Shock £300 bill for an app my son downloaded – the risks millions of parents are taking and how to stay safe

Shock £300 bill for an app my son downloaded – the risks millions of parents are taking and how to stay safe ••


Nearly one in five eight-year-olds has their own smartphone, research suggests.

A survey of children aged eight to 15 years old found two-thirds (67%) have their own smartphone, rising from 19% of eight-year-olds to 95% of children aged 15.

And tech-savvy children’s mobile phone habits have led to some shock bills for their parents, according to evidence seen by bodies helping consumers.

Some 82% of parents surveyed said they foot the bill for their child’s phone, rather than their offspring having to pay out of their own money, according to the findings from the Halifax Pocket Money Survey.

And expensive device

Citizens Advice said it helped one parent hit with a mobile phone bill of over £300 after their 12-year-old son signed up to a games app.

The charity also helped another parent who found himself paying for an £80 year-long subscription to an app that his daughter had downloaded, thinking it was free.

An investigation by consumer help website in 2015 also found in-game extras could cost as much as £80.

Giles Martin, head of savings at Halifax, said: “With more and more games, apps and music offered on smartphones, digital downloads are naturally becoming increasingly popular for kids to spend pocket money on.

“Although each download may seem fairly cheap, the costs can add up over the course of the year and their lack of ‘physical’ presence can make spending less visible.

“Parents could use this opportunity to spell out to their children how small amounts add up.”

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Cut the cost of childcare

How to keep control of the bill

Regulator Ofcom suggests parents buying a mobile for their child should consider what type of device they need.

If, for example, it is simply to make calls and send short text messages, or allow them to get in touch in an emergency, then a basic handset might fit the bill.

“If you decide to take out a mobile contract for your child – education is key,” Ofcom said in its official guide .

“Make sure they understand what the monthly call, text or data allowance is and the consequences of exceeding that limit. Explain that even an ‘unlimited’ allowance often comes with a fair-usage policy and they may be charged or have their usage restricted if they exceed it.

Financial support for parents

“If you’re worried that your child may inadvertently call numbers not included in the monthly allowance, speak to your provider about whether it can bar calls to certain numbers, such as premium rate lines or international numbers.

“Explain to your child that some services – such as horoscopes, competitions or voting on TV shows – are often charged at a premium rate and can cost up to £2.50 a minute from a mobile phone. There are also services where you can be charged for receiving regular updates on things like games or weather/news/traffic updates by text- these charges can soon add up.

“You may have concerns about your child playing costly app-based games. Although many games are free to sign up to or download, they can encourage in-game purchases which can lead to children racking up big mobile or credit or debit card bills.

“Check the device’s parental control settings which give you the ability to turn off in-app purchases. Ofcom has produced a series of video guides which explain how you can turn off or password protect in-app purchases on some of the most popular handsets.

“If you are worried about your child running up a high data bill as a result of using their device abroad or ‘roaming’ , consider turning off the data roaming function. Ofcom’s video guides also show you how to do this. Remember, even if the data roaming function is turned off it is still possible to use Wi-Fi.”

Ofcom’s full guidance for parents considering a mobile phone can be seen here .

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