How can I complain if my mobile phone service doesn’t work?

Mobile services aren't perfect. If you're being billed incorrectly or can't get reception, here's how to get it fixed.


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There's little that's more frustrating than signing up for a shiny new phone with a new provider, only to find that you're stuck with lousy reception for calls, data speeds that only hit a trickle at best or text messages that arrive days after they're sent.

You've signed a multi-year contract and are keeping up your side of the bargain by making monthly payments. But how do you get satisfaction if your telco keeps on failing?

Problems with your smartphone

This is usually the easiest to address because the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is pretty clear on this:

If there is a problem with your handset, you may be entitled to a repair, replacement or refund.

A repair is usually offered for a "minor problem" and a replacement for a "major problem" but those are fairly nebulous in terms of how they're defined.

In general terms if the problem means your phone can't do what you bought it for then it's "substantially unfit for its common purpose" and probably warrants a replacement.

Be aware that this doesn't cover you for simply changing your mind. In that scenario the emptor needed a little more caveat. Two more things to remember:

  • The shop who sold you the phone can't refuse to help you and tell you to contact the manufacturer or importer. They just can't.
  • Your rights as a consumer don't expire no matter what your warranty says. And if a shop says "no refunds" because it was a gift or listed at a sale price? That's illegal.

Problems with your mobile service

Thanks to both the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP) you have fairly detailed rights in terms of your service from your mobile phone provider. Most mobile phone providers will charge you big bucks if you try and cancel early, but there are two scenarios where an early cancellation is perfectly acceptable:

  • If the people selling you the service made misleading claims.
  • The service isn't fit for the purpose you signed on for.

The two most common reasons for an early cancellation are if a service provider ups the price on your contract, or difficulties around coverage. You're entitled to get coverage in your home and if you're not getting it, that's grounds for early cancellation.

So, what do I do?

The first complaint step should always be with the telco in question. That's because it may be that you have a specific problem that they can solve with minimal fuss, but also because if you do need to escalate matters, you must have at least tried to sort out any issues, whether they're billing, reception or other matters with your telco first.

The harsh reality here is that most telcos run customer support on the smell of an oily rag, which means you'll frequently be conversing with staff stuck behind a support script that doesn't allow for a lot of variance. That can be frustrating, but it's important to keep your cool. Staff shouldn't abandon you if you're polite, but an abusive customer is one who can be hung up on.

It's worth going into any complaints process prepared with a little knowledge, which means doing your research. Search online for your telco's name and your complaint to see if others have had the same issue, both because it may be that you can find an easy solution, but also because it will lend more weight to your case if you can point out to the telco that you're not isolated in your issue.

In the social media age, it's also worthwhile checking if your telco has an online social media presence, as most do. Here are links to the Twitter and Facebook pages for the major telcos:


Bear in mind that social media channels may just divert you back to phone support, depending on your issue.

The one practical tip above all others when in a dispute with your telco is to document absolutely everything. If you're getting call dropouts, note the times and locations of the dropouts. If you call about a billing issue, note down when you called and what resolutions (if any) were reached, and the names and positions of staff members involved.

What if I still can't get the issue fixed?

If a resolution isn't forthcoming after a reasonable period of time, you do have the option to escalate it to the next complaints level, which is the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). The TIO is funded by the telecommunications industry itself to resolve disputes for residential and small business telecommunications customers, but it can only intervene after a fair and reasonable effort has been made by a customer to resolve issues directly with the telco itself. That's why it's vital to document your complaint processes before heading to the TIO, because if you head there as first resort, it simply won't look at your complaint at all.

It's also worth knowing what the TIO will and won't cover. It can deal cover contract and reception issues, for example, but not the rates that telcos charge for services, because those should be spelled out in the contracts you sign and are ultimately your responsibility to understand. The TIO itself provides a relatively exhaustive list of its covered complaint types on its website.

The TIO will judge on a complaint, but that may take some time, and you've got to be realistic about your goals and what's likely to happen in relation to a complaint. Again, be ready to document each step, as the TIO applies a reference number to each case to identify it.

You've also got to be realistic about outcomes, which won't always go in your favour. It's entirely feasible, for example, that a successful TIO complaint might allow you to gracefully exit a contract if services can't be satisfactorily provided, but unlikely that it will compel a telco to install new transmission towers to meet your particular needs.

The TIO may judge that the telco has acted effectively in your case and choose not to pursue it; equally it may place a binding judgement on the telco which it will have to accept. Just because you've gone to the TIO doesn't mean you can't settle with the telco in question regardless; it's just another option open to you.

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