Even the latest iPhone or Android device is useless if you do not have any mobile coverage. Here is how to avoid getting stuck with a contract that does not perform to the standards you expected.
Who can cancel your contract?
Under current UK law a mobile network is not required to cancel a mobile contract without charge due to poor network coverage. Many networks will make you pay off the rest of your contract before they will let you cancel it.
However, mobile network providers offer a 14 day cancellation period to protect consumers.
How to cancel your phone contract
There are a few ways you can look to cancel your mobile contract, such as:
You are in your cooling off period
Under current UK law you can cancel a mobile contract within the first 14 days without the need to give a reason to the provider if you have either:
Ordered by phone
Ordered by post
However, this 14 day window does not automatically apply to contracts purchased in store, where your ability to cancel will depend on the store's returns and cancellations policy.
Many network providers do include an additional cooling off period with their mobile phone contracts, where they can be cancelled freely without any charge.
This cooling off period varies from provider to provider but is unlikely to be longer than a month.
While this should give you time to test your new mobile receives suitable network coverage, if you encounter a problem you should contact your mobile network immediately.
Your contract includes a network guarantee
Some mobile networks offer a guarantee of acceptable network coverage within their mobile contracts, allowing you to cancel if you find that you do not have the signal that you expected.
However, this guarantee is not offered by every mobile network provider so you will need to check the contract terms and conditions before you apply.
A rival provider will buy you out
If you find that you cannot cancel