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.

Overview of Capped Contracts

  • BT Mobile
  • EE
  • giffgaff
  • iD Mobile
  • O2
  • Sky Mobile
  • Tesco Mobile
  • Three
  • Virgin Mobile
  • Vodafone

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?

International roaming charges are covered by your monthly spend cap.

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

Pay As You Go is available with no credit check.

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:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
ThreeUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited£0.00
iD Mobile1,200Unlimited4GB£9.00
Tesco Mobile5005,0004GB£9.00
VodafoneUnlimitedUnlimited6GB£10.00
BT MobileUnlimitedUnlimited6GB£12.00
inc. £5 discount
giffgaffUnlimitedUnlimited4GB£12.00
Virgin Mobile2,500Unlimited4GB£12.00
O2UnlimitedUnlimited5GB£15.00
Sky Mobile10p/min
Free for
TV customers
10p/txt
Free for
TV customers
5GB£15.00
Plusnet MobileUnlimitedUnlimited4GB£15.00
EEUnlimitedUnlimited20GB£20.00

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:

BT Mobile

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?
Tariff Information: BT Mobile Website

EE

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.

You can set your spend cap when signing up for an EE contract.

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?
Tariff Information: EE Website

giffgaff

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.

Source: giffgaff Review
Tariff Information: giffgaff Website

iD Mobile

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.

Source: iD Mobile Bill Capping
Tariff Information: iD Mobile Website

O2

On O2, you’ll be able to add a Spend Cap to your plan of between £0 and £200 when signing up for your contract. This is listed in the checkout process under the “Your Spend Cap” heading:

O2 allows you to choose a spend cap of between £0 and £200.

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.

Source: O2 Help & Support: Spend Caps
Tariff Information: O2 Website

Plusnet Mobile

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:

  • 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). You’ll set this during the sign up process.
  • It’s real easy to change your Smart Cap, just go in your account and change it anytime. You can set it anywhere between low as £0.00 and £30.00.
  • 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!
You can set your Smart Cap spending limit during the Plusnet Mobile checkout process.

Prior to October 2018, Plusnet Mobile offered the Smart Cap feature but with a minimum spend cap of £2 per month.

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

Sky Mobile

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.

Source: Sky Mobile Help: Sky Mobile Spend Caps
Tariff Information: Sky Mobile website

Tesco Mobile

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’re in control
You decide how much you want to spend on top of your monthly tariff price, from zero to £100. Your bill won’t go higher than that.

If you’re super-cautious
If you don’t want to spend any extra, you can choose a zero bill cap. You won’t be able to do anything apart from use your monthly minutes, texts and data, so your bill will never be higher than your tariff price.

You’ll be given the option to set your “safety buffer” during the checkout on Tesco Mobile’s website.

Customers on Tesco Mobile can set a safety buffer of between zero and £100 (the default option is £5).

Source: Tesco Mobile: Capped Contract
Tariff Information: Tesco Mobile Website

Three

Three allows all Pay Monthly customers to set a monthly spend cap of between £0 and £100. You’ll be asked whether you want to “set a spending cap” during the online checkout process:

A spending cap will limit the amount you can spend on top of the cost of your monthly price plan. So, whether you’ve run out of minutes or data, or you want to make some premium rate calls that aren’t included in your allowance, you won’t need to worry about your bill.

Simply choose the maximum amount you’re willing to pay each month (on top of what you pay for your plan) and your bill will be capped so you won’t accidentally spend too much. You can choose from £10 – £100 in £10 increments, or set it at £0 if you prefer.

Your spending cap on Three can be set between £0 and £100 in £10 increments.

Existing customers can add a spend cap to their plan by calling 333 or by visiting a nearby Three retail store.

Source: Three FAQ: Controlling your spend
Tariff Information: Three Website

Virgin Mobile

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:

You can “add a spending cap” in the Virgin Mobile 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.

Source: Virgin Media Website
Tariff Information: Virgin Media Website

Vodafone

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.

Customers can manage their spend cap through Vodafone Spend Manager.

If you signed up to Vodafone before the 1st October 2018, you won’t be able to use the My Spend Manager service. However, you may still be eligible for data caps and roaming data caps on your plan.

Source: Vodafone: My Spend Manager
Tariff Information: Vodafone Website

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.

More Information

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.

Your Comments 10 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 10 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • Just for anyone interested all data on EE is capped and you can also take away the feature to buy extra data and add the cost tothe bill … EE are currebtly the only network provider to pro-actively help customers avoid third party charges as they have a 3 click rule where you are excepti g the charge 3 times before it applies to your bill this feature can also be removed from your plan the only feature not capped and not restrictable is calling outside of your allowance however monitering your usage is easy on EE through the app and sending sms for allowance left …😃😃

  • Low hanging fruit said:

    I am on an O2 contract and ran out data the data stopped straight away, it was capped without me asking for it to be

  • I find myself asking: what is the rationale behind these pseudo-caps? Why do the companies have them? Who do they benefit?

    I recently had a DATA-only monthly contract with EE. If I used all the data on my contract, EE would inform me and prevent me from incurring any out-of-contract charges. If I wanted to continue to use the tablet, I was able to buy extra data which would run for a month. Although the extra data was significantly more expensive than the pre-paid allowance in the contract, it was never prohibitively expensive.

    By contrast, I purchased a PAYG monthly rollover contract with Virgin Media (500 minuted, unlimited texts, 2Gb data). Virgin Media did not make it clear that there was a £50 cap in operation for out-of-contract expenditure. So, when I exhausted the 2Gb data, I took no action.

    Smartphones are designed to be ideally always online. This allows little updates to apps. These updates never take up much data, but they happen pretty well on a daily basis.

    Virgin Media have a policy of charging £1 for internet access per day, regardless of how much data you use.

    So, in my ignorance, my phone kept sipping away at updates; Virgin Media’s long fingers reached into my bank account…… and at the end of the first month, I discovered that VM had charged me £39 for 1Gb of data.

    Needless to say, I cancelled the contract.

    Why oh why are the customers so supine that they allow companies to provide pseudo-caps (from £2 upwards), such caps enabling the companies to make scandalous, out-of-allowance charges? Why oh why does no-one challenge this mealy-mouthed hypocrisy by which companies pretend that they are doing the customer a favour by enabling these pseudo-caps? And why oh why does no regulatory body take a hard look at how almost all the companies take part in this jamboree…..? Because, I tell you, the widespread existence of this nonsense looks to me, an outsider, like an illegal cartel!

  • Sky mobile has a cap

    Tesco Mobile does have a cap but it’s very easy for your child to extend or override it because their security is awful. My child ran up a bill of £300 in 3 months on the debit card that was attached to the account. You will not notice that it’s happening because Tesco mobile will not send you a payment receipt. They steal candy from children.

  • I got capped data on Vodafone i downloaded the myvodafone app set up y online account and I was able to cap my children’s data from my phone relatively easy. Worth mentioning as its the only highstreel retailer that does it i think looking at your list?

  • 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.

    • 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

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