Pick up the phone. Make that call. But wait, before you do, make sure that its not costing you more than you expect it to.
Peter Bafana took out a Vodacom cellphone contract through a Homemark sales agent four years ago. However, the incorrect contract package was then activated. Instead of the top-up R125 package, a top-up R320 package was activated on his account. He then defaulted on his payments while disputing the fact that the incorrect cellphone package had been activated.
Unfortunately, the account was eventually handed over to attorneys and Peter was forced to settle to the tune of R8 000. “Am I not entitled to get my airtime? I mean I have now paid for something that I did not use, which I don’t feel is fair. How am I protected as a consumer in this regard?” he asks.
Nicky Campbell, attorney of the High Court and director of the South African Law Centre, points out that the amount he has paid is not necessarily for airtime exclusively. It is also likely to include a cancellation penalty if the contract was cancelled prematurely as well as interest, collection costs and legal fees.
Campbell says Peter should have considered the issue of prescription before he paid. The defence of prescription allows a consumer to escape liability for a debt that has not been paid for a continuous period of three years, if judgment has not been taken in respect of the debt. “If the debt in this instance had not prescribed, then he should have requested a statement detailing his liability and checked that the charges were reasonable and permissible in terms of the law,” she says.
The credit record effect
Whether or not Peter can clear his credit record now that he has made the payment, will depend on the type of listing on his credit record. Campbell explains that if it is a judgment listing, an application to rescind the judgment must be made to court and a rescission order obtained. The rescission order obliges the credit bureaus to then delete the listing. If it is a default, the listing will only be updated to reflect that the account is paid up. The updated listing will remain on his credit report for two years. However, the current proposed Credit Amnesty provides for the automatic removal of paid up default listings.
Cancelling your cellphone contract
In terms of the Consumer Protection Act, a consumer has the right to cancel a fixed term agreement, including cellphone contracts, at any time by giving 20 business days notice. Before the implementation of the CPA, you would have been automatically held liable for the balance of the entire remaining period of the contract but under the CPA, you can now only be charged a “reasonable” cancellation penalty.
How to avoid sky high cellphone bills
Although golf is an expensive hobby, *Gary (name changed) did not expect it to cost him money without him even stepping anywhere near a golf course. His cellphone bill recently rocketed to almost R1 million after he downloaded an app to help him analyse his golf swing. What he didn’t realise was that the app kept running when he travelled abroad, quietly racking up his phone bill without his knowledge.
Nashua Mobile’s chief executive, Mark Taylor, suggests ways you can keep your cellphone bill at affordable levels:
- Stamp out subscriptions
When you download a ringtone, you probably ignore the fine print warning that it’s a subscription service with a regular bill. Many only cost R5 a month, but some cost a scary R20 a day, and that’s a mighty expensive piece of music. “Before you use your handset to purchase anything, read the fine print,” Taylor says. Check your bill, and if you’ve signed up for something by accident, unsubscribe immediately.
- Overseas and overpriced
International roaming inflicts horrendous bills. “Data can cost up to R200 per megabyte and when smartphone apps continue downloading content abroad it can give you a nasty shock,” says Taylor. Before you travel, ask your service provider to set an affordable limit. Better still, switch off data roaming via the settings menu in your phone. You can always switch it back on in an emergency. Then look for free wi-fi networks in coffee shops and upload your data for nothing. Your phone normally defaults to using a wi-fi network even if your GSM option is still switched on, but you will need to log on to the wi-fi network first. If you need to make local calls at your destination, buy a local s imcard when you arrive.
- Don’t bungle the bundle
Smartphone users must buy a suitable data bundle, otherwise automatic downloads made by devices including the Samsung S3 and iPhone5 can easily cost R2 000 a month. “A smartphone without apps is pretty boring, but the apps you download update automatically. If you’re on a budget, set your phone so that it does not update automatically, and only do it when you can get onto a Wi-Fi network,” Taylor says.
- It wasn’t me…
If a thief grabs your sim card, he can run up massive voice and data bills within hours. Report and block a stolen phone immediately. But sim cards can be stolen from cell phones or least cost routers without anyone realising – until the bill arrives. Make sure your devices are secure and have a call limit set on your sim card to prevent fraudulent use.
- Switch the apps off
Ensure that you close apps properly when you are not using them. These include apps such as Facebook, Twitter, weather updates apps, live sports apps and GPS or location-aware apps. If not closed properly, the apps continue to run in the background and can use up a lot of your data.
Consider the age of your phone and decide if it is worth insuring. If it is, compare the cost of a mobile insurance package from your cellphone provider vs the cost of insuring your phone under the all risks section of your household contents insurance policy.
If your cellphone package has a limited amount of “free minutes”, try to keep track of how many minutes you have used so that you avoid exceeding your allowance. While your usage might not be cut off, you will pay a premium for “extra” minutes that you use. Check your voicemails from a landline. Whenever possible make calls during off-peak hours – usually between 7pm and 7am as well as on weekends. If you are constantly exceeding your “free minutes”, then it may be time to switch to a different package that is more suited to your purposes.
- Text services
Reduce the number of texts you send. Make use of free messaging services such as BBM, which is now available on Android and Blackberry phones, as well as Whatsapp. If you have no access to these services and have to use sms’s, it might be worth your while to buy an sms bundle. For example, an sms bundle from MTN will cost you xx for xx sms’s.
- Check your bills
Your cellphone provider offers you detailed billing. Take advantage of this and check your bill regularly – with a fine tooth comb. Look out for calls made to sharecall numbers. Avoid entering competitions –sms to these numbers are usually charged at premium rates and can cost you up to R7 per message. While you might not think this sounds expensive, it adds up to a considerable amount if you enter more than once. For example, ten entries will cost you R70.
- This article was first published in City Press on 1 December 2013.