Consumers are to be helped to handle spiralling living costs under plans to crack down on excessive mobile phone roaming charges and hidden price hikes in renewal notices, the Government has announced.
Consumer affairs minister Jo Swinson said a review will also look at making bill instalments more widely available to stop householders having no option but to pay heavy up-front charges for essential services such as parking permits, similar to the system already in place for council tax.
A second cross-Government review will focus on how to improve the transparency and content of information presented to consumers about their bills.
A Telecoms Consumer Action Plan to be developed over the next nine months with regulator Ofcom will make sure consumers have the right information and advice to get the best deals on phones, internet and the other telecoms products.
The plan will aim to make it easier to switch telecoms and broadband providers, increase transparency in contracts, end "bill shock", and join EU efforts to end roaming charges when using mobiles abroad.
Ms Swinson said: "People are understandably concerned about the spiralling cost of living. The coalition Government is already helping by cutting taxes for workers on low and middle incomes. I want us to do more to ease the strain on household budgets.
"Many households spend more on insurance than they do on council tax, yet many consumers are paying over the odds. Making it easier to compare the renewal price with last year's quote would encourage more people to shop around, and incentivise insurers to give more competitive renewal quotes in the first place.
"And lots of people have had a nasty surprise when unexpected roaming charges or data costs have suddenly meant a huge mobile phone bill out of the blue.
"So I'll be working with industry to review how we can help consumers get the best deal on a number of unavoidable, everyday expenses, which have previously been inflated with hidden or unnecessary costs.
"I very much hope that businesses will see sense and change any unfair practices voluntarily. If they don't, I am committed to using regulation to ensure consumers get the deals they deserve."
Ofcom said: "We strongly welcome the Government's commitment to support Ofcom with our work to ensure consumers get the best value for money from their telecommunications services.
"The action plan will look at a number of core issues which lie at the centre of Ofcom's consumer strategy. We are particularly pleased to see switching as a key priority for Government. This reinforces Ofcom's own work to help consumers change their provider with greater confidence and convenience."
Yesterday, Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards called on industry to work with Ofcom to make it simpler for consumers to change communications providers.
He said that despite the UK having one of the most competitive communications markets in the world, consumers could not take full advantage of the choice due to difficulties with changing provider.
He called on industry "to transform switching, to remove the inconvenience, delays and uncertainty that currently can bedevil consumers when trying to change their provider" and challenged providers to help deliver "a system that enables consumers to take advantage of the increasing competition and innovation available".
Mr Richards concluded that "removing the remaining barriers to switching is essential in ensuring that the communications sector continues to deliver real improvement in value for money during a time when the cost of living is so important for millions of people across the UK and Europe".
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "With our latest research showing one million more households are feeling the squeeze compared to last year, it's good to see the Government taking action to help people combat the rising cost of living.
"We've been calling for greater protection against shockingly high mobile phone bills, and we support measures to give people better information about insurance renewals so they can look for the best deal. We hope these proposals result in real benefits and reduced costs for consumers."