Mobile phone problems Your mobile phone rights

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Mobile phone contracts are almost as complex as the technology behind the mobile phones themselves. If something goes wrong, it can be difficult to know who to complain to and what kind of resolution you should expect.

Below we have summarised what your rights are when you buy a mobile phone and mobile contract. For more advice on how to complain see our mobile phone complaint letter templates.

And you can see how all the networks performed in our mobile phone customer satisfaction survey.

Your right to change your mind about your new mobile service or phone

If you buy your mobile online or over the phone

If you buy a mobile handset online, by mail order or over the phone without also taking out a mobile service contract, the UK Distance Selling Regulations give you seven working days from the day after you receive the handset to return it and receive a refund. You don't have to give a reason. 

If you take out a pay-as-you-go or pay-monthly mobile contract at the same time, you still have the right to cancel the order and receive a full refund for up to seven working days from the day after you place the order. However, you waive your distance selling cancellation rights if you ask for the mobile phone service to start immediately.

If you buy your mobile in a high street shop

If you buy from a high street shop, you don't automatically have any cancellation rights if there's no problem with the handset or mobile service. Some shops may voluntarily offer return policies.

Faulty mobile handsets

Your mobile handset will normally have a manufacturer's guarantee that you can claim on if your phone develops a fault during the guarantee period. But it won't be covered if you've caused the damage yourself or misused the phone.

Regardless of the manufacturer's warranty, under the Sale of Goods Act the retailer is obliged to offer a refund, repair or replacement if your mobile handset develops a fault within a certain time period. Your options depend on what's happened and how old the mobile handset was when it developed the fault. 

Generally speaking, if the fault develops within six months the law assumes that the fault was inherent in the phone unless the retailer can actually prove otherwise. After six months, you may be required to prove you didn't cause the fault, for example by mishandling the phone. For more about this see the Which? guide to dealing with faulty goods.

Mobile mis-selling

If you bought a mobile phone or mobile contract, it must be of satisfactory quality, fit for its purpose and as described. 

If either the phone or the contract is not as described when you made your agreement with the retailer, this is classed as mobile mis-selling. If you bought your phone or mobile contract directly from a service provider (such as Orange or Vodafone), contact it and complain that you've been mis-sold your mobile contract. If you can't resolve your problem with your provider, contact Otelo or Cisas (see 'How to complain if your mobile provider won't help', below).

Third-party mobile retailers

If you bought your mobile contract from a third-party retailer such as Phones4U or an online retailer, first complain to the retailer that sold you the contract. 

If that fails, contact your mobile network. Although mobile watchdog Ofcom doesn't directly regulate third-party retailers, it has put rules in place to ensure that they meet certain standards.

The onus is on mobile operators to make sure this happens. If neither your mobile retailer nor your network will help, contact Ofcom for advice.

See who was rated the best mobile phone retailers in our customer satisfaction survey.

Cancelling your mobile contract early

Before you sign up with a new mobile service provider, check whether you have the right to cancel your contract and, if so, at what stage. 

If you cancel before the minimum contract term is up, you'll have to pay an early termination fee. In most cases this will be very high - as much as the cost of all the monthly fees until the end of the contract term as a lump sum. So, if you signed up to an 18-month contract and want to cancel in the second month, you might have to pay 16 months' worth of fees.

At the moment there are no rules in place that allow you to cancel because of poor network coverage - this includes if you move house to an area where you can't get a mobile signal. 

If you want to cancel after your initial contract term is up, you can do so at any stage, although most companies require 30 days' notice.

How to complain if your mobile provider won't help

Every mobile phone service provider must belong to one of two telecoms dispute resolution schemes, Cisas or the Communication Ombudsman Services. These are independent complaints schemes that will investigate your complaint about a mobile phone service provider if you haven't been able to resolve your problem with them directly.

You must give the service provider a chance to resolve the complaint first, going through its formal complaints procedure if necessary. 

If it can't or won't help, after eight weeks you can take your complaint to the Ombudsman Service or Cisas. You can contact them earlier if your mobile provider issues you with a 'deadlock letter' stating that it will not deal with your complaint. 

The Ombudsman Service and Cisas only deal with complaints about mobile service providers (the company you pay for your service) and not about other mobile phone retailers that 'resell' mobile contracts but don't operate their own service (for example, Phones4U).

Cisas and the Ombudsman Service can make your service provider:

  • apologise and/or explain its actions
  • give you a product or service
  • pay you compensation for any loss you can prove you have suffered.

If you have a problem you can also contact Ofcom, the telecoms regulator. It can't intervene directly with your individual problem, but it monitors all consumer issues and can fine a company if it identifies serious ongoing problems.

How well a mobile operator deals with your complaint may depend on the quality of its customer service. 

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