Consumer: Pre-Xmas blow with your phone bill

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BT is putting its phone bills up on December 1, but its broadband and TV sectors continue to grow.

Millions of households struggling with soaring utility bills are to be dealt a pre-Christmas blow- as BT gets ready to increase prices by up to 6.5 per cent from December 1.

The telecoms giant will increase the price of standard line rental for direct debit customers by £1, or 6.25 per cent, to £16.99 from December, while the pence per minute (ppm) rate for calls to UK landlines and 0870 numbers will go up 6.44 per cent from 9p a minute to 9.58p.

The set-up fee for landline calls will increase from 15p to 15.97p, residential calls to the Timeline speaking clock will go up from 36.6p to 38.97p and call return will increase from 19.9p to 21.19p.

Broadband prices are going up by as much as 6.49 per cent, although BT said its current “high profile” press and TV broadband offers will stay the same price.

The cost of BT Basic, the phone service for low-income customers, will remain at £5.10 a month with a call allowance.

BT said the majority of its customers were on inclusive call packages and did not pay the set-up fee or ppm charges, stressing that calls bills had “decreased 14 per cent in the last five years”.

But it admitted those customers on the popular Unlimited Anytime Calls plan would see the price increase by 6.43 per cent from £7 a month to £7.45.

The move follows BT’s biggest rival, Sky, announcing it is to increase some tariffs on September 1.

BT Consumer chief executive John Petter said: “BT is sensitive to the tough economic times and we’ve taken care to make sure that low-income customers avoid price increases.

“We’ve added extra money-saving options for low-income customers and for customers who only want a phone line for calls.

“Although some prices have gone up, we want to help our customers to find the best value BT option with Right Plan.

“We are introducing extra ways for customers to maximise their savings, such as the UK’s cheapest line and broadband bundle for low-income customers and Home Phone Saver for customers who just want a great value standalone telephone package.”

However consumer campaigners warned the price hikes would be a “huge wrench” financially for many already struggling families - and urged providers to be more “up front” about planned increases much earlier.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Inflation-busting price rises are bad news for cash-strapped households. With the extremely tough pressures on household budgets at present and wages that will continue to stay way below inflation, even a small increase in phone and broadband bills could have a big impact on family finances.

“In the past 12 months, Citizens Advice has dealt with more than 62,000 telephone and broadband debt problems.

“Switching supplier is one way of avoiding extra costs, but with our clients reporting broadband cancellation fees of up to £625 when they switch, many will find themselves locked into deals which they want to get out of. Many standard television, broadband and phone packages come as bundles which can make it hard for consumers to spot price rises.

“Utility providers need to be up front with their customers about when prices are going up and where there are savings to be made. BT’s launch of a new broadband package for low income customers is a positive move that could be a relief to some people.

“It’s vital that any 
business treats with sympathy people who fall behind on their bills.” managing editor Guy Anker added: “It’s standard practice for companies such as BT to increase their prices every year, though it’s nevertheless a huge wrench for millions of customers.

“Yet the news is also a big trigger for any home phone and broadband customer to urgently check they’re on the best possible deal.

“Millions pay more than £300 a year for phone and broadband but it’s possible to slice these costs in half.”

Last month BT claimed its Premier League offering was helping it win its battle with Sky as it grew broadband and TV revenues by a quarter.

Middleton Park, Leeds.

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