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Mobile phone debt. Can't afford to pay your bill?

When you sign up for a mobile phone contract you agree to a minimum contract length, usually 12, 18, or 24 months. If your situation changes during the duration of the contract or you receive an unexpected bill, you might not be able to afford your mobile phone debt.

If your income drops during the contract term, or your living costs go up, your mobile phone bill can become unaffordable. You might also struggle because of a one-off bill that you weren’t expecting, or that the contract you signed wasn’t affordable, or included hidden ‘extras’.

What happens if I can’t afford my mobile phone bill?

If you don’t pay your mobile phone contract, your account will go into arrears. Your mobile provider could cut your phone off so you’re unable to make or receive calls.

If you don’t take steps to deal with the debt, your account will default and the contract will be cancelled. The mobile provider can then take action to recover the outstanding bill, following the normal debt collection process.

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Dealing with mobile phone arrears

Going over your inclusive allowance for calls, texts or data or using your phone abroad can lead to unexpected bills that you might not be able to afford. You might also have missed payments to catch up with.

There are ways you can try to deal with the arrears and help prevent bill shocks in the future:

  • Speak to your network provider about the arrears; they might be able to spread the cost over a number of payments to help you get back on track
  • Review your allowances to make sure your contract covers your usage. Sometimes the network provider can cap your allowances so that you don’t go over your usage limits
  • Consider switching your mobile phone contract to another provider. This is usually only an option if your current contract has ended. You may be able to get a cheaper deal with a different tariff or provider

Can I cancel my phone contract?

If you cancel a contract and there’s still something left to pay, you’ll be asked to repay this in full. If you don’t want the service, and can’t afford the payments, you’ve got two options at this point:

  • Contact your mobile provider and cancel the contract. You may have to do this in writing. There may be a charge to cancel early, but this could work out cheaper than making payments for the rest of contract.
  • As last resort, only pay what you can afford. If your mobile provider can’t offer you any alternatives or reductions you should only pay as much as you can afford. You’ll lose the use of the service and still owe the payments for the rest of the contract term, but you may be able to pay this off over a longer term once the service is cancelled.

What are my alternatives to mobile phone contracts?

Mobile phone contracts can seem like an easy way to get the latest phone and spread the costs, but you can end up paying more in the long term. There are alternatives that could work out cheaper, and ways to save money on your current contract to help you prevent falling into debt in the future.

Our MoneyAware blog has more helpful tips for saving money on your mobile.

  • SIM only deals offer a package of minutes, texts and mobile data and are similar to traditional mobile contracts. The difference is that you don’t get a phone included in the contract. This can work out cheaper as you’re not paying for a phone, and you can buy one separately or use one you already have. There’s also usually a lower minimum contract term such as 30 days, so you can cancel more easily if you want to.
  • Pay-as-you-go lets you buy credit in advance and only pay for what you use. There are no long contracts to worry about and you can switch providers at any time. You’ll need to buy or use a phone separately as you’re only paying for the minutes, texts and data you use.

Help and advice with debts

If you’re worried about your phone contract, arrears or debts then it’s important to get impartial advice. Use our online Debt Remedy tool to get an assessment of your situation and recommendations on how best to deal with your debt problem.

If you'd rather speak to us about your situation, call our free Helpline to talk to one of our expert advisors. Calls are free from landlines and all mobiles.

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“I wish to thank your staff for all the great help they gave me when I was in so much debt.
They were a pillar of support to me.” (Leslie, Essex)

Foundation for Credit Counselling Wade House, Merrion Centre, Leeds, LS2 8NG trading as StepChange Debt Charity and StepChange Debt Charity Scotland. A registered charity no.1016630 and SC046263. It is a limited company registered in England and Wales (company no:2757055). Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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© StepChange Debt Charity 2018