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Bills shock over digital payment

An Apple iPhone with social media software7/2/14

By Natalie Marchant

One in seven adults who has made a recent small digital payment ended up being billed more than expected, according to new research.

Research conducted by premium rate services regulator PhonepayPlus looked at how consumers make digital payments, including those using smartphones and tablets.

The survey found that more than half - 55 per cent - of adults had made a payment of up to £10 in the last six months.

Some 15 per cent of users said they had encountered problems, such as being billed for something within an app like extras in a game which they thought were free.

Confusion surrounding digital payments

Other problems included unwittingly agreeing to receive advertising texts as well as being billed for a subscription when the consumer thought they were paying a one-off charge.

The research found that 7 per cent of people - equating to around 3.5 million consumers across the country - had experienced issues but absorbed the unexpected costs themselves.

PhonepayPlus, which is making its findings available to the government and other regulators, urged people not to "suffer in silence".

The research quoted one consumer as saying: "Once they know your phone number you seem to get a lot more random text adverts and calls which is annoying."

Digital payment problems

Another said her daughter "bought doughnuts on a game on her iPad she thought were free, only to found out when it appeared on the credit card bill".

Another consumer highlighted an online magazine subscription which was "made to seem like a one-off offer but actually in the small print it was for a subscription of a minimum six months".

Patrick Guthrie, PhonepayPlus' director of strategy and communications, said: "Over time, small losses mount up for each consumer.

"And across the whole digital payments market these small amounts pile up very quickly.

Consumer confidence in digital payments important

"With the market for digital payments, goods and services growing rapidly, the issue of consumer confidence is an increasingly important one.

"We are pleased to see new rights of redress for consumers of digital goods and services that are set out in the Consumer Rights Bill.

"And we are working closely with government, consumer groups and other regulators to ensure that consumer protections keep pace with the rapid pace of change in this market."

The regulator advises consumers to check their bill and follow up anything that does not look right with their phone operator, the company that charged them, or PhonepayPlus.

Report into digital payments published later this month

The research was taken from a broader report called Understanding Consumer Journeys: Premium rate service and micropayment markets, which is due to be published later this month.

Last month, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published a final set of principles for online and in-app games.

These should cut the risk of payments disappearing from young players' parents' accounts without their knowledge.

It has given games producers a deadline of 1 April to make sure they comply with the rules, which aim to ensure the cost of a game is spelled out to consumers upfront.



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