Hunter teens racking up phone bills over $1000

TEENAGERS are racking up mobile phone bills of between $1000 to $1500 per month, tipping the balance in some Hunter households already struggling with soaring debts.

Parents are suffering ‘‘bill shock’’ when they’re faced with the costs of their children’s phone use because they didn’t understand their mobile phone plans.

Lifeline Newcastle & Hunter’s manager of financial counselling Wendy Maile said the service had seen more single parents taking on mobile phone contracts for their teenaged children and having to wear the debt.

‘‘When a contract is taken out, they [parents] usually experience bill shock with the first bill, which is usually roughly around $1000 to $1500 for the first month, because the awareness of the cost of the calls is not reinforced in the parent,’’ Ms Maile said.

‘‘For the teenager it’s about keeping in touch with their friends ... but the reality is that each message they send and each call they are making is costing money.

‘‘We have children as young as six asking for phones from parents so it’s quite a concern.’’

If the parent cancelled the mobile phone contract they were then left with exit fees of up to $4000 for the plan, depending on what sort of phone it was, Ms Maile said.

‘‘If they get a large bill they will look for resources to pay for that bill and if they can get a Centrelink loan, that is often what they will do to cover that large debt.’’

Lifeline advocated pre-paid mobile phones so that once an agreed level of credit ran out, children could not continue to make calls, Ms Maile said.

Lifeline cases included a client who bought two phones for daughters and received a bill for $1800.

With help from Lifeline and the Telecommunications Ombudsman, the debt was reduced to $800, Ms Maile said.

One in 10 calls made to Lifeline last week was from someone who believed suicide was the only option left to them. The service had received record numbers of suicide-related calls since November last year. That increase includes rising numbers of clients facing crushing debt who have considered suicide.

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