A B.C. man called a toll-free mental health hotline. He was charged $33 for the call

Philip worries other people who may have not noticed could have been accidentally charged for using mental health hotlines.  (Janella Hamilton/CBC - image credit)
Philip worries other people who may have not noticed could have been accidentally charged for using mental health hotlines. (Janella Hamilton/CBC - image credit)

A Metro Vancouver man was shocked when his phone provider charged him for a call with a toll-free hotline for mental health support.

CBC has agreed to refer to the man by his first name only, Philip, as he fears stigma in his workplace and because he has not yet told his family about his struggles with mental health.

After feeling overwhelmed by work and other personal struggles, Philip called the B.C. Crisis Centre's 310-6789 mental health support line on May 3. The call lasted 22 minutes.

"I was going through a rough patch. . . it was a very extreme amount of stress on me at that time."

A few days later, he noticed a $33 charge for that call on his Freedom Mobile account, listed as an international call.

Freedom Mobile refunded Philip after he contacted customer support. But he says reaching out to the company was time-consuming and forced him to break the anonymity that the hotline offers.

"I had thought about, 'should I even continue to follow up on this?'" Philip told CBC News. "Given that I would have to disclose my identity to certain people."

Philip says he is speaking up out of concern that other people may have been charged for similar calls and have not noticed.

He said elderly people, for example, may not have an online account with their phone provider that they regularly check.

Michael Wilson/CBC
Michael Wilson/CBC

Philip believes people should be able to access mental health services without repercussions or hardships of any kind.

"People who are most vulnerable use this service," he said.

Freedom Mobile wrote in a Saturday statement to CBC News that Philip should not have been charged for the call and they are working to implement a permanent solution to the issue "within the next 24 hours."

"An unfortunate technical problem seems to have led to the charge appearing on the customer's invoice," the statement read.

The phone provider says until the problem is resolved, customers who have the same issue should reach out to their customer service to have the charges erased.

'Not supposed to be that way' 

Stacy Ashton, executive director of the Crisis Centre of B.C., says a surprise charge can be detrimental for someone who is already experiencing mental health struggles.

"If you're in a situation where you're needing the support of a crisis line, the last thing you need is an unexpected phone bill," said Ashton.

Ashton said they have received similar complaints in the past with different cell phone providers, but in each case, the provider has rectified the charge right away.

"It's not supposed to be that way, these numbers are toll-free," said Ashton.

She said anyone who finds themselves in the same situation should call them right away to have the charge removed.

"It isn't anything to be ashamed of. If you see a charge like this, it is absolutely a mistake," she said.