MORE than half a million Three Mobile users have had their direct debits taken up to four weeks early leaving some with no cash and facing charges from their banks.
Three Mobile says a “processing error” saw it mistakenly take payments that had been due on April 15, 16, 26 and 29 yesterday.
The issue affects a whopping 550,000 of the provider’s millions of pay monthly and Sim-only mobile and mobile broadband users.
Pay-as-you-go users are unaffected.
‘I’ve had two orders cancelled and Netflix suspended’
But customers are furious about the error and some say they’ve been left with no cash to pay for other essentials.
How to cut your mobile bill
FIRSTLY, decide if you’re happy with your current deal and whether you want a new deal or handset – or both.
If you’re outside the minimum term of your contract then you can leave penalty free – and you might be able to find a cheaper deal elsewhere.
Pay-as-you-go deals are better for people who don’t regularly use their phone, while monthly contracts usually work out cheaper for those who do.
The best way to find a new deal is by checking comparison websites, such as MoneySupermarket and uSwitch.com, which compare tariffs and handset prices.
It’s also worth trying Billmonitor, it matches buyers to the best pay-monthly deal based on their previous three months of bills.
It only works if you’re a customer of EE, O2, Three, Vodafone or Tesco Mobile and you’ll need to log in with your online account details.
MobilePhoneChecker has a bill monitoring feature that recommends a tariff based on your monthly usage.
If you’re happy with your provider then it might be worth using your research to haggle a better deal.
One user tweeted: “Didn’t think @ThreeUK taking my phone bill out two weeks early was that much of an issue until I checked my emails and I’ve had two orders cancelled because they couldn’t take payment and my Netflix suspended because it should also have came out today.”
Another affected customer wrote: “Customer service from @ThreeUK is a joke. Called them on Sunday because suddenly my bill was a third more expensive than it’s supposed to be and now they’ve taken the whole amount out TWO weeks too early.”
While someone else said: “Who the F*CK thinks it’s okay due to an “ERROR” to take a direct debit almost two weeks early?”
Another said: “I’ve been affected and told via live chat I’m getting a refund. You can forget me making a manual payment though as that’s the WHOLE REASON for having a direct debit in place.”
I’m affected – do I need to do anything?
Three says it has contacted all affected customers by text to let them know about the error.
If you urgently need your money back you can request a refund from Three but this will take up to four days to process.
Alternatively, you should be able to get an immediate refund from your bank or card provider under the banking industry’s Direct Debit Guarantee.
If you do get a refund, you’ll need to pay your April bill manually before April 15.
You can do this through My3, using the Three app, or by calling it on 333.
Your direct debit will then automatically return back to normal from May.
I’ve been hit with bank charges, what can I do?
Some people may have been stung with overdraft fees or bounced payment fees from their bank if they didn’t have enough cash in their account to cover their early mobile bill.
Meanwhile others may have been charged late payment fees from other service providers if they don’t have enough cash in their accounts to pay for bills.
Steve Nowottny, news and features editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, which first spotted the problem, says he’s seen a number of people saying they’ve been hit with overdraft fees.
He said: “We’re already seeing a large number of complaints from very unhappy customers, with some saying they’ve been tipped into their overdraft.
“There’s a real risk many of these customers will then be hit with bank charges and left out of pocket as a result.”
Three says it will refund all customers in these scenarios but you do need to actively get in touch and you will need to provide proof of the charges – whether that’s screenshots or bank statements.
You can contact Three by calling 333 on your mobile.
A spokesperson for Three said: “Following a processing error, a number of customers have had their direct debit payment collected earlier than planned.
“We apologise wholeheartedly for the inconvenience caused and if any customer feels that they have been negatively impacted by this, please get in touch with our contact centre on 333.”
The mishap is another blow to Three Mobile users who will be hit with bill hikes of 2.5 per cent from May.
But we’ve put together three easy steps to avoid EE, O2, Three Mobile and Vodafone price rises.
We’ve also rounded-up how you can avoid Sky’s price hikes that take force this month.