Mobile phone charges: ‘Welcome to France’? But we’re in Kent

Residents and tourists at the foot of the white cliffs of Dover regularly get charged for using French network

Visitors to the famous white cliffs of Dover are getting a nasty surprise when they want to use their mobile phones – they are picking up a French signal at higher charges.

Residents and tourists in the seaside village of St Margaret-at-Cliffe and St Margaret’s bay at the foot of the Kent cliffs – just 18 miles from France – regularly get a “Welcome to France” message and the extra costs, including data roaming charges for smartphone users, from companies such as Orange F and SFR.

Landlord of the Coastguard pub and restaurant on the beach Nigel Wydymus, 53, said: “We are a little telecommunications enclave of France here.

“It did not cause a huge amount of trouble for a few years because you got a message saying ‘Welcome to France’, but since smartphones have come in it’s more of a problem.

“Obviously people strolling along the beach in England do not expect to be on a French network and so, unlike when they get off the plane in Spain or elsewhere, they haven’t switched off their data roaming and it causes some extra bills.

“In the village the French signal is patchy depending on the atmospherics and the weather, but here on the beach the French signal is constant because we are at the foot of the cliffs and the UK signal is blocked out.”

Costs for making a call on the French network can be up to four times the cost of using a domestic one with a cost of up to 28p to make a call and nearly 8p to receive one and nearly 9p to send a text.

The signal problem has upset locals who want something to be done to stop the extra charges and inconvenience.

A spokesman for EE said: “We always recommend our customers switch off roaming while they are in this little pocket of an area to ensure that they are connecting to the correct network because we cannot control the networks from the other side of the water.”

The issue is believed to affect all UK networks.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Internet and TV bundles of joy

Switching from standalone services to a broadband, phone and TV package can save you money, but the choice is bewildering

Use a fixed telephone line from home, hooked up to the internet and like to watch the odd bit of satellite TV? If that’s you, the chances are you are one of the millions of households that get access to all three from one provider under a “bundled” telecoms package.

According to Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, since 2005 (when bundling services became possible), the proportion of consumers with bundled services has steadily risen so that almost 60% of UK households now have one. However, as the number of packages available has proliferated, the choice has become increasingly confusing.

Telecoms providers such as Sky, Virgin Media, BT, TalkTalk, and Plusnet all offer a number of packages offering broadband at various speeds, inclusive UK landline calls at various times of day (some include 0870 and 0845 calls too), and, in many cases, paid-for TV channels.

To make things even more complicated some deals have download limits while others are “unlimited” and some packages come with half-price introductory offers, free credit and/or high street shopping vouchers.

“More recently, providers have tended not to market bundles as ‘discounted’ or do not offer the services individually,” said a spokesperson for Ofcom. “This makes it increasingly difficult for consumers to know whether their package is in fact cheaper.”

However, experts say that a bundle is still the way to go if you want to save money. “Switching from standalone services to a bundle can save you over £200 a year,” says Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at broadbandchoices.co.uk.

So how can you find the best deal when there are so many choices? We look at what you can get for your money at various price brackets.

Under £20 a month

If you’re on a tight budget, you are better off buying a bundle with phone and broadband and relying on Freeview for TV. Freeview is subscription-free and has more than 50 digital channels.

Guy North, marketing communications director at Freeview, reckons many people pay for TV channels they don’t watch or need. “By researching and shopping around, they will find that over 95% of the most-watched programmes are available subscription-free, making considerable savings for households in the long run,” he says.

Most new televisions come with Freeview built-in, but if you want a box that allows you to record and pause TV shows it will set you back about £75.

If you’re looking for a cheap broadband and calls package, Everything Everywhere offers 14Mb broadband, unlimited downloads and free calls at evenings and weekends for £5 a month. Line rental at £14 a month is on top, bringing the monthly cost to £19 – but subscribers get £30 credited to their account, meaning that the first year costs £198. However, unlike other providers which generally offer their best deals to new customers, you’ll need to be an existing Orange, T-Mobile or EE customer to be eligible.

