Keep an eye on roaming charges to avoid phone bill shock


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I returned from an overseas holiday and my mobile phone bill gave me a shock. How did this happen and what can I do to get my bill down to a reasonable level?

You are not alone. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has many mobile phone bill horror stories on its files. One person returned to a bill for $147,908 and another for $38,000.

Many telephone users return to bills with smoke rising from them and the amount demanded is higher than the cost of their holiday. Consumers who contacted the ombudsman are disputing $8 million worth of global roaming charges between July 2011 and September 2012.

If you head overseas without looking at your phone provider's website to see what they charge when you download maps, games, videos and emails on your mobile phone, or use more data than your pack allows, you are likely to experience bill shock when you return.

Apps can be useful and fun to use but can run up bills very quickly if downloaded overseas. Just leaving a phone on can mean information is automatically updated and runs up costs.

Why didn't the company keep me informed about the bill blowout as it was occurring?

Until the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) gets its draft mobile phone usage monitoring standard in place in May, there is no obligation for telcos to provide usage monitoring tools for roaming services.

That standard, if adopted, will inform consumers on arrival at overseas destinations about the roaming charges for services and enable them to decline the services if the cost is too high. The standard should also deal with measures to enable monitoring and managing the cost and use of roaming.

My son is going overseas. How can he avoid a repeat of my bill shock?

A good start would be a scan of the service provider's website before leaving home to see if any usage monitoring tools are available. If not and he decides he still needs to use international roaming, he may be able to download a usage app before he leaves, or use the smartphone's inbuilt data monitoring to give an idea of usage.

Tell your son to keep app usage down and avoid playing games as these really chew up megabytes. Some games may download easily at first but then require hundreds of MB of updating and activation.

This is an easy way to kill a mobile data cap. Anything with video also chews up large amounts of data. He should check his usage regularly. Video streaming and VOIP services are fine in moderation but must be guarded against overuse.

ACMA has an infographic at that explores ways to avoid an expensive experience. It has a fact sheet on roaming at

What do I do now about my bill?

Gather all the relevant information and evidence that supports your complaint that you have been grossly overcharged. That includes a copy of your bill, records of calls and any misleading information provided by your telco. Ask for a review of the bill, or if you have paid it to keep the connection, a refund.

Usually you can complain via phone or email. Start with a call as it's a lot harder to be brushed off speaking to someone directly. Clearly state you have a complaint when you call and try to remain calm and polite.

Keep a record of who you spoke to, when you talked to them and what they said they would do to resolve the problem. Keep a log of calls made and received. Keep any emails or letters and any reference numbers given.

Telcos should aim to resolve your complaint and finalise any refunds within 30 days. If you are unhappy with the solution offered or if the process isn't moving quickly enough, contact the provider again and ask to speak to a manager.

State you are frustrated with the service so far and ask if they need any more information. Let them know you are about to escalate the dispute to the ombudsman.

If this doesn't work, contact the telecommunications ombudsman. You have the right to ask for its help if the complaint is not resolved satisfactorily.

The ombudsman has the power to investigate complaints and, if it decides in your favour, can make the Telco reimburse you. But first it is essential to give your provider a reasonable opportunity to address the complaint.

The website has an online complaint letter. Phone the TIO on 1800 062 058 (free from a landline; normal charges apply from a mobile); write to TIO, PO Box 276, Collins Street West, Victoria 8007; or fax 1800 630 614.

Overall it is a lot easier not to be hit with an outrageous bill than it is to contest one.

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