My mother recently died of cancer, just three weeks after her diagnosis. While she was in hospital and the local hospice, visitors were restricted due to Covid. Many of her friends therefore paid for credit to top up her pay-as-you-go (PAYG) mobile phone so that they could keep in touch. But she deteriorated so quickly that she was unable to use all the credit, and had £93.86 left on the phone when she passed away.
I asked the provider, Three, to refund the money so it could be donated to one of the four charities she had nominated in her final days. It was five weeks before the company told me that the money couldn’t be returned and that the number would have to be cancelled as it was in my mum’s name. Three has taken the money my mum’s friends so kindly gave her to ease her dying days and refused to allow me to pass it on to the hospice that looked after her so well.
Most mobile phone providers, believe it or not, hang on to unused mobile phone credits. Not only that – customers forfeit any outstanding money on their sim card and their phone number if they don’t use their phone for six months – or in the case of some providers, for just 70 days. This policy, buried in the small print, penalises often elderly customers who buy a PAYG phone for emergencies, and may find it doesn’t work when they suddenly need it.
“Use it or lose it,” says telecoms regulator Ofcom on its website, while acknowledging that PAYG phones are suited to occasional users. A clause tucked down a firm’s terms and conditions may make it legal, but it doesn’t follow it’s ethical. Three’s terms and conditions make no provision for exceptional circumstances. When I asked the company how it justified retaining the credit, it decided it couldn’t. It refunded the £93 plus £57 in goodwill for your mum’s chosen charities. It also told you that it would review its policy in such situations.
It says: “Our current policy is that top-ups are non-refundable. This includes top-up vouchers where a user has voluntarily paid this into their account to use at a later date. However, we appreciate that this is a sensitive circumstance.” Ofcom says: “Providers may have different policies when it comes to refunding unused PAYG credit, but all must have policies in place to make sure vulnerable customers are treated fairly. Anyone can face circumstances that lead to them becoming vulnerable – temporarily or permanently – including bereavement.”
Three has now confirmed it is looking to change its bereavement policy in the light of your experience.
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