There is a bewildering choice of phones, packages and deals available when buying a new mobile phone. It’s big business. It’s also top of the list when it comes to consumer complaints!

When choosing a new mobile, you are not only selecting the phone (or the handset), you are dealing with the retailer and choosing a package from a network provider. In effect there are three separate entities – and you need to know which one of the three to go back to if there is a problem with any aspect of your purchase or agreement.

Choosing the right phone

Phones these days come with an array of mind-boggling features – cameras are virtually standard now, as is the ability to surf the web and play MP3s and video clips. You can also use your phone to access your emails, download digital media, supply sat nav info, make mobile video calls, organize your life and so on. But how many of us use all the facilities on our phones on a regular basis? If you only want to make calls, text and send the odd picture message, then there is no point paying over the odds for one with loads of bells and whistles. Always best to check out the websites for the individual network providers such as O2, Orange or T-Mobile, or the high street retailers such as Phones4u or The Carphone Warehouse – and do this before you go in. Then you won’t get talked into anything you’re not familiar with!

Pay As You Go or Pay Monthly?

When you buy a phone you will have the choice of a ‘pay as you go’ or a ‘pay monthly’ phone. Pay As You Go or Prepaid plans tend to be more expensive per minute than the monthly tariff, but they can be very useful for people who don’t use their mobile phone much, have limited budgets, or want greater control over their children’s mobile use. The Monthly plans are cheaper and offer a wider range of bells and whistles phones, but you will have to sign a minimum term contract with a network provider and pay a fixed fee each month – although you will probably receive an allowance of free minutes or texts within this fee.

Choosing the right network

The network provider you end up with depends on the type of phone you choose and where you go to buy it. If you opt for a Pay Monthly phone, you will be entering into a contract with this network provider so check the terms of the contracts carefully and ask the sales consultant to explain carefully what your obligations and liabilities are – this is their job, and not to do so or to gloss over such detail when requested is mis-selling. Pay particular attention to the length of time you are ‘tied in’ to the contract. If you simply change your mind, you will not be able to switch to an alternative network provider and may not be able to change tariff. Also remember that by committing to a particular network provider you also commit to their coverage area and fees. So you may find that your friend who is ‘on’ Orange can get reception while you can’t. Not much you can do about this.

Choosing the right deal

Again – there is a huge choice of packages to chosse from. If you agree on a minimum payment each month, you will receive a free number of minutes or texts, although these only may be off-peak, or to certain numbers, so don’t be mislead. So have a think about when you use your phone – during the day, evenings weekends? Choose a tariff that gives you a better deal based on when you make most of your calls. Remember also to bear in mind the cost of the following as they may well not be included in your ‘free minutes’

  • Peak time calls
  • Calls to those on another network
  • Calls to voicemail
  • International or premium rate numbers
  • Directory enquiry services
  • Downloading data from the web
  • Sending picture messages or video clips

When it all goes wrong…

You have certain statutory rights for the purchase of a product as provided for in the Sale of Goods Act. These rights refer to standards of quality you should expect and what you can do if it fails to meet these standards.If there is an obvious fault with the phone at any time within the first 6 months and it has not been caused by wear and tear or misuse, your first port of call must be the shop you bought it from. They have the responsibility to put the matter right, and should not evade this responsibility by referring you to the manufacturer in the context of a guarantee or warranty.

In the first instance the seller must offer to at least repair the phone. They must do this within reasonable time, at no additional cost to you and without causing any significant inconvenience. For this reason you should be given a replacement phone on a like for like basis (and not simply the cheapest and most basic model). Many consumer complaints relate to the length of time the phone is away being repaired – and although you must allow reasonable time for repair, the law does not say what ‘reasonable time’ is. Taking into account the nature and size of the product however, we would define this time as no more than two weeks.

If the repair is taking an unacceptable length of time to fix, if it can’t be fixed or if it develops the fault again, you are then within your rights to request a replacement. Again, this must be done within reasonable time, at no additional cost to you and without causing any significant inconvenience.

If the repair / replace remedies have been unsuccessful, you then have two further options. Firstly, you can then request they reduce the purchase price to an appropriate amount (although this does not affect your ability to take return the item if something else goes wrong). Secondly, and only after the repair/replace remedies have been attempted, you can request a refund. You should be aware however that if you have had the phone for several months, the refund given may well take account of any use you have had of the phone since you bought it.