Will mobile phone operators lose their 'stealth tax' just to be nice to people?

25 October 2011

phoneImagine you’re having a bad day. You spill tea down your shirt, tread in dog shit on the way to missing your train and to top it all, your mobile is lifted from your pocket while you struggle to keep upright during a standing room only trip into work. Your day can only get better, right?

Well, to add insult to injury, when your mobile phone is stolen, any calls made between the light-fingeredness and the resulting discovery, frantic searching and eventual reporting of the crime to the police and phone company are charged to your mobile phone account at full rate.

What this means is that not only have you been robbed, you get robbed by the phone companies who are not merely passing on their costs to you (after all, you wouldn’t expect them to be out of pocket, would you?), but who are making a profit out of your misery. Literally. Given that Which! suggest nearly 6m people in Britain have had their mobile phones stolen in the past five years, that’s a nice little earner for the mobile providers.

Well, this disgruntling situation has gone so far as to fire up some particularly ranty MPs who entered an Early Day Motion (EDM). The motion, which was read out in the House of Commons, said that mobile operators should charge customers the wholesale rate for calls made after phones are stolen, rather than the "much higher" retail charges that they currently face until the theft is reported.

Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, told The Telegraph: "Mobile phone operators are raking it in. At the moment mobile phone tariffs are competitive, and the way [operators] are compensating is by using theft like a stealth tax. First of all they charge rip-off insurance – often £10 to £15 a month – and then, when the phone is nicked, they charge for the calls made. They shouldn't be stealth taxing consumers in this way."

However, mobile operators have, unsurprisingly, suggested they would resist the proposed shift to wholesale charges because it would be open to abuse by customers who claim their phones have been stolen if they incur a particularly large bill, or who might be tempted to backdate a real theft.

"We see from the amount of mobiles that get 'stolen' whenever a new iPhone comes on the market that customers are not always very honest," said a very senior executive at one of the major providers.

However Mr Halfon pooh-poohed the idea, suggesting a requirement to obtain a crime number would prevent such high jinks, “very few customers are going to lie to the police, and the police don't give out crime references willy-nilly."

So can we expect to see the phone companies being landed with some hefty legislation anytime soon? Er, no. Probably not.

You see an Early Day Motion is a formal motion submitted for debate in the House of Commons. However, very few EDMs are actually debated in the House of Commons, and they are largely used as the parliamentary equivalent of a press release. Good for making lots of noise, but not so good for forcing a change in law. Unless the public really jump on the bandwagon of course.

But even if it garners loads of support within the House, an EDM is not likely to be debated, and Ministers, Whips, Private Secretaries and the Speaker (and deputies), the important people who decide these things, will not normally sign EDMs.

The EDM that received the most signatures this session was one expressing the importance of community pubs, at 275 signatures, beating Zac Goldsmith and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s fish fight into second place with 249.

The lost mobile phone EDM got 22 signatures, so if you feel strongly about it, you may have to go and disrupt people’s weddings and church services before anything will actually be done about it. Or you could just grumble a lot. Or keep your mobile inside a loaded mousetrap. Or something.

TOPICS:   Mobile


  • klingelton
    if you have a pin lock on your phone and your sim - what are the chances of said theif being able to make calls on your phone. to me, the problem is at the consumer end. lock your phones people and prevent this problem at source.
  • The B.
    "your mobile is lifted from your pocket while you struggle to keep upright during a standing room only trip into work" You obviously don't live in London where the trend is to wait on the platform until just as the doors close, shoot in, grab the nearest phone out of someone's hand and then jump off as the doors close. It means you get an unlocked phone with easy access to everything. Of course it's never happened to me, no sirree, what happened to me was a kid cycled past me and nicked it out of my hand while I was on it, little scrote, I gave chase and he nearly got run over by a fire engine but alas, no, he got away.
  • klingelton
    C- Must do better (killed the scrote would have netted you a nice star from teacher!)
  • Businessman
    One word, PAYG, all they can ever thieve from your account is that tenner or whatever that you pre-paid. In so very many ways contract phone owners are just asking to be bent over without vaseline.

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