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Why can’t phone users cancel a contract if they find they have no coverage at home? August 17, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Outsourcing.
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Telecoms watchdog Ofcom recently published maps showing the expected 3G phone coverage across the UK for all the major service providers.  What’s scary for most consumers is the large amounts of dead space – usually in rural areas.
I know how difficult it can be to sometimes get a phone signal in the UK as I recently cycled from London to Lands End in Cornwall and I was often searching for a particular road, hoping to use the GPS function on my phone, only to find there was no signal.

But what happens if you buy a brand new phone and take it home, only to find that you can’t even get a reliable signal at home. Surely it means the product is not fit for purpose – just like buying a product that does not work, you should be able to return it to the shop? It seems that is very difficult. Most retailers don’t like to see you cancelling a juicy 18-month contract because of perceived poor signals at home.

There are now examples of consumers taking complaints to the courts, but this is not common. Most consumers just hope things will be improve, but there are even some phone operator adverts now featuring people hanging from the window trying to get a signal, implying that this is usual on other networks.

It should be simple to offer a cooling-off period after getting a phone, where you can test the signal, or even offering to allow potential customers to try the service using a temporary SIM. But the status quo is surely not acceptable. Why would anyone pay for a service that doesn’t work?

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Comments»

1. Kevin Donaldson - August 17, 2010

Buy it on-line and your covered by the UK distance selling regulations! Should give you 7 days to return the product. That’s the law.

Daniel Byrne - August 24, 2010

Mobile phone contracts often include goods (the phone) and services (the airtime).

The difficulty is that if you use the phone (as you must to know for sure it has poor signal) then you have affirmed the contract and started using the service and will be unable to return it under the ‘cooling off’ period.

If you were to order your phone and then check, e.g. 3G, coverage on the web and decide what you had ordered was not adequate for your needs you could cancel your order/contract as Kevin has suggested.

http://www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/business_leaflets/general/oft698.pdf

2. Daniel Byrne - August 24, 2010

I am not sure that I agree that a mobile phone is not ‘fit for purpose’ if it does not have good signal in the purchaser’s home.

Whilst more and more people are using mobile phones as their only phone, the vast majority of people have landlines in their homes. Mobile phones are just that: mobile. This is their anticipated ‘purpose’ and as long as you are able to make calls from (let’s say) a substantial number of places (outside your home) the purpose will be fulfilled.

It is an interesting question though as to whether coverage failure (on a bike, in an emergency, on a train…) constitutes any sort of breach of contract. I suspect this is sewn up in the terms and conditions of the telecommunications operators where coverage is stated not to be absolute.


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