The People’s Operator: Review of UK’s Mobile Network With Charity Donations
December 15th, 2015
TPO Mobile, or The People’s Operator, gives 10% of your monthly phone bill to charity.
TPO Mobile (also known as The People’s Operator) is a UK-based mobile network with a unique model of charitable giving.
In July 2016, the company switched to using coverage from Three. However, a poorly managed migration has led to customer complaints and problems. Readers have also reported problems getting a response from TPO customer services. Prior to July 2016, TPO Mobile offered coverage from EE.
The unique selling point of TPO Mobile is their offer to donate 10% of your monthly phone bill to charity. In 2015, a total of £79,000 was donated to charity whilst the company made an annual loss of £10.5 million. As of March 2016, TPO has 80,000 subscribers in the UK.
In this article, we review TPO Mobile. We’ll look at their price plans and tariffs, and also at their commitment to give to charitable causes. Finally, we’ll discuss the level of coverage you can expect on the network and how you can keep an old phone number when switching to TPO Mobile.
- 1 Pricing & Tariffs
- 2 Charitable Giving
- 3 Poor Customer Support
- 4 Unlocked Handsets
- 5 Network & Coverage
- 6 Keeping Your Phone Number
- 7 Popularity & Number of Subscribers
- 8 More Information
Pricing & Tariffs
The People’s Operator offers a choice of Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go tariffs. All of their price plans are provided SIM-only (you’ll need to provide your own unlocked smartphone to use with the service).
There’s currently a choice of five Pay Monthly SIM cards on The People’s Operator:
For a full comparison and to see how The People’s Operator stacks up against rival networks, please see our in-depth comparison of SIM only deals available in the UK.
Pay As You Go
Customers can also use a Pay As You Go service from The People’s Operator. Here, you’ll pay 4p/minute, 3p/text and 2p/MB when accessing the internet. With the average smartphone user consuming around 25MB per day, you can expect to pay around 50p/day when accessing the internet.
Customers using their phone on a fairly regular basis may find it better value to convert their credit into a 30-day bundle. Known as the three Hero Bundles, you’ll get a set amount of minutes, texts and internet to use at any time over the next 30 days. At present, there are five Pay As You Go bundles available.
Any allowances that remain unused after the 30 days will automatically expire along with your bundle. If you use up the allowances included in your bundle, you’ll revert to paying TPO’s standard rates:
|Voice Calls||4p/minute (any network, any time)|
|Calls to TPO Customers||100 minutes free every month (subject to £10 monthly top-up)|
|Calls to Voicemail||4p/minute|
|Text Message (SMS)||3p|
|Texts to TPO Customers||250 messages free every month (subject to £10 monthly top-up)|
|Picture Message (MMS)||30p|
|Mobile Internet||2p/MB (approx 50p/day)|
On Pay As You Go, The People’s Operator is fairly competitive against the mainstream networks (networks such as EE, O2 and Vodafone will typically charge you 30p/minute and 12p/text). For a cheaper alternative, Three currently charges just 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB (read our full review of the 321 tariff). Alternatively, Talkmobile charges 10p/call (up to an hour in length), 4p/text and 2p/MB.
For more information, see our price comparison table for Pay As You Go tariffs in the UK.
Premium Rate Numbers
By default, premium rate phone numbers are blocked on The People’s Operator. If you’d like to call or text a premium rate phone number, you’ll be required to provide a £100 deposit to The People’s Operator. You may also be asked to provide a copy of your bank statements for the past 3 months.
A unique selling point of The People’s Operator is there’s a charitable donation included in the monthly cost. The charitable donation amounts for 10% of your monthly mobile spend excluding VAT.
The People’s Operator has also pledged to donate 25% of their future profits to charity (so far, this is mainly academic as the company made a loss of £10.5m in the last financial year).
10% Of Your Monthly Mobile Spend
Each month, subject to certain conditions, The People’s Operator will donate 10% of your mobile tariff spend to a charitable cause or organisation. The amount donated excludes VAT so for a customer spending £10/month on The People’s Operator, the charitable donation will amount to 83p/month.
In 2015, a total of £78,679 was donated to charity. Amongst the 80,000 customers using The People’s Operator, this amounts to an average donation of 98p per TPO customer.
When signing up for TPO Mobile, you’ll need to choose the charity or organisation that benefits from your donation. The money will only be sent when total donations reach £50 or more. There are a wide range of charities and organisations to choose from: everything from big household names like the NSPCC to local organisations such as your school, church or hospital. You can also donate to political organisations including the Labour Party and the Unite trade union.
You can search for charities and organisations under the “Find a charity, cause or enter your Partner Code” heading when ordering a SIM card.
|Your Total Monthly Spend||10% Charitable Donation|
|Including VAT @ 20%||Excluding 20% VAT||Per Month||Per Year|
In our opinion, there are some key limitations to this model of charitable giving.
Firstly, your chosen charity will only receive their donation when their total amount donated reaches £50 or more. Assuming you were to pay £10/month on your phone bill with no other customers choosing the same charity, your donation will accumulate at the rate of £10/year. It would therefore take five years for your charity of your choice to actually receive their donation.
