Mobile phones are something that a lot of people need in life from teenage years through to adulthood. While every consumer has different reasons for needing a mobile phone, chances are in order to initially obtain one or upgrade to the next desired model, most of the time you're required to sign into a mobile phone plan with a contract lasting 12-24 months. While this might not be an issue, if something were to go wrong with your products or services, you have certain rights to help you that can include being able to break your contract or allow you to pay your bills in a flexible manner under certain circumstances.
As a consumer, there are safeguards in place that require telecommunication providers to:
- be clear about what they are offering in their plans without using confusing terms
- provide unit pricing
- make available a Critical Information Summary (CIS) to compare phone plans
- prevent bill shock by providing spend management tools
- have fair billing an management processes
- resolve disputes quickly with effective complaints-handling processes, and
- advise customers about their financial hardship policy or spend management tools when faced with difficulties paying bills or meeting unexpectedly high bills
Because of these safeguards, if something were to go wrong with your products or services, you can easily do something to rectify the problem and get back on track.
Cancelling Your Service Without Penalty
While certain charges might apply when wanting to discontinue the services provided in your contract before it has ended, there are certain circumstances where you can cancel a service without penalty. If you have a major problem with the service, such as the salesperson has made false or misleading claims and/or the product is unfit for the purpose it was intended for, you have the right to cancel your service. If the provider cannot fix the issue within a reasonable time, even if it's a minor problem, you have the right to cancel your service. If relevant, you can also ask the provider for compensation for any damages or loss caused by the problem.
This is where the provider needs to be clear and concise about what they are offering in their plans including detailed charges for services or extra charges that may incur. This breakdown of extra charges is normally disclosed in a document called the Critical Information Summary (CIS) which includes information regarding the service, pricing, complaints-handling and volumetric information to compare costs and see how much your calls and texts will truly cost you. However, two of the most common instances for cancelling a contract is to do with coverage and price changes. To avoid wondering about coverage issues, the telecommunication provider should supply you with a coverage map on their website so you can check their area, or you can ask the salesperson to check before you commit. When it comes to price changes though, if your provider has announced a price rise, they reserve the right to change your contract but it doesn't mean you have to agree with it. In this case, cancelling your contract early might be trickier if you're still paying off a handset in which you might be required to pay out the remainder of your contract or return the product.
While it is important to know why you can, there are also reasons why you cannot cancel your service. If the services you've received under contract have worked as expected, you will not be allowed to terminate your contract without penalty if you have merely changed your mind, insisted on having a particular service provided against the advice of the provider or failed to clearly explain your needs to ensure you've been given the best services possible from your provider.
The Ability to Compare Phone Offers Without Being Misled
Advertising is key to business. It's what draws consumers in and attracts them to offers and deals that are available when on the hunt for the right mobile phone and plan to suit their needs. However, choosing the right plan can be confusing enough as it is with so many options available from so many different providers. The good news is, there are strict rules on how mobile phone companies can advertise their services to avoid you being misled. Terms such as "unlimited" or "free" are unable to be used in any advertising unless it is genuinely offered with no strings attached. While it is required to provide you with the CIS, you'll have unit pricing for all the important stuff at your fingertips so you can make a just comparison between multiple services and find the best one for your needs at the best price. The CIS must include unit pricing for a national 2-minute mobile call, a standard SMS, cost of using 1MB of data, specify the minimum monthly charges, maximum charge for early termination and state inclusions and exclusions of the service. With these safeguards in place, you don't have to worry about signing up for a service that has hidden fees or bundles detailed in the fine print that you might not see.
Being Protected From Bill Shock
Spend management tools are there to help you manage your spending so you don't lose track of how much data you're using. You can keep an eye on your usage through automated alerts that your telecommunication provider is required to send you when reaching your 50%, 85% and 100% data limits (this may not apply to pre-paid customers). If you've found you have been slapped with a massive bill and you're not sure how you managed to rack up so much usage, there are ways to help you avoid that for the next bill.
- Make sure you are receiving the automated alerts from your provider, or contact them if you are not
- Download the mobile app for your provider and keep your usage updates available at all times
- Switch to Wi-Fi where ever possible
- Ask your provider about charges for high-cost services such as international calls
- Ask your provider about setting a maximum spending limit or data cap on your account
- Consider changing your plan if able
- Consider a pre-paid account
Not all telecommunication providers may offer the same spend management tools, but it is important to know what options you have to manage your spending and reduce the risk of receiving unexpected costly bills. If you're looking to travel outside of Australia, global roaming can cost an arm and a leg. It is important to contact your provider about usage costs overseas or consider alternate means such as pre-paid SIMs or roaming data packs.
Repair, Replace or Refund
Say you've signed up for a 24-month contract for a new handset and within that period of time, your handset has started to become faulty that is not by your doing. The ACCC believes it to be reasonable expectation that any phone provided should last the length of its contract. You'll find that your telecommunication provider will offer warranty options for repairs on their products, which pays off to know about. If the fault with your phone is minor, your provider can choose to give you a free repair instead of issuing a replacement or refund just yet. If your provider cannot give you a free repair within a reasonable amount of time, or simply does not have the facilities to conduct the repairs, you can get it done elsewhere and on-forward the cost, ask for a replacement, refund or compensation for the drop in value below the price paid. However, if there is a major fault with the product, you have the right to ask for a replacement or a refund. Major problems include issues that would have stopped the consumer from purchasing the product if they had known about it if the item is significantly different from the description, doesn't do what you asked for or is unfit for its common purpose without resolution in a reasonable time or the device is unsafe. If you do take your product back to the retailer who sold it to you, they cannot refuse to help rectify the problem by sending you to the manufacturer or importer.
Making a Complaint
You have the right to make a complaint and have it resolved fairly, in an efficient time frame and in a courteous manner. When trouble arises with your service or product it is important to gather all the relevant information you need in order to give your provider sufficient information to support your complaint, think about what outcome you want (refund, repair or a simple apology), and contact your provider. Your telecommunication provider should have a complaint handling policy on their website detailing how to make a complaint but it is crucial to log the time and date of calls made or received as well as save any emails or written material in case you end up taking your complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). Your provider should attempt to resolve your complaint during your initial contact and finalise any urgent complaints within 2 days and non-urgent complaints within 3 weeks. If the resolution to your complaint is not reasonable or satisfactory after giving your provider a reasonable opportunity to resolve the problem, you have a right to contact the TIO in order to get your complaint investigated and the service provider to fix the problem, reimburse you or provide compensation.
Hardship Programs for Paying Your Bills
Financial hardship programs may differ between telecommunication providers, but all of them must provide hardship policies to their customers. Everyone has financial troubles from time to time where financial or health issues arise and it can affect the payment of bills or commitments. If you are having trouble paying your bills but believe you can pay them on a flexible arrangement, let your provider know about it. They will not be able to take debt recovery action while you are being assessed for the financial hardship program. If found eligible you may be offered an extension of your bill due date or flexible options for repayment. If you've found you'll have to pay your bill after the due date, you can ask your provider to waive any late fees that might occur.
For in-depth information about the consumer rights, you can read about it on the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code and Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) websites. For a global scale of coverage, the International Roaming Standard is available, and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network outlines your rights and allows you to log poor service coverage or lodge complaints.