Mobile mischief

The cell phone has become the adult’s transitional object, replacing the toddler’s teddy bear for comfort and a sense of belonging.

Whatever reasons we all have for using mobile phones, more and more of us do so. In 2001, 75% of households had mobiles. Last year that figure had risen to 95%. Despite a reduction in call charges in real terms (from £52 in 2008 to £46 in 2013) a significant number of people experience difficulties with mobile phones.

A new report from Citizens Advice, Calling the Shots, examines the issues which prompted the 21,500 mobile phone problems reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service last year.
Of the 21,500 mobile phone problems reported to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service:

– 8,800 (39%) related to faulty handsets. Faulty mobile phone handsets cause headaches for consumers when manufacturers, network providers and retailers all fail to clarify where the responsibility lies.

– 3,500 (17%) related to poor service and leaving contracts

– 3,300 (16%) related to misleading sales practices

– 2,500 (12%) related to bill disputes

Mobile phone contracts are unclear as to services provided. People who believe they are entitled to services advertised like 3G or 4G or even network coverage where they live are told they must honour their contracts even when these services are not provided. Longer contracts increase this exposure. In 2009, one per cent of contracts were two years long (the maximum allowed under EU rules). The latest figures indicate this proportion has risen to 60%.

Citizens Advice has called for mobile phone companies to look at how they treat customers whose bills turn into problem debt. Bureaux helped people with 62,000 cases of phone and broadband debts last year.

What can you do if you encounter any of these difficulties?

If you are stuck in a contract with poor service speak directly to your supplier about the problems you have had, with evidence if possible, to explain why you should be able to leave the contract
If you have a faulty handset it is a retailer’s legal responsibility to ensure what they sell is fit for purpose. If a mobile phone is not fit for purpose the retailer you bought it from must offer a repair or partial refund up to six years after the purchase.

If your phone is stolen it is crucial you report stolen phones to your provider and the police as soon as possible. If you are charged for unauthorised calls on a stolen phone you should try and negotiate with the network and see if they will reduce the bill. Bear in mind that the maximum you can be charged is £100.

To dispute a bill, write a letter to your service provider. Send the letter to the service provider’s customer services department and keep a copy of your letter. If your complaint is not resolved satisfactorily, you could complain to the service provider’s redress scheme. Industry rules require service providers to be a member of Ombudsman Services: Communications or the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS).

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