EE's 'free' £20 power bar deal is back on, allowing EE mobile, broadband and tablet customers to get a portable smartphone charger just by texting to get a code (costs 35p) and showing it in store.
However, while its marketing makes it looks like this is a total freebie, legally it's a free hire agreement. This was something we explained in detail in our Get a 'free' £20 power bar portable mobile charger news story, but some who just saw EE's own information now say they feel duped – and we've had some ask us "is the offer a con?".
We don't believe it is a con – and do believe it's still a very good deal – but it has been poorly communicated and some feel misled over the exact nature of the deal.
As a result of this public pressure, when we raised these concerns, EE came back to us to let us know it had changed its terms and conditions to make them clearer – we've been through and can't see any tangible changes, other than clearing up phrasing.
So here we want to take you through in detail exactly how this hire agreement works, so you can make up your own mind.
Q. What does the hire agreement actually mean?
A. The reason it's a hire agreement is so EE (including Orange and T-Mobile) customers can swap their power bar for a fully-charged replacement bar at any EE store nationwide as many times as they like. That's one of the core perks of this particular deal over just buying a charger – the ability to walk into a store and swap it.
Yet it is also likely an attempt to restrict it so that if you are no longer an EE customer, you may not be able to use it anymore (or may have to pay).
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Q. But I've heard the power bar needs to be returned after 18 months?
A. Well indeed the terms do say that: "after 18 months, the power bar must be returned to EE and the service will end". This refers to the 18 months from when you first get the power bar – it doesn't restart every time you swap your power bar for another one.
However, EE has told us this clause is in there because it legally needs to state an end date to the promotion. It says in reality it will review the scheme as a whole after 18 months and decide whether to continue it, end it or to change it.
If the scheme continues in its current format, EE says it's unlikely it will force people to return the power bar after 18 months, or that it will charge them if they don't.
EE says: "As would be sensible after 18 months, EE will be reviewing the scheme." More information on what EE will do will be announced nearer the time. It adds that power bars won't last forever, so old power bars will need to be swapped for new ones.
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert, says: "I don't think this is that big a deal and it shouldn't especially put anyone off getting the power bar who wants it. If it does decide to close the deal after 18 months, trying to collect all the power bars in will be a massive logistical exercise, and it'd be far cheaper just to let people keep them.
"So the worst case scenario is you'll have to give it back in 18 months, but can use it in the meantime, the best case scenario is that it's yours forever. However of course, if that worries you and you're not using it, then take it back now."
Q. What happens if I leave EE?
If you get a power bar but later decide to cancel your EE mobile, broadband or tablet contract, EE's terms and conditions say you have to return the power bar to an EE store within 60 days.
If you don't, its terms and conditions say: "We reserve our legal rights to recover the power bar from you. If it is not possible to do this because it has been lost or stolen, we reserve our right to charge you for the costs we incur replacing the power bar.
"The power bar replacement charge will be set at EE's sole discretion and will be between £0.01 and £5.00 based on the depreciating value of the power bar."
However, EE says in reality customers who cancel their mobile or broadband contract and who don't return the power bar will not be charged – and they'll also continue to be able to use the swap scheme.
EE says: "It is not our intention to charge EE customers who have redeemed a code for a power bar if they don't return the power bar."
If you have experienced anything different, please let us know by tweeting @moneysavingexp or emailing us. Though it does seem to make sense as when we've tried swapping in store, we've not been asked for any details of being an EE customer.
Q. What if my power bar is damaged/lost/stolen?
A. Here the situation is slightly different depending on whether you're still an EE customer.
- EE customers: EE's terms and conditions don't mention a charge for customers whose power bar is lost, stolen, or broken. However, if you can't return your power bar after 18 months because it's lost or stolen, EE says it: "reserves our right to charge you for the costs we incur replacing the power bar.... between £0.01 and £5.00 based on the depreciating value of the power bar".
But EE says in reality if you lose the power or it gets stolen, you won't be charged. You "may" only be charged if you then decide you want a new power bar.
Whether this fee is charged is on a case-by-case basis. For example, if your power bar gets destroyed in an accident, you may be looked upon more favourably than someone who is on their fourth replacement power bar.
- Non-EE customers: It doesn't mention in the terms and conditions any charge for non-customers whose power bar is lost, stolen or damaged – but it tells us you won't be charged (and it's likely it would be difficult for it to enforce it anyway).
However if you want a new power bar you'll have to pay £20 to get a new one. This is the price non-EE customers pay to join the scheme in the first instance.
Q. Will the hire agreement affect my credit score?
A. EE says it won't report individual information on the power bar hire agreement to credit reference agencies, so getting a power bar will not affect your credit score.
However, be aware that information on mobile and broadband contracts is passed on to credit reference agencies by EE.
Therefore there is the risk that if EE charged you for the power bar and you had a contract, and refused to pay the power bar charge, that it could register that as a default, but it is unlikely.
Q. Is this deal really worth it? Can we believe EE?
A. Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, says: "It's important for me to start by saying that in practice, this is a cracking deal. The power bar is a very useful, little tool, as Clare tweeted me: 'EE power bar came into its own at Glastonbury... brilliant to just swap and queues not too bad.'
"Yet the issue here is one of communication. This is another example of a firm attempting to spin, which has left it head over heels. People are rightly peed off with EE over the message it put out.
"As you'll see above, it is effectively now saying its terms and conditions are there effectively as a worst-case scenario to protect it, rather than something it plans to enact.
"While I very much suspect it will live up to this – after all, its whole power bar launch was aimed to win positive PR – there isn't a cast iron guarantee. So if you go into this you need at the very extreme to be prepared to shell out up to £5 to leave (or £20 if you're a non-customer), if you lost your power bar and it called it in.
"Yet while this a good deal, those who just saw EE shouting about this as being free have a right to feel misled.
"I've even looked back at its original press release and there was no mention of the hire purchase agreement in that (we discovered it during research). So in the best case it's been negligent in not giving out relevant information, worse case it's been devious."