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3 threatens, T-Mobile shoots on late payments

Tough talk on tardy mobile bill payers

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Customers of UK operator 3 have started receiving text messages recommending they pay bills on time to avoid a late-payment fee - though the company tells us it has never charged anyone for failing to pay on time.

The text message was bought to our attention by a reader, who contacted 3 but received confusing answers and wondered if we could clear up the matter.

3 tells us that if a customer pays late it reserves the right to charge them a fiver, the details being buried in their "Real Deal" document (page 17 of the pdf version). 3 also assures us it has never actually charged anyone - it only uses the threat to encourage punters who haven't opted for direct debit to pay up on time.

O2, Orange and Vodafone don't make such charges at all - though Orange admitted cutting people off once they're a couple of months overdue, which is fair enough.

T-Mobile, on the other hand, will automatically chuck a fiver on your bill if you don't pay up on time.

UK mobile phone users are particularly bad at paying their bills, certainly compared to T-Mobile's home territory of Germany where late-payment carries a greater social stigma. According to the UK regulator Ofcom, an operator is allowed to charge a late-payment fee to recover the expense in paperwork, postage and lost interest, as well as covering the cost of bad debt which is likely to be incurred by the kind of person who pays their bill late.

So if you're a 3 customer who's received the text, don't worry, they're bluffing. But if you're a T-Mobile customer you might want to pay your bills on time, unless you want to subsidise the calls of someone who decides not to pay at all. ®

Bootnote: T-Mobile has been in touch to clarify that the only charge a fiver for failed payments, but don't penalise punters a few days late with their cheque: so it's only 3 who wave the stick at late payers.

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