Sky offers unlimited 14Mb broadband and Talk Weekends at £5 a month for a year, after which the price rises to £10 a month (but you’re free to switch). Line rental is £14.50 on top, bringing the monthly total to £19.50 and the annual total to £234. Customers joining via Sky.com also get a £25 M&S voucher.

Some providers, including Sky, offer customers a further discount if they pay a year’s line rental up front.

Cheaper, but with a monthly download limit of 10GB, is Plusnet which charges £2.99 for the first six months for 16Mb broadband and evening and weekend calls to UK landlines (including 0870 and 0845 numbers). After six months the cost rises to £5.99 and line rental is £13.99 on top. This mean the first year will cost £221.76.

£20 to £35 a month

Virgin Media is offering 30Mb broadband free for six months then £14.50 a month on an 18-month contract. Line rental is £14.99 a month on top, bringing the monthly price after the six-month offer ends to £29.49 and the first year cost to £266.88.

If you want TV included with a bundle in this price bracket, TalkTalk offers 14Mb broadband and free day, evening and weekend calls. A YouView box is included which gives you access to Freeview channels and allows you to record, pause and rewind TV. It’s £15.50 a month plus £14.95 line rental, bringing the monthly cost to £30.45 and annual cost to £365.40.

Another option is BT’s 16Mb unlimited broadband deal, which includes weekend calls. It’s free for six months then £16 a month. Line rental of £15.45 on top brings the monthly cost after six months to £31.45 and the first year cost to £281.40. BT Vision TV packages start from £5 a month on top of the broadband deal; new customers receive a £25 Sainsbury’s gift card.

£35 a month upwards

If you want paid-for TV channels such as Sky 1, Sky Living and Sky Atlantic, it starts to be more expensive.

Sky offers Sky Entertainment, Broadband Lite and Talk Weekends for £21.50 a month plus £14.50 line rental on a 12-month contract, meaning an annual cost of £432. New customers get a £25 M&S voucher. However, it doesn’t include unlimited broadband – the monthly download limit is just 2GB on the 14Mb service.

Much better value is Virgin Media’s Essentials collection which includes 30Mb unlimited broadband plus TiVo and offers more than 90 channels. At the moment it’s £13 a month for six months, followed by £26 a month, plus £14.99 line rental. With £60 credit for new customers, the first year costs £353.88. Customers have to sign an 18-month contract.

If you can afford to splash out more, another option is a BT Infinity deal. Delivering up to 76Mb, it uses fibre optic broadband, the same technology as Virgin Media’s super-fast services.

BT Infinity 1 is the cheapest option, with download speeds up to 38Mb but there is a 40Gb download limit each month. It’s £9 a month for three months then £18 a month. Monthly line rental of £15.45 brings the monthly cost to £33.45 and a £25 activation charge brings the first year cost to £399.40. Unlimited BT Infinity deals start from £23 a month.

Premium channels

If you really want to blow your telecoms budget, then add Sky Sports or Sky Movies. BT Vision customers can get either Sky Sports 1 or Sky Sports 2 for £15 a month (on top of their BT Vision subscription) or £20 for both.

Sky charges £21 for the Sky Sports Collection (Sky Sports 1,2,3,4, F1), Virgin £25.75 and TalkTalk £30.

Sky Movies costs an extra £16 on Sky, £14.50 on Virgin Media or £15 on TalkTalk. Sky also offers Sports and Movies together for £29 a month.

If you’re just an occasional sports fan, the good news is you soon won’t need a Sky Sports subscription to watch Sky Sports channels. From the spring BSkyB will be offering pay-as-you-go access for £9.99 a day via its new internet TV service, Now TV. The service targets viewers who want to watch a one-off event such as a Formula One grand prix, an England cricket match or Masters Golf.

