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Mobile Phones


While some people think of mobile phones as a curse, many see them as a blessing. Whatever your view, it is fair to say that they have changed totally the telephone and communication industries. Also, particularly among young people, mobile phones are often looked upon as a status symbol or fashion accessory.

What the law says

As with land line telephone companies, mobile phone companies operate under licences issued by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. One of the main jobs of the Office of Communications (Ofcom) is to make sure that the mobile phone companies do what their licences say they must do.

As with the purchase of other goods and services, when you buy a mobile phone, you are covered by the normal consumer protection laws. These say, among other things, that the goods must be of satisfactory quality (see General Advice on Goods and Services and also the consumer leaflet Check out your rights - Mobile Phone), fit for any specified purpose and properly described. Any service must be provided with reasonable skill and care.

Useful information

Competition in the mobile phone industry has led to the introduction of many different offers. NIACT (now Ofcom) estimated that a proper study of all the tariff packages offered by the different service providers would take over one hundred hours. You will probably not have the time or the energy to do this. But you can help reduce the risk of buying an unsuitable or expensive package by telling the seller what your usage pattern is likely to be. You should also shop around to see what other deals are available elsewhere. You can also protect yourself further. Insist on a flexible package so that you can change your contract if your actual usage turns out to be different from what you had expected it to be.

Consumers can also use a price comparison service which has been accredited by Ofcom. BillMonitor provides accurate and up to date pricing information to enable them to choose the best mobile deal for them.

Some people are concerned about the areas covered by the different mobile phone networks. Such concern was more valid in the past. But today, most networks cover broadly the same areas. However, you must remember that mobile phones use radio waves to carry their signals. Unlike land lines, these can be blocked in a very localised area by something like a small hill or a tall building. If coverage is one of your concerns, ask the seller to let you see the latest coverage map for the network being offered.

If you plan using your mobile phone while abroad, ask the seller about the cost of so doing. All new phones have an international call bar. Some service providers will lift the bar free of charge whil others may charge a fee so check witth your provider first. International call charges are of course more costly than national ones. In Northern Ireland, there is a particular problem around the border. There, the mobile phone signal is stronger for the Republic of Ireland networks and these accept and send the signal. As phone signals do not of course recognise international borders they also charge the more expensive international tariff.

You can unsubscribe from or stop any service that charges you for receiving texts by replying with the word STOP to the SMS or TEXT Short Code number. Make sure you send only the word 'STOP' - it doesn't matter if you use capital letters or lowercase.

Phone-paid services in the UK are regulated by PhonepayPlus and you can check their website for further advice if you're having a problem with premium rate goods and services.


What to do if you have a complaint

If you've a complaint about your mobile phone, try to sort it out first, and without delay, with the shop where you bought it. If your complaint is about your bill or terms in your contract, get in touch with your service provider. You should follow your service provider's complaints procedure. If you are not satisfied with their response you should then contact the company's Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. The company should have one, the contact details are usually on the back of your phone bill. The ADR scheme most commonly used is the Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman (Otelo). If you are still not happy with the decision of the ADR you should contact Ofcom for further advice. Their contact details are shown below.

If you remain dissatisfied, you may wish to consider taking court action. If the amount involved is not more than 3,000, you can take your case yourself to the Small Claims Court. Talk to Consumerline on 0300 123 6262, your local Advice Centre or Citizens Advice. They can advise you how to apply. For larger amounts, you should talk to a solicitor.

Ombudsman Services: Communications
PO Box 730
Phone: 0330 440 1614/Textphone 0330 440 1600
Ofcom Contact Team
Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road
Phone: 0300 123 3333/Textphone 020 7981 3043
Fax: 0300 123 3334
Ofcom Northern Ireland
2nd Floor Landmark House, 5 Cromac Quay
The Gasworks, Ormeau Road
Phone: 028 9041 7500
Fax: 028 9041 7533
Clove Building
4 Maguire Street
Phone: 020 7940 7474

From category: Buying Goods & Services