Customers misled over mobile phone contractsWhich? investigation reveals faulty instore advice
15 August 2012
An undercover Which? investigation has discovered that mobile phone shops are telling people that contract prices won't increase - but the truth is that prices can go up and four providers have hiked their's in the last year.
As part of our Fixed Means Fixed campaign we sent researchers to 39 phone shops across England. The team visited branches of the biggest network providers – O2, Orange, Three, T-Mobile and Vodafone – as well as independent chains Phones4U and Carphone Warehouse and posed as customers interested in taking out a new mobile phone contract.
Our fake shoppers were routinely given misleading information and staff often didn't explain what customers were signing up to.
Watch the video to see a snapshot of the answers we got, and the overall results of our research.
According to the phone providers, it's only the contract length that's ever fixed and not the price, but 36 of the 39 shop assistants (92%) we spoke to failed to explain this to our researchers. And even when specifically asked whether the price of the contract would stay the same over the length of the contract, 32 assistants (82%) maintained that it would.
This advice totally contradicts the experience of the millions of phone users that have seen the cost of their mobile phone contracts increase over the last year. Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone and Three all raised the price of their monthly tariffs for existing customers, outraging customers and leading to thousands of angry comments on Which? Conversation.
Shop staff confused by recent increases
Our researchers mentioned these recent price rises to the shop staff but even then, 28% still insisted that contract prices were fixed and couldn't increase. And those that did acknowledge that prices had gone up were very confused about why, and what might cause them to do so again. Many said the government was behind the increase because it had raised VAT, while one said regulator Ofcom was to blame.
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: 'Despite thousands of people backing our Fixed Means Fixed campaign, people still aren't being told the full story about price rises when signing up to contracts in mobile phone shops. Shockingly, even when we asked directly about price increases, the vast majority of staff denied this could happen.
'There should be no nasty surprises after signing a mobile contract. People must be confident that fixed really does mean fixed.'
We asked those firms that had put up their prices how they were going to prevent people being misled in the future. Three said it was 'actively briefing staff' to ensure customers understood their contracts while Vodafone told us 'We are already looking at how we can improve the information given to customers'. Orange and T-Mobile jointly said: 'Our store staff should always be aware of pricing details... If we find that they’re not, we will address this.'
Our research shows that there is clearly a problem with the way phone contracts are sold, and firms aren’t doing enough to explain how their contracts work.
That’s one of the reasons why we launched our Fixed Means Fixed campaign. Simply put, we think that a fixed contract should be just that – and that it must apply to all aspects, not just the length.
If providers can’t commit to this, then they need to be clear in their advertising and allow customers to cancel without penalty if they change the deal.
Pledge your support for the campaign and help us show the regulator, Ofcom, that consumers want swift and decisive action on this issue.
- Read more about the Fixed Means Fixed campaign
- Join the debate on mobile phone contract price rises
- See how else Which? campaigns for consumers