Money: A mobile is not just for Christmas ...

Mobile phones are great Christmas gifts for people you don't like. Buy one for as little as pounds 10, and the recipient pays up to pounds 300 a year in line rental charges before making any calls. The mobile phone networks are starting to recognise that not everyone welcomes a present where they pay for most of it. Instead, most operators now offer a deal with a handset, up to a year's airtime and a limited number of "free" calls for one inclusive price of pounds 100-plus.

The latest packages operate on a "pre-pay" basis. Buy a phone in a high- street store and it comes with some airtime, usually a month, and some call credits. The owner can then buy vouchers for more airtime or calls from outlets including Woolworth and the Post Office, or buy extra minutes by credit card.

Retailers expect the packages to be hot Christmas sellers. Pre-pay phones are popular elsewhere in Europe: over a million Italians use them. The phone companies say pre-pay phones give users more control over their finances: just charge up the phone, put in a PIN number, and use it. Buyers know just what a call costs, and as calls are bought in advance there are no unexpected bills.

It sounds like a breakthrough. Consumer groups criticise the mobile phone sector for complicated contracts and charges. But higher call charges mean pre-pay mobiles can cost much more than an ordinary set on a monthly subscription. One2One's pre-pay service, Up2You, charges 50p a minute, regardless of time of day, for ongoing calls. Picking up voice-mail messages costs 10p a minute. One2One's regular service charges 30p for a peak-time call, 12p off-peak. Listening to voicemail is free.

On Orange's Just Talk service, 60 minutes of calls cost pounds 29.38 including VAT for ongoing calls - just under 49p a minute. Orange's Talk 60 costs 20p a minute peak and 10p a minute off-peak.

The networks say pre-pay calls have to cost more as the charges also cover line rental, and that the deals are still good. But this is not always so. An Orange user on Talk 60 pays exactly the same pounds 29.38 for both a month's line rental and 60 minutes of inclusive calls. Beyond that, the monthly subscriber starts to save significant amounts, because of the lower call charges. Phones for pre-pay services cost more, too.

There are other traps.Call credits on One2One expire after 90 days, even if not used. Unless you buy more credits, the phone is cut off, even for incoming calls. Even if you then buy more credits, to get back on line you may have to pay for reconnection.

On Orange, unused credits can also be wiped off, after 30 days for a block of 15 minutes, 60 days for 60 minutes, and 90 days for 200 minutes. But Orange gives incoming calls for up to six months from the last credit's use.

The networks concede that pre-pay phones won't suit everyone. People who want to control spending, and groups that might not pass a credit check are among the target groups."Pre-pay is for people who don't want to put themselves through a credit check or people who don't know how much they are going to need it," says Sarah Taylor, spokeswoman for Orange.Frequent users, and people with good credit ratings, will find lower costs by shopping around, however.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'