Capped mobile contracts give you greater control over spending and out-of-allowance charges. Find out how to add a ‘spend cap’ to your plan.
In the UK, all mobile phone networks are now legally obliged to offer you the option of a ‘spend cap’ on Pay Monthly contracts.
A spend cap imposes an absolute limit on how much you can be charged by your mobile network for things outside of your regular price plan. This includes premium-rate phone calls and text messages, out-of-bundle usage, international calls and international roaming.
Spend caps are a great way of taking control over your phone bill and can reduce bill shock (unexpected charges for accidentally going over your allowance). It also provides some additional protection should your phone or SIM card get lost or stolen, and provides extra peace of mind if you’re buying a mobile phone for your kids and want to pay the bill for that handset.
In this article, we’ll look at capped mobile contracts in the UK. We’ll start with an overview of the best capped mobile contracts, before looking at how you can set a spend cap on each mobile network.
- 1 Overview of Capped Contracts
- 2 Recommended Capped Contract Deals
- 3 Capped Contracts: By Network
- 4 More Information
Overview of Capped Contracts
Traditionally, a key disadvantage of taking out Pay Monthly mobile contracts has been the fact that you’re automatically liable to pay for additional charges incurred on it.
Additional charges can result from out-of-allowance usage such as premium-rate calls and text messages (including reality TV voting), international calls and international roaming. For each of these, the charges can very quickly add up, giving customers an unexpected surprise when they get their bill the following month.
For greater control over spending, many people have therefore chosen a Pay As You Go tariff in the past.
Capped Contracts In The UK
From the 1st October 2018 onwards, Ofcom (the UK’s regulator for telecommunication services) has required every mobile network to have a “capped contract” offering. This means you’re now able to take out any Pay Monthly contract, and can ask to have a “spend cap” applied to it.
By adding a spend cap to your mobile contract, you can guarantee that you won’t accidentally run up a large phone bill by mistake. For instance, someone who has a £12/month price plan with a £5 spend cap can be guaranteed to never pay more than £17/month. If a certain type of usage is going to push your phone bill over the spend cap that’s been applied, your mobile network will need to bar that activity until you’ve given express permission to go over the limit.
Customers who took out their mobile phone contract before October 2018 may or may not be offered the option of capping their contract. There is only a legal requirement to offer capping to customers who started their contract after the 1st October 2018.
What’s Included & Excluded?
The spend cap on your mobile phone contract will cover additional usage charges from your mobile network above your regular monthly price plan. This includes the access charge for premium rate calls and text messages, out-of-allowance usage, international calls and international roaming charges.
The spend cap doesn’t cover additional services or bundles you may purchase from your mobile network (e.g. entertainment or additional bolt-ons to your plan). It also doesn’t cover any RPI-linked price increases or fees (e.g. for late payment or receiving printed bills). Finally, the spend caps don’t cover other payments you may make to companies through your mobile phone. This includes applications and in-app purchases from iTunes and Google Play, so you should continue to take precautions around this when giving a phone to your kids.
Alternatives to Capped Contracts
When you take out a capped mobile contract, you’ll still need to undergo a credit check as normal. You’ll also commit to remaining on your tariff for the duration of the contract (typically for 24 months if you’re buying a new smartphone). This may sometimes cause you to pay more than you need to (e.g. if you choose an expensive plan with more data than you need, or if you choose a lower cost plan with too little data and need to purchase add-ons for more data).
For this reason, some people will still prefer to get a Pay As You Go deal. With Pay As You Go, there’s no need to undergo a credit check and you have flexibility to change your price plan as required each month. You’ll also be able to change mobile networks whenever you like, and there’s no possibility of running up extra charges beyond the credit on your account. For children, a Pay As You Go deal may also be beneficial as it can encourages independence and responsibility for managing their own budget.
Recommended Capped Contract Deals
The following table shows some of our recommended deals, that are available on a capped contract basis. All of them will allow you to set a spend cap on your plan, from as little as £0 per month:
inc. £5 discount
For more information, see our full comparison of the UK’s best value SIM-only deals.
Capped Contracts: By Network
In the following section, we discuss the spend caps available on each UK network and how you can manage the spend cap on your plan:
In the UK, BT Mobile has offered spend caps as a key feature of their mobile network since launch in March 2015. By default, customers will receive a £40 spend cap over their normal monthly bill. However, this can be lowered through the BT Mobile website or app to as little as zero.