You can compare TV and broadband bundles with Guardian’s Money Deals service

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Plagued by nuisance phone calls

18 million people have signed up to the Telephone Preference Service whose job is to block nuisance phone calls. But, as the TPS boss admits, the system is broken

On one day alone my home phone rang seven times. Six were nuisance calls. One tried to sell me a fraudulent carbon credit scheme; two were recorded messages from PPI companies; another was a rip-off computer “cleanliness check”; the other two were silent.

I joined the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) many years ago to screen me from telepests, but it appears to be failing miserably. Along with many elderly and vulnerable people, do I have to put up with nuisance calls, even though I have signed up to TPS? Why is it failing so badly to protect me?

For those unfamiliar with TPS, it’s a free service (sign up at tpsonline.org.uk) under which households can opt out of unsolicited sales and marketing calls. Legally, all organisations are banned from calling numbers registered at TPS. Vast numbers of Britons have signed up — around 18 million are now on the register – but many must feel that it’s no longer fit for purpose.

Research by Which? has found that TPS cuts out only a third of nuisance calls. Broadly it has been successful in blocking those from UK-based operators, but dismally fails to halt calls from overseas call centres. Closer to home, marketing organisations here (such as those that supply PPI leads) have also found numerous ways to circumvent the rules.

TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association on behalf of phones regulator Ofcom. John Mitchison, who became boss of TPS last summer, is candid about the service’s failings. “I would completely understand if the Guardian wrote a ‘TPS is broken’ headline,” he says.

“It has eradicated lots of unwelcome calls. And there is legislation to back us up. But the rules are complex, have loopholes, are split between agencies, tend to lag technology advances, and have been low priority.”

There are different rules – and different complaint mechanisms – for live phone calls, silent calls, texts and recorded messages. Ofcom is responsible for policing silent calls, but recorded and text messages are regulated by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Occasionally, the authorities do manage to bust a company that is unlawfully ringing or texting people’s phones. For example, maybe you were one of the millions of people who received the following text: “URGENT! If you took out a Bank Loan prior to 2007 then you are almost certainly entitled to £2300 in compensation. To claim reply ‘YES'”.

It came from Testus Telecoms, a Stockport-based outfit run by Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish that sent out as many as 840,000 illegal texts every day between December 2009 and May 2011. The ICO raided the company and fined the duo £440,000.

But Mitchison admits that such successes are few and far between. Even if consumers knew how to complain, in many cases they have no idea of the caller or the number. “So they don’t bother,” he says.

Tracking down the firms behind the rogue calls is difficult. Many are made from the Indian sub-continent, where the caller pretends to be doing a “consumer survey”, and mentions well-known high-street retailers and major charities. Other calls use the widely-abused “permission to call” let-out clause in the TPS rules.

For example, last week, First Assist, an insurer selling accident and other health-related plans, phoned me. The caller said I had RAC Breakdown cover (which is true) and it had called on behalf of the RAC.

I told the caller that I was on TPS and warned that they were in breach of the rules. But First Assist replied that I had agreed to take calls from the RAC and from other “carefully selected organisations”.

“So we have permission to call,” I was told. “Well, I’m withdrawing it now,” I replied. “OK,” they said, “but that only works for us – you need to contact the RAC as well.”

Permission-to-call is a persistent consumer bugbear. “Virtually everything comes now with tick boxes so the company you are dealing with can [not only] contact you in the future but also pass on your details to ‘carefully selected partners’ or similar wording,” says Mitchison.

There are often several boxes, and no rules as to whether consumers have to opt in or opt out. With some, you opt in on one box and opt out on another to avoid pest calls.

Mitchison says: “There can be double negatives, which are especially confusing when someone is trying to buy something fast. But once you give permission, it is unclear how long this lasts.

“The guidance is woolly. I don’t think it is reasonable to have an opt-in for life as some companies do.”

The regulations refer to consent as being given “for the time being”, interpreted as “remaining valid until there is good reason to consider it is no longer valid; for example, if it has been withdrawn or it is otherwise clear that the recipient no longer wants to get such messages”.

