What to do with phone or service problems in Australia

If you're struggling with phone and/or service issues, it pays to know what your rights are.

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Already having problems with that new phone? Or maybe your patchy network coverage means you feel like you're not getting what you're paying for?

If you're on a mobile plan you might think you're stuck, but you do have quite a few rights as a consumer in Australia and knowing them is a great way to ensure you stay a happy customer.

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.

Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone

Australia currently has three different mobile networks. Learn about the differences, strengths and weaknesses of each with our helpful network guide.

So what do I do?

The first step is to contact your service provider or the retailer for any phone issues. Explain the problem and keep detailed records of when you contacted them and what was discussed.

There are time frames that Telcos have to adhere to in response to your complaints too: two days for urgent issues, while with non-urgent problems the provider has 15 days to come up with a solution and ten days to implement it after you accept.

If that doesn't work, it's time to bring out the big guns and talk to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman or TIO. The TIO has a fair bit of power and you'll normally see some action quite quickly.

There's some excellent advice over at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network to help you make a complaint that will get noticed and get results.

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