Mobile phone owners in the UK will only be liable for £100 of charges that unauthorised users rack up on a stolen phone, under a new consumer protection scheme.
Three, EE, O2, Virgin, and Vodafone have agreed to a government-backed initiative to place a £100 cap on consumers' liability for unauthorised usage, as long as the phone is reported to the police as lost or stolen within 24 hours.
The move is meant to protect the around 27 million consumers that have monthly phone contracts and could receive an expensive bill in the event they lose their phone or have it stolen. According to the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit, 300,0000 mobile phones are reported stolen to police each year in the UK.
"By working with the mobile operators, we have secured an agreement that will provide consumers with real benefits as well as offer peace of mind," Ed Vaizey, minister for the digital economy, said.
Three has been offering this protection to its customers since January, while EE plans to introduce it in the coming weeks, followed by Virgin in July, Vodafone this summer, and O2 in September.
If customers want the additional protection, they'll need to show that they've taken adequate care of their device and operators can request proof a device has been stolen, such as a crime reference number.
Carriers can refuse the liability cap if the customer hasn't taken care of the handset or if "reasonable precautions were not taken to protect the device". The cap will not be offered if the person reporting a device as lost or stolen is suspected of fraud.
"We urge customers, though, to continue taking steps to look after their phone - always using a PIN, installing a tracker App, registering devices at www.immobilise.com and reporting a loss as soon as possible. All these steps taken together will continue to limit the impact and inconvenience that customers suffer when mobiles are lost or stolen," said Hamish MacLeod, chair of the Mobile Broadband Group.
The liability cap is part of a new billing code of conduct for mobile network operators in the UK that aims to address unexpectedly high bills for customers on mobile network contracts.
The code was developed in consultation with the UK government and telecoms regulator Ofcom.
The code also covers 'out of bundle' charges, such as excess fees for going over a data limit. Operators will now start providing alerts to inform customers when they reach their maximum data usage.
Operators have also agreed to provide tools and information to control roaming costs, such as text message alerts upon arriving in a foreign country, information about how to disable roaming, and details to help consumers avoid inadvertently roaming when they travel near a national boarder.
The code also covers in-app purchases and premium rate services.
Read more on mobile