The ICO says “carefully selected” should mean a relationship: “If you buy trainers, it is reasonable to offer sports clothing, not a sports car.”

Market research is another loophole. TPS does not bar legitimate opinion pollsters such as ICM, which works for the Guardian, asking about political and other preferences.

So lead generators pose as market researchers. They start with “this is not a sales call” or “we are conducting a survey”. But it is not anonymous views about government or eating meat. Instead, they want information such as age, postcode and when your insurances expire – all personal valuable data that can be sold on.

“We have serious issues with lead generation companies,” Mitchison says. “Unsurprisingly, consumers fail to distinguish between market research and firms seeking personal information to exploit.”

He says that until very recently regulators soft-pedalled on enforcement: “The ICO was previously focused on other matters. Now it is committed to investigating pest calls. What we need is effective action, cease and desist orders, punitive fines, plus naming and shaming the ultimate clients. Without firms to buy leads, telepests would have no business.”

Late last year, the ICO named seven companies – Weatherseal Home Improvements, The Claims Guys, We Fight Any Claim, British Gas, Scottish Power, Anglian Windows and Talk Talk – following concerns about their compliance. These “amber warning” companies are “working to address these concerns”. The ICO expects “to see improvements in the coming months.”

Next month the ICO is expected to announce “notices of intent” against three marketing companies for ignoring the Privacy in Electronic Communications Regulations, the law intended to protect against nuisance calls.

If the prosecutions are successful, the firms could be fined more than £250,000.

BT offers an answer, but does it work?

BT has launched a phone which claims it will block up to 80% of unwanted calls, such as those from PPI merchants and other cold-marketing calls.

The phone, which costs between £44.99 and £109.99 (depending on the number of handsets) lets users block calls from “international” numbers, “withheld” numbers and those without Caller Line Identification (CLI or the result of 1471), as well as up to 10 specific numbers so that nuisance calls from a known number can be automatically barred.

Blocked calls are silently routed to the answer machine so genuine callers can leave a message.

Over the past week I have tested the phone, but it’s hard to know how many calls it barred as I don’t know how many I would otherwise have received. It failed to stop a dodgy investment company cold-calling my line.

But now I have its London phone number, I can add it to the list of banned callers. I found it easy to use, and across the week noticed a steep decline in the number of nuisance calls. It has a higher prevention rate than TPS and is definitely worthwhile, especially if you are thinking of a phone upgrade.

Beware, though, that when it blocks “unknown number” calls (those without Caller Line Identification) that includes many legitimate organisations such as the Guardian and the BBC.

However, BT is working with companies to change their CLI configuration, and some banks have already done so.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

BT unveils call screening phone

The BT6500 phone will be available to all UK landline users and will block all withheld numbers and those without a caller ID

Nuisance calls from payment protection insurance pushers, dodgy sales calls from abroad and irritating “silent” calls could become a thing of the past after BT unveiled a phone it promised would block 80% of unwanted calls.

The home phone will bar all calls from “international” and “withheld” numbers, and numbers without a caller ID. It will also allow householders to bar up to 10 specific numbers, so any nuisance calls from a known number can be automatically blocked.

It will be available to households who do not use BT as a provider.

Blocked calls will be silently routed to the answer machine so genuine callers can leave a message, unless they are from a specific number blocked by the householder.

The launch comes amid growing concern about the number of people being harrassed in their own homes by multiple unwanted calls every day.

BT said it received more than 50,000 calls to its nuisance calls advice line each month. Especially irritating are silent calls, generating thousands of complaints to telecoms regulator Ofcom every month. On average, people complaining to Ofcom have been receiving five nuisance calls a day. Worst hit are the elderly, with four out of five people aged between 65 and 74 saying they receive these types of calls.

The new phone, called BT6500, comes at a price. It costs £44.99 for a single handset, £69.99 for a twin, and £89.99 for a trio.

