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How to stop your children ringing up big mobile phone bills

Parents of kids with mobile phones can limit the financial pain by taking some basic precautions. Vicky Shaw reports

Two thirds of eight-to-15-year-olds have their own smartphone, according to a new survey
Vicky Shaw (PA)

MOBILE phones plus children can equal a big bill shock for parents. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of children aged eight to 15 now have their own smartphone, according to a new survey. This ranges from nearly one in five (19 per cent) eight-year-olds to 95 per cent of children aged 15.

But while two-fifths (40 per cent) of children claim they can download as many apps as they like, it's the parents who foot the bill, the Halifax Pocket Money Survey found.

More than four-fifths (82 per cent) of parents surveyed said they pay for their child's phone rather than have them contribute from their own pocket money.

For some parents, allowing a child to have their own mobile can lead to significant costs.

Citizens Advice says it has helped people hit with bills amounting to hundreds of pounds after their children have downloaded expensive content.

In one case, the charity assisted a parent handed a £300-plus bill after their 12-year-old son signed up to a games app.

It helped another parent faced with an £80 year-long subscription to an app his daughter had downloaded, thinking it was free.

So how can you rein in the costs when your child reaches for their mobile?

:: Choose your device wisely

Deciding on the right device can help parents avoid big bills further down the line.

Regulator Ofcom suggests considering what your child needs the device for before buying.

If it's simply to make calls and send a few texts and enable them to make contact in an emergency, a basic handset might be suitable. But if it's to explore the internet, download apps, watch videos and make or receive video calls, a smartphone or a tablet might be more appropriate.

Ofcom says parents concerned about buying advanced gadgets for young children might consider a toy version of smartphones or tablets, which have been produced by some manufacturers. It also recommends telling the retailer or network provider a child will be using the device so they can give you the most appropriate advice.

:: It pays to educate

Talking to your child about how mobile bills can add up could also help if you decide to take out a mobile contract, according to Ofcom. It says parents should ensure their children understand what the monthly call, text or data allowance is, and what happens if they go over that limit. They should also explain certain phone numbers, such as for competitions or voting, may be charged at a premium rate.

To avoid any mishaps, it might be worth talking to your provider about whether they can bar calls to certain numbers, such as premium-rate lines or international numbers.

Check the mobile device's settings, which give the ability to turn off in-app purchases.

Ofcom has video guides which explain how you can turn off or password protect in-app purchases.

:: Encourage your child to save

Halifax also suggests encouraging your child to become a saver rather than a spender. Potential incentives could include small rewards or a treat if they do not spend their savings.

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