The Post Office is advising international phone card users to be wary when choosing a card, with some leaving callers with no credit and unable to speak to loved ones.
Coming on the back of a recent Ofcom probe that found one in ten international calling cards failed to work, the Post Office’s own investigations found that many providers levy unfair charges, deduct a daily maintenance credit charge, charge connection fees, and under deliver on the card’s stated value.
Largely used by the UK’s immigrant communities, international phone cards are used by an estimated five million people who spend an average of £13 a month on calls* in a market worth £450 billion**. The Post Office offers phone cards in a variety of denominations and came out as one of the UK’s leading phone card providers in the Ofcom tests, with the value of advertised minutes actually being received by users.
To help callers avoid the hidden charges used by some international phone card providers, the Post Office has created a check list to ensure consumers are not left out of pocket.
What to look out for:
Whether they charge a daily maintenance charge: if you make one continuous call on the day you first use your card, you can get great value from your card but the value of your card will depreciate by the daily maintenance charge. If you want to make several calls over a long period then make sure you don’t get caught out this way.
The call rate for the destination you are planning to phone: these don’t appear on your card so check out the provider’s website to find the best rate. But beware! Even doing this will not provide you with the real picture of how the charges are applied because providers can alter the rate of calls at any moment, meaning you could be using up more credit than you might think.
The expiry date: this can be anything from 15 to 90 days from your first call so if you don’t use all of your minutes in the allotted time, you will lose them.
Whether there is a call set up or call connection charge: some providers will charge a fixed fee for simply connecting your call; this is in addition to any per minute billing and further reduces the card balance.
Whether there is a call completion / disconnection call charge: upon the completion of your call, you may find that you are charged a percentage of the cost of your call – leading to fewer minutes than you thought you had when you next use your phone card.
Whether you are charged to the nearest minute: some phone card providers will round up to the nearest three minutes, so look for cards that round to the nearest minute.
Terms and conditions: few people read them but they are the only way to make sure you’re going to get value for money. Visit the provider’s website for more details or call their customer services team before purchasing your card. But remember that even doing this may not provide you with the real picture of how charges may be applied.
Hugh Stacey, Head of Telephony at the Post Office, said: “The international phone card market can be very confusing, and consumers need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of using cards from certain providers. The Post Office welcomes the Ofcom’s new monitoring and enforcement programme as their findings echo our own investigations and market concerns.
“International phone cards rarely carry their terms and conditions, so it’s vital to check the product’s details on their website first. Even then the information can be very difficult to understand and not presented in a clear way. We believe that providers need to be clear and transparent about all charges, and explain them in simple terms.
“The Post Office’s UK and international phone cards have a clear pricing structure, no connection fees, and no daily maintenance charges – meaning our customers get what they pay for.”
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