John Petter, managing director of BT’s consumer division, said: “We know from talking to our customers that nuisance calls cause huge frustration and even anxiety at times.

“When people feel as though they are being harassed in their own homes they need to be able to take action and block the offending callers.”

The phone also comes with a Do Not Disturb mode, which switches off the ringer but allows friends and family to get through. It also allows parents to bar outgoing calls to premium rate numbers and selected mobile phones.

For householders who don’t want to splash out on a new phone, there are a number of other ways to combat unwanted calls:

Telephone Preference Service Sign up to this to prevent direct marketing calls from any legitimate UK company, although it can take up to four weeks to come into effect. Visit the website or call 0845 070 0707. If you also want to stop unwanted mail and fax, contact Consumer Focus’s one-stop StayPrivate service.

Recorded messages Organisations that use recorded phone messages to try and sell or promote their products or services must comply with the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. These say they must obtain prior consent from the subscriber before they can make such a call. If you have not given prior permission and can identify the organisation leaving the message you can complain directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office (030 3123 1113).

Operators’ own services Your call provider may offer a paid-for service to help you screen calls. BT, for example, offers Choose to Refuse at £3.55 a month, which allows you to block certain numbers. Its Anonymous Call Reject scheme costs £4.30 a month and means that if a caller withholds their number they won’t be able to get through to you. If you are paying for these services it would be wiser to switch to the new BT6500 phone instead.

Silentgard This is a company working to reduce silent calls. Visit the website or call 0844 372 2325 to sign up.

CallBlocker This is a small unit that plugs into your phone and attempts to screen out unwanted/recorded calls through a recorded message. It costs £54.99 plus postage. Visit the website or call 0800 988 0210.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Is Vine video a fine idea?

We’ve filmed some six-second videos of our office, and we want to see yours. What do you make of the latest Twitter feature?

What is new technology for if not to provide a distraction from work? Twitter’s Vine app allows you to film and share up to six seconds of video in tweets without any faffing around. It’s not long, but is enough to show people how busy your train is, how much it’s snowing outside, or even how to make steak tartare.

Have you had a go with it yet? My colleague Hannah Waldram tested it with a trip to the tea point (luckily she ran out of time before she was able to reveal the colour of the “tea” that comes out of our machines).

Testing out Vine: @guardian tea break #firstpost vine.co/v/b5HMA9Aee1j

— Hannah RW (@hrwaldram) January 24, 2013

She’s now put together a quick tour of the office:

.@guardian HQ hard at work – #Vine testing vine.co/v/b5t2z6ALXLu

— Hannah RW (@hrwaldram) January 25, 2013

Hannah was impressed with the design and ease of Vine. “With Tumblr reigniting the popularity of the retro animated gif, I have no doubt many will enjoy creating and sharing unique titbits of video,” she says.

“It’s an extension of twitpic and twitvid, which have been popular, and similar to other short-animation apps in vogue at the moment like Cinemagram and 1 second every day.”

My own efforts were less successful. I liked using it, but my efforts to share videos fell at an early hurdle – I failed to tick that I wanted to tweet the video as I uploaded it and can’t work out how to do so retrospectively. Does anyone know if that’s possible? (If it isn’t, you’ll have to visit Vine to enjoy the view from my desk.) And six seconds seemed far too short for anything much.

If you’ve got a spare six seconds today, and an iPhone (annoyingly it’s not yet on Android) perhaps you could do the same – show us your workplace and let us know what you think of Vine. Can you imagine this being something genuinely useful, or are you dreading having to see more of your friends’ cats?

Tweet your workplace films to @guardianmoney. If you’ve already got the hang of it and fancy winning some CDs, or sharing more artistic creations than an office panorama, my colleagues on other desks would like to hear from you.

Your Vines

@daveharte has shared this film he made yesterday of something we are probably all looking forward to:

Home time vine.co/v/b5HX9YbJ9F3

— Dave Harte (@daveharte) January 24, 2013

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds