I’m afraid it’s a case of pay up or move along...

TIED IN Mobile phone contracts can change
TIED IN Mobile phone contracts can change
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Whatever your consumer problem, our expert Richard Thomson can help and offer advice. Here he answers more letters from readers.

Q Orange have notified me that they are about to amend my 24-month mobile phone service contract, increasing the direct debit payment by £1.16 extra a month. I know it’s not much but it’s the principle. Is this legal and how can I go about refusing the increase?

GJ (Internet)

A To understand whether this is legal requires some knowledge of contract law.

Put simply, a binding legally-enforceable contract needs three mutually agreed elements.

There must be an offer to provide goods or a service (or perhaps both); the offer has to be accepted; and there has to be something of value in exchange.

Applying these principles to mobile phone airtime contracts, the offer is to supply the service; you the customer accept the offer when you sign up or start using it; and the service has an identifiable value to the user.

So far so good. But what happens when one of the parties to the contract decides to change the original agreement?

Well, in short they can ask, but without the agreement of the other party they can’t impose new terms or conditions without their explicit agreement.

To get around this problem, mobile phone contracts usually contain a term which allows for price increases.

But if the subscriber doesn’t agree to accept what amounts to a new offer, another term in the contract will give them an equal right to cancel the contract without penalty.

So to put it succinctly and bluntly, it’s a case of pay up, shut up, or switch providers.

Q I split up with my boyfriend after five years and now he’s turning nasty about custody and access to our three-year-old daughter. I’ve been told to see a solicitor about it but I can’t afford it on a single mum’s income. Can you advise?

SB (Internet)

A While I believe your best course of action is to get some legal advice, I perfectly understand your dilemma.

Most family law solicitors are willing to give a half-hour or so of their time for an initial consultation free of charge.

This must be your first step.

After that, the cost of further legal help may be a deterrent.

The government has launched a new web application aimed at parents which may provide you with additional guidance. It can be viewed at sortingoutseparation.org.uk/en/hub.aspx

This is designed to head off criticism about the government’s decision to slash the legal aid bill by £359m and cease legal aid for family law cases from the end of this month – a shabby and disgraceful decision which will deprive thousands of vulnerable deserving people like you from access to justice.

SMALL PRINT

Richard Thomson has worked for leading UK and European companies as a market research analyst, and in consumer education and protection with trading standards. Write or e-mail him with your consumer questions or to fight for your rights at richardjthomson1@sky.com. An individual answer cannot be guaranteed. Replies are intended to give help or advice, not a complete statement of law.