Capped Contracts: Better Spend Control on Pay Monthly Mobile Contracts

May 31st, 2017

Getting a capped contract for your mobile phone will give you greater control over spending and out-of-allowance charges.

Typically, one disadvantage of choosing a Pay Monthly contract is you’re also liable to pay for additional charges outside of your inclusive allowance. For instance, additional charges might appear on your phone bill when you use up your allowances or when you call non-inclusive numbers such as 084, 087, 09 and international numbers. It can also result from telephone voting in reality TV shows and from text-to-enter TV competitions. For many parents, the possibility of “bill shock” is also a key concern when giving a Pay Monthly mobile phone contract to their children.

To eliminate the risk of surprise out-of-allowance charges, some people instead choose to get a Pay As You Go bundle. With Pay As You Go, it’s only possible to spend the credit on your account. This means it isn’t possible to accidentally run up a huge bill by surprise. The disadvantage, however, is that Pay As You Go can sometimes be relatively expensive and there’s also additional work required in topping up your accounts each month.

To give you the best of both worlds, a number of mobile networks now offer “capped Pay Monthly contracts”. This will give you all of the usual benefits of a Pay Monthly contract including great value usage and the ability to pay automatically by Direct Debit. At the same time, you’ll also get predictable bills every month with no chance of “bill shock” or surprising large out-of-allowance charges.

In this article, we’ll review capped mobile contracts and their availability in the UK.

Overview of Capped Contracts

  • BT Mobile
  • iD Mobile
  • Plusnet Mobile
  • Tesco Mobile

Capped contracts are currently available from BT, iD, Plusnet and Tesco Mobile.

In the UK, there are currently four mobile networks offering a capped Pay Monthly contract: BT Mobile, iD Mobile, Plusnet Mobile and Tesco Mobile.

The following table shows an overview of the capping options available on each network:

Mobile Network Capped Pay Monthly Contracts
BT Mobile Yes, between £5 and £200 (Family SIM available).
EE No.
iD Mobile Yes, £5 on ShockProof tariffs.
O2 No.
Plusnet Mobile Yes, between £2 and £30.
Sky Mobile No.
Talkmobile No, but there is a £50 out-of-allowance limit.
TalkTalk Mobile No.
Tesco Mobile Yes, between £2.50 and £40.
Three No, but there are ways to block out-of-allowance use.
TPO Mobile No.
Virgin Mobile No.
Vodafone No.

Most Pay Monthly mobile networks including EE, O2, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone do not give you the ability to add a monthly spend cap to your contract.

Recommended Capped Contract Deals

For customers who are looking for a capped contract deal, our recommended mobile network at present is BT Mobile.

BT Mobile

BT’s Family SIM gives you a centralised location for managing your family’s spending.

BT Mobile is our recommended network for customers wanting a Pay Monthly contract with built-in spend caps. When you sign up, you’ll automatically get a spend cap applied to your account of between £5 and £45. You can then easily change and manage your spend cap online at any time through BT’s website.

We believe the strongest benefits of BT Mobile’s capping capabilities can be obtained when you take advantage of the Family SIM offer.

Family SIM allows you to have up to five SIM cards on one combined bill. There are discounts available when multiple family members join BT Mobile, with the discounts increasing as more family members join. You’ll get an online dashboard for controlling your family’s spending, with the ability to delegate control on a SIM-by-SIM basis.

BT Mobile offers 99% population coverage, using 3G & 4G coverage from EE. For more information, please read our review of BT Mobile and the Family SIM offer.

Order BT Mobile SIM Card »

Looking beyond BT Mobile, it’s also possible to get a capped mobile contract from iD Mobile, Plusnet Mobile and Tesco Mobile. The following tables shows a side-by-side comparison of the cheapest available deals with different amounts of data.

With 2GB of Internet

For users requiring at least 2GB of data per month, the best value tariffs currently available with spend capping capabilities are as follows:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
Plusnet Mobile500Unlimited3GB£8.00
Tesco Mobile1,5005,0004GB£11.00
BT MobileUnlimitedUnlimited3GB£11.00
inc. £5 discount

The price shown for BT Mobile includes a £5/month discount which is available for customers living in a BT Broadband household. If you’re not living in a BT Broadband household, you’ll need to pay the full price without a £5/month discount. For customers taking advantage of the Family SIM offer, the monthly price for additional SIM cards will be substantially lower.

With 4GB of Internet

The following Pay Monthly contracts have at least 4GB of data per month and can have a spend caps applied for better control over your spending:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
Tesco Mobile1,5005,0004GB£11.00
BT MobileUnlimitedUnlimited6GB£12.00
inc. £5 discount
Plusnet MobileUnlimitedUnlimited4GB£15.00

On BT Mobile, a further discount is available with the Family SIM offer.