Source: BT Mobile Help: How can I manage my BT Mobile spend?
On EE, you’ll be offered the ability to add a Spend Cap when signing up for a new Pay Monthly contract. During the checkout process, this option is listed under the “Would you like to control your mobile spend?” sub-heading. Within this section, you’ll be able to choose a spend cap of between £0 and £50 over your normal monthly bill.
Existing customers who have joined or upgraded their EE plan since the 1st October 2018 can manage their Spend Cap through the My EE app. Alternatively, you can text SPEND CAP to 150 or dial 150 on your EE handset to manage your spend cap.
Once you reach your monthly spend cap, all out-of-bundle services will be barred until the end of the month. You’ll need to opt-in to “pausing your spend cap” if you’d like to access these services.
Customers who joined EE before October 2018 will have a data cap on their plan instead of a spend cap.
Source: EE Help Article: How do I set up and manage a Spend Cap?
On giffgaff, there’s no need to set a monthly spend cap as the service works on a pre-paid basis. You can sign up to giffgaff without undergoing a credit check, and will only be able to spend money that’s been topped up to your account.
If you have a giffgaff goodybag bundle, you’ll receive a text message notification once you’ve used 80% of your data, and another text message notification once you’ve used 100% of your allowance. After this, you can choose to renew your goodybag early or you can continue using data at a reduced rate of 2p/MB on Pay As You Go.
iD Mobile has offered bill capping since the launch of their mobile network in May 2015. This was originally only made available to customers choosing a “ShockProof” price plan, but is now available to all customers regardless of which price plan they choose.
When ordering a Pay Monthly contract through the iD Mobile website, you’ll be asked to choose a bill cap between £0 and £25 per month:
Existing iD Mobile customers can also change their bill cap at any time through the My iD Mobile application.
With the Spend Cap enabled, you’ll receive a text message when you reach 50% and 100% of your monthly Spend Cap. Out-of-allowance usage will also be barred once you reach 100%.
It’s possible to adjust your Spend Cap by contacting O2 through their Live Chat service or by calling 202.
On Plusnet Mobile, a feature called Smart Cap is included by default on all contracts. This is designed to give you greater control and peace of mind over your monthly phone bill, and allows you to set the maximum amount you’re happy to spend over your normal monthly allowance.
The Smart Cap can be set to any amount between £0 and £30 per month, in £1 increments. By default, it’s set to £10 unless you change it:
Prior to October 2018, Plusnet Mobile offered the Smart Cap feature but with a minimum spend cap of £2 per month.
Sky has offered monthly spend caps on Sky Mobile since October 2018. Both new and existing customers are able to set a spend cap on their account, of between zero and £100 per month on each SIM card (available in £1 increments).
You can change the spend cap at any time through the My Sky website.
Tesco Mobile was one of the UK’s first mobile networks to offer a “capped contract” option, with this having been available to customers since October 2009. With the capped contract option, you can choose a safety buffer of between zero and £100 over your normal monthly tariff price:
You’ll be given the option to set your “safety buffer” during the checkout on Tesco Mobile’s website.
Existing customers can add a spend cap to their plan by calling 333 or by visiting a nearby Three retail store.
If you’re on a Virgin Mobile Pay Monthly contract, it’s possible to set a spending cap on your plan of between £0 and £100 per month. This spend cap is for all additional spending over your regular monthly payment.
If you’re taking out a new contract online, you’ll be offered the option to “add a spending cap” during the checkout process:
Existing customers can manage their spending cap through the My Virgin Mobile app. If you took out your contract before November 2017, it might be necessary to upgrade to a newer price plan to take advantage of spend capping.
Vodafone offers a free service called My Spend Manager on all Pay Monthly contracts taken out from the 1st October 2018 onwards. The service can be enabled when signing up for your contract, or at any other time through the My Vodafone app.
It isn’t necessary for Pay As You Go mobile networks to offer a spend cap, as the charges you can incur are already limited by the Pay As You Go balance on your SIM card. It may sometimes still be beneficial to choose Pay As You Go over a capped contract, as you’ll get more flexibility to change your plan and there’ll be no need to undergo a credit check.
For more information about how the capped contracts work, please see the relevant help page on your mobile network’s website. You can also read our overview of mobile network deals and our in-depth reviews of each mobile network.