Your number's up if you don't use your pay-as-you-go phone


I am a pensioner who has had a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) mobile with Vodafone for 20 years. Last week, when I used the phone, I received the message “unregistered sim”. Vodafone said my number did not exist. I eventually discovered the number had been allocated to another customer because I had not used my phone for some time. Because of that, it was unable to access my account to refund my balance. I had about £30 unspent. This feels like theft.
MF, Croydon

Many people, like you, keep a PAYG phone for emergency use. And many, like you, fall foul of a little-known rule that a sim card is deactivated, and the credit expires, if it’s not used often enough. Some smaller telecoms providers do this after as few as 70 days of inactivity. There is logic behind it – the fear that the UK will one day run out of phone numbers.

“The process of disconnecting unused sims is vital, as many are not used, or discontinued, without the customer informing the network,” Vodafone told me. “We have an obligation to recycle a finite amount of numbers and also to keep our systems affordable as each ‘active’ sim requires management.”

Vodafone actually gives customers longer than most – nine months – before cutting them off. It’s now reduced this to six months. To prevent this happening send a text, or make a call, every couple of months. Vodafone says it would have sent you a text after 180 days of inactivity that warns customers they will lose their service and their credit within 90 days unless they make a call, send a text or use data. You probably didn’t see this as you seldom use the handset.

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Happily, Vodafone has now reconnected your number. It has also reinstated the credit and, although it was not in the wrong here, paid you £20 in goodwill.

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