With 8GB of Internet

Finally, if you’re looking for a capped contract with at least 8GB of data per month, you can currently get a tariff from the following mobile networks:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
BT MobileUnlimitedUnlimited20GB£16.00
inc. £5 discount
Tesco Mobile5,0005,00020GB£20.00

Once again, a further discount is available on BT Mobile with the Family SIM offer.

In-Depth: Capped Contracts By Network

In the following section, we’ll discuss the spend caps available on each mobile network in more detail.

BT Mobile

BTOn BT Mobile, you’ll automatically be given a monthly spend cap as a feature of the service. Initially, this will be set to between £5 and £45 depending on your credit check status. You can then adjust your monthly spend cap at any time through the My BT website to an amount between £5 and £200 (higher amounts may be subject to credit status).

If you’re using your smartphone abroad in other countries, BT Mobile also has a default data roaming spend cap of £35/month. Again, this can be changed to any amount between £5 and £200 as required. For more information, see the BT Mobile help article.

The following SIM cards from BT Mobile have the monthly spend cap feature:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
BT Mobile400Unlimited500MB£5.00
inc. £5 discount
BT MobileUnlimitedUnlimited3GB£11.00
inc. £5 discount
BT MobileUnlimitedUnlimited6GB£12.00
inc. £5 discount
BT MobileUnlimitedUnlimited20GB£16.00
inc. £5 discount
BT MobileUnlimitedUnlimited15GB£18.00
inc. £5 discount

On BT Mobile, there is a £5/month discount for BT Broadband customers. For customers not living in a BT Broadband household, the tariffs are still available but without the £5/month discount.

For households with more than one person using BT Mobile, it can be worthwhile signing up for BT’s Family SIM offer. With Family SIM, you can have up to five SIM cards on one combined bill. Through an online dashboard, you can manage the spend cap on each of your family member’s SIM card. You can also delegate control as necessary (e.g. allowing adults to set their own spend cap, whilst stopping your kids from being able to do this). With Family SIM, you’ll also receive a discount on additional SIM cards taken from BT Mobile.

Source: BT Mobile Help Article
Tariff Information: BT Mobile Website

iD Mobile

iD Mobile is the low-cost mobile network from the Carphone Warehouse. Making use of coverage from Three, they offer three types of price plan: GoTo, ShockProof and TakeAway.

Customers choosing a ShockProof price plan will get a £5 monthly cap on all additional spending. However, it won’t be possible to benefit from the features of a GoTo or TakeAway plan (GoTo comes with Data Rollover and TakeAway comes with international roaming in 29 countries).

The following SIM cards from iD Mobile are available on the ShockProof tariff:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
No tariffs could be found matching this criteria.

You can also get a 24-month ShockProof contract with a new handset included in the price. For more information, please see our full review of iD Mobile.

Source: iD Mobile Tariff FAQs
Tariff Information: iD Mobile Website

Plusnet Mobile

Plusnet Logo ProudOn Plusnet Mobile, you’ll get Smart Cap included as a key feature of the service. This is designed to give you greater peace of mind and full control over your monthly phone bill.

By default, the monthly spend cap on Plusnet Mobile is set to £10 but you can call up and change this to as little as £2:

  • The Smart Cap is the amount that you’re happy to spend above your monthly SIM only plan on chargeable services (i.e. calls to premium numbers or when you’re abroad). We’ll set this as £10.00 for all new Plusnet Mobile customers.
  • It’s real easy to change your Smart Cap. You can set it as low as £2.00 by calling Customer Services on 500 or 0800 079 1133 from another phone.
  • We’ll try and drop you an email and a text when you’ve used 80% and 100% of your bundle allowances and when you reach your Smart Cap, but we might not be able to do this if one call takes you from under 80% to 100% of your Smart Cap. You’ll always be in control.
  • When you hit your Smart Cap, all chargeable services will be suspended until your next bill, you’ll still be able to use your remaining inclusive minutes, text messages and data allowance.
  • If you want to carry on using chargeable services, you can make a payment to reduce your outstanding balance or increase the Smart Cap. Easy peasy!

The following SIM cards from Plusnet Mobile have their Smart Cap feature:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
Plusnet Mobile250500500MB£5.00
Plusnet Mobile1,000Unlimited1GB£7.50
Plusnet Mobile500Unlimited3GB£8.00
Plusnet Mobile1,500Unlimited2GB£10.00
Plusnet MobileUnlimitedUnlimited4GB£15.00

Source: Plusnet Mobile Smart Cap FAQs
Tariff Information: Plusnet Mobile Website

Talkmobile

TalkmobileTalkmobile is a low-cost sub-brand of Vodafone (closed to new customers as of April 2017).