Secondly, charitable donations via TPO aren’t tax efficient. Namely, they aren’t boosted by government tax relief. For basic rate tax payers, an additional 25p of Gift Aid can normally be claimed for every £1 donated. For higher rate tax payers, another 25p can normally be claimed via your tax return. For charitable donations via TPO, Gift Aid top-ups are not available. Furthermore, you’ll be paying 20% VAT on your charitable donation (no VAT will apply for direct charitable donations).
Because of these two limitations, you’ll potentially do a lot more good for charity by saving money elsewhere and donating the difference directly to charity.
25% of TPO’s Profits
The People’s Operator has pledged to give 25% of future profits earned to the TPO Foundation.
The TPO Foundation is chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly and has been “set up to award funds to organisations, local communities and charities that are trying to make a positive difference to people’s lives”.
So far, the pledge to give 25% of their profits to charity has mainly been academic. This is because The People’s Operator is a loss-making company. In 2015, The People’s Operator made an annual loss of £10.5 million.
The People’s Operator is itself a for-profit company, floated on the AIM stock exchange under the TPOP ticker. More information can be found in their 2015 annual report.
|Financial Year||Operating Loss|
Source: The People’s Operator 2015 annual accounts (available here).
The People’s Operator has political connections to the British Labour Party. They’ve championed Labour as a “progressive cause” on their website as well as various trade unions including the GMB, the PCS and Unite.
In the past, The People’s Operator has actively supported Labour by providing a number of subsidised deals for Labour party members who used the network for campaigning. In 2013, The People’s Operator was criticised in the UK press for its connections to Unite.
Although the network actively supports Labour, it doesn’t prevent customers from choosing to donate 10% of their bill to other political parties (e.g. the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats or the SNP).
Poor Customer Support
In July 2016, TPO migrated from their previous service on EE to a new service on Three. Unfortunately, a large number of readers have reported problems with the migration including the loss of their phone number, credit or service. Customers have also reported problems getting a response from TPO customer services.
For the time being, we would recommend readers against joining the TPO mobile network, at least until the ongoing problems with the service can be resolved.
The People’s Operator is a SIM-only network. You can’t buy a handset from TPO: instead you’ll need to provide an unlocked handset of your own. This can either be a new handset that has been purchased SIM-free or it can be an old or existing handset that’s been unlocked from your network. For more information, see our in-depth guides to unlocking an iPhone, unlocking a Samsung Galaxy or unlocking another device.
When ordering a SIM card from The People’s Operator website, you’ll need to choose the size of SIM card you require. The required SIM card type will depend on your smartphone: see the guide here to find out which SIM card you need.
Network & Coverage
3G & 4G Coverage from Three
The People’s Operator is one of the UK’s virtual network operators (MVNOs).
As of July 2016, TPO Mobile is using Three as a network coverage provider. Customers using TPO Mobile will therefore receive 97% population coverage using Three’s 3G & 4G networks. You can check the coverage in your area by entering your postcode on TPO’s online coverage map.
Between November 2012 and July 2016, TPO Mobile used the EE network for coverage. Customers using the old TPO service on EE had access to 2G and 3G coverage from EE.
Tethering means sharing the mobile internet connection from your smartphone on to other devices (e.g. onto a tablet or laptop). Typically, this involves making use of the portable wi-fi hotspot feature on your smartphone.
Unfortunately, tethering and portable wi-fi hotspot is not permitted on The People’s Operator. Their fair usage policy on both Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go says: “Using your phone as a modem (tethering) is not permitted.”
By default, international roaming is disabled on The People’s Operator (so you can’t use your phone outside of the UK). If you’d like to enable international roaming on your account, you’ll need to pay a £50 deposit to The People’s Operator. You may also be asked to provide a copy of your bank statements for the past 3 months.
Keeping Your Phone Number
If you’re switching to The People’s Operator, it’s a straightforward process to keep your existing phone number.
After receiving the PAC Code from your old network, you’ll need to get in touch with TPO Customer Services. You can either call 500 from your TPO handset (free on Pay Monthly or 5p/minute on Pay As You Go) or you can call 0333 313 7760 from any other phone. The People’s Operator will handle the transfer of your phone number (it normally takes about one working day once you’ve given them the PAC Code).
For a step-by-step guide on moving your number to TPO, please select your current network operator:
|PAC Code Finder: Transfer Your Phone Number to TPO Mobile|
For more information on transferring your phone number between networks, please see our guide on PAC Codes.
Popularity & Number of Subscribers
According to a regulatory filing from The People’s Operator, they have 80,489 subscribers as of the 31st March 2016. This makes them a relatively small player in the UK market (other virtual network operators such as giffgaff and Tesco Mobile typically have more than a million subscribers).
|Date||Number of Subscribers|
|31st March 2016||80,489 (22,595 PAYM & 57,894 PAYG)|
|31st December 2015||69,000|
|29th September 2015||50,360|
|12th May 2015||30,000|
|30th April 2015||28,200 (9,680 PAYM & 18,520 PAYG)|
|31st December 2014||14,032|
|31st October 2014||10,913|
|30th June 2014||5,800|
|31st December 2013||2,400|
For more information, please see the TPO Mobile website.
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.