by law all providers have had to offer bill limits or ‘spend caps’ on their accounts. Meaning you can set an amount at which the account is put on hold – whatever type of usage caused that limit to be arrived at – and a message will be sent to tell you that you have reached your limit.
While spend caps include roaming costs, it is also worth mentioning that since the UK left the EU, some mobile providers have started charging a daily fee for EU roaming. While this tends to be low (around £2 a day), these providers also have fair-usage policies that vary greatly, particularly when it comes to data usage. They can sometimes be extremely low and therefore can easily catch you out. It is worth checking what your child’s fair-usage policy is before you travel and taking it into account when setting their spend cap.
Finally, but not least, the numbers that start with the following digits are premium service numbers and typically fall outside of a providers’ plans: 084, 087, 09, or 118. Some networks allow you to block the use of these numbers for outgoing calls or texts, but not all. And many providers also make money from them. The easiest way to prevent their usage giving you a nasty surprise is to block their use directly on the handset. Either ask the provider to talk you or your kids through it, or alternatively use the manufacturers online guide.
No one wants to be an overbearing parent and hopefully the majority of the measures above still allow your older children the autonomy they need to use their phones the way they would like. By setting up limits in advance with the provider it should help prevent you being too intrusive. And all providers now have apps within which the user can monitor their usage. If your kids are able to do this sensibly for themselves that will also reduce the risk of them reaching their spend cap early in the month, while still getting the most out of their phones.