Advice: Can I get out of my mobile phone contract without paying a hefty fee?

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.

By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Newtownabbey CAB

Q: I bought a new mobile phone six months ago and I used the signal checker on the website, but I never have any signal at home or work at all. I want to cancel my contract and go back to my old mobile company as I always had good service with them, but my new provider says I’ll have to pay all 18 months of the contract remaining if I want to cancel. I can’t afford to pay that all at once and get a new contract, but I also can’t have a mobile phone that never works when I need it. What can I do?

A: Most mobile phone contracts last 24 months, but often they don’t specify minimum standards of service, so it can be tricky to get out of them without paying a hefty fee. Your best bet is to keep a log of times when your phone doesn’t work. Then contact your service provider and ask them if there is anything they can do. This might solve the problem without you needing to cancel.

It might say something in your contract about how much reception you should get; if so you should be able to cancel the contract without paying. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on what an online coverage checker will say as they’re just a guide and will only ever give an idea of the average signal someone can expect outside in that area.

If the phone doesn’t work in your house or workplace but does work outside, the problem might be with those buildings themselves. In that case you wouldn’t normally be able to cancel without paying. It might be that the signal just isn’t strong enough, so you should ask your provider to carry out a signal strength check.

If there’s no signal in your whole area, you might be able to cancel under the Supply of Goods and Services Act. Very poor service most of the time might mean the network is breaking your contract. Some contracts have terms and conditions which mean they’re allowed to not provide service sometimes, so you need to get advice to see if this applies to you.

Before anything else, contact your service provider, share any evidence of poor service and explain why you should be let out of your contract early. They might well allow you to cancel.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau or log on to www.adviceguide.org.uk

Call Newtownabbey CAB, Dunanney Centre, Rathcoole on 028 9085 2271 or email enewtownabbey@citizensadvice.co.uk