For existing customers already on the Talkmobile network, there’s a £50 out-of-allowance limit on your bill by default. This can provide a little bit of protection against out-of-allowance charges, but Talkmobile warns that it shouldn’t be used as a ‘cap’ on your monthly charges. This is because of possible delays in your usage appearing on their system:

Your ‘out of allowance’ limit: We set your out of allowance limit to £50 by default. This helps prevent anyone running up big bills on your account if your phone’s lost or stolen. The £50 limit resets every month, just like your allowance.
Once you’ve gone over £50 we’ll send you a text to let you know. You’ll probably also notice that some services aren’t working.
Even though we put a limit on your spend, we recommend you don’t use this as a way to cap your bill. This is because it can take a while for what you use to appear on our systems. You could think you were under the £50 limit but, in fact, be over.

Source: Talkmobile – Help understanding your bill
Tariff Information: Talkmobile Website

Tesco Mobile

Tesco MobileTesco Mobile offers the option for you to cap your monthly bill on all of their Pay Monthly contracts. You can choose a safety buffer of between £2.50 and £40 per month when ordering your tariff through the Tesco Mobile website:

Tesco Mobile Spend Cap Option

Tesco Mobile gives you the option to cap your bill at no extra charge.

The following SIM cards from Tesco Mobile can be used with their spend cap option:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
Tesco Mobile5005,0001GB£7.50
Tesco Mobile2505,0001GB£9.00
Tesco Mobile5005,0001GB£10.00
Tesco Mobile1,5005,0004GB£11.00
Tesco Mobile5005,0002GB£11.00
Tesco Mobile1,0005,0003GB£12.50
Tesco Mobile1,5005,0004GB£15.00
Tesco Mobile3,0005,0006GB£18.00
Tesco Mobile5,0005,00020GB£20.00
Tesco Mobile5,0005,00012GB£23.00
Tesco Mobile5,0005,00020GB£28.00
Tesco Mobile5,0005,00025GB£32.00
Tesco Mobile5,0005,00030GB£35.00

You can also choose from Tesco Mobile’s range of 24-month contracts. Tesco’s 24-month contracts include a new handset as part of the price.

Source: Tesco Mobile – Capped Contracts
Tariff Information: Tesco Mobile Website

Three

ThreeOn Three, you won’t find a conventional spend cap option. However, it is possible to take advantage of their ability to block out-of-allowance phone calls (therefore stopping one possible source of out-of-allowance charges). From the Three help article about controlling your spend:

On our current Pay Monthly and SIM plans, there are two ways to control how much you spend on top of your normal monthly cost.

1. Blocking calls that go over your monthly allowance.
Say you have an allowance of 100 minutes a month. You can block your phone from making calls once you’ve used the 100 minutes. This way you won’t be charged for any extra minutes outside your allowance. See below for setting up the block.

2. Blocking numbers that aren’t included in your allowance.
Certain numbers – such as 084 numbers, national directory services and premium-rate text competition numbers – aren’t included in your monthly allowance. You can block your phone from being able to call or text these numbers – please see below for how to do this.

You can add the spend control to your account by logging in to the My3 website and choosing Allowances > Control your spend.

Source: Three Help and Support – Control your spend
Tariff Information: Three Website

Other Mobile Networks

Top Up Logo

A Pay As You Go bundle can also give you better control over your spending.

Unfortunately, other Pay Monthly mobile networks in the UK currently lack the ability for you to add a spend cap to your contract.

If you’d still like to use a different mobile network whilst keeping full control over how much you spend, it might also be worth considering a Pay As You Go bundle. With a Pay As You Go bundle, it isn’t possible to run up unexpected out-of-allowance charges as you can only use the credit that’s been topped-up to your account.

For £10/month, you can currently get the following bundles on Pay As You Go:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
ASDA Mobile600Unlimited2GB£10.00
giffgaff500Unlimited2GB£10.00
Three3,0003,0001GB£10.00
Vodafone200Unlimited1GB£10.00
EE1001,0001GB£10.00
O21001001GB£10.00

Some mobile networks like ASDA Mobile, giffgaff, Lebara Mobile and Lycamobile only offer services on a Pay As You Go basis.

For more information, please see our full comparison of Pay As You Go bundles. You can also order one of our top pick Pay As You Go SIM cards.

More Information

For more information about capped mobile contracts, please see the relevant pages on the BT Mobile, iD Mobile, Plusnet Mobile and Tesco Mobile websites.

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 5 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Asif Mehmood said:

    Ken, this was a great help. If people like you keep adding useful data on internet, it will ease life of thousands. Thank you.

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Asif,
      Many thanks for the feedback and I’m really glad you found this page to be helpful! 🙂
      Ken

  2. Sam said:

    What about Tello? – they say you can’t spend anything over your plan.

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Sam,
      Thanks for your comment. Tello is definitely another a good option (see my in-depth review here), though technically speaking they’re a pre-pay provider (Pay As You Go) rather than post-paid provider (Pay Monthly). For this reason, the concept of “capping” isn’t really meaningful – you can only use your phone within the inclusive plan allowances or within the top-up you’ve added to the phone. Saying that, I’ll have another think about the PAYG/PAYM distinction as it’s now not as clear as it was in the past.
      Ken

  3. Amy said:

    This is very useful information thanks.

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