What to do if you have a problem with a mobile phone handset

If your new or second hand mobile phone breaks, does not work as it is supposed to or does not match the seller’s description you may be able to do something about it.  These are your legal rights when you buy from a trader, that the handset should be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described, otherwise you may be able to get a refund, repair or replacement from your retailer or mobile phone service provider.  

Your rights:

  • For a handset to be of satisfactory quality it should last for a reasonable period of time if used properly, and this may depend on the price, whether it was new or secondhand and any other relevant circumstances.
  • If the handset develops a problem early on, you have 30 days to return it for a full refund, and if you agree to a repair, the 30 day period is interrupted while the repair is carried out.  You get the rest of the 30 days after getting the handset back or 7 days, whichever is longer. You will have to show that the problem was there when you were supplied with the handset.
  • Alternatively, you could agree to a free repair or a same model replacement, and for the first 6 months if the supplier does not believe that there was a problem when it was first provided, they will have to show that you caused the damage yourself.
  • If both a repair or a replacement are possible, then it is a question of balancing how long each would take and how much inconvenience each would cause against how much it would cost the supplier to provide each one, bearing in mind your preference.  
  • If your phone forms part of a service contract, your claim would be against your service provider.  However, if it was purchased on its own, without any monthly contract, then it is the retailer, and not the service provider, who is responsible for dealing with your complaint.

What next?

  • If the repair or replacement are not successful or there is a further problem, you still have up to 6 months to ask for a full refund and after that time, a partial refund to take account of any use you have had from the handset. Alternatively, you can keep the handset and agree to an appropriate deduction to reflect what is wrong with it.
  • After 6 months, you still have the legal rights listed above but you will have to show that the problem was there when you were supplied with the handset.
  • Check if there is a free guarantee (sometimes called warranties) as this would add to your legal rights (as described above), especially if the item was bought abroad and the manufacturer is based in the UK, or the retailer has gone out of business. Free guarantees do not usually offer refunds, are often limited to a short period of time and may not cover all parts of the handset but they might be useful if they last for more than 6 months and the fault develops after then.   
  • You should carefully think about whether to purchase any extended warranties or mobile handset insurance – consider whether the handset is worth the extra money you will pay and check whether you have home contents or other insurance that comes with your bank account etc, that may already cover your needs.  Also check if there is a free guarantee and if so how long it lasts and what it covers.

Payment method rights:

  • If the phone was paid for by either credit or debit card, and the problem does not get sorted out by the retailer or service provider, you may be able to ask your card provider to raise a “Chargeback” on your behalf so that the transaction can be reversed and you usually have 120 days to do this.
  • Alternatively, if the phone was paid for with a credit card and cost more than £100, another way to get your money back is to contact the credit card company to make a section 75 claim as they may be jointly liable with the retailer or mobile phone service provider for a faulty or misdescribed handset.
  • If you paid using PayPal, you might be able to use their buyer protection scheme to sort any unresolved problems out.
  • You cannot recover losses from more than one source, so if you have already sorted matters out with your retailer or service provider, you will not be able to make another claim using Chargeback or from PayPal or your credit card provider using section 75.
  • Disputes about Section 75 claims, Chargeback and PayPal can be taken to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) if, after having taken the issue up with the financial institution, a certain time period has elapsed, usually around 8 weeks, or you receive a deadlock letter.

Taking matters further:

  • If the retailer or service provider cannot resolve the issue to your satisfaction then, after exhausting your traders internal complaints procedure you can escalate your complaint to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) body, after a certain time period, usually around 8 weeks.
  • Mobile phone service providers must belong to one of two telecoms ADR schemes – CISAS or Ombudsman Services: communications. Sellers of handsets do not have to belong to an ADR scheme, but they must: confirm that they have not been able to sort out your problem,  provide the name and website of an approved ADR scheme if you want to use one and tell you whether they are willing to use it.
  • It may be possible to take your claim to court, but ADR must be tried first and any court action must be started within 6 years. Bear in mind that taking a claim to court can be expensive.

Other Issues:

  • If you bought the handset on the internet, over the phone or from a catalogue you may have additional cancellation rights for 14 days if you change your mind.  Seek further advice to understand how and when these rights apply.
  • Different legal rights apply if there is a problem with downloaded software, if the fault on your handset is caused by downloaded software, if the fault is with your phone service rather than the handset or if you bought your handset privately. In these situations please seek further advice.

The above is a summary. If you require further information or have any questions on your rights as a consumer or require assistance with any of the above, please visit the Citizens Advice website at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/,  contact Chiltern Citizens Advice on 01494 545991, or call the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline on 03454 04 05 06.


The information in this document is correct as of October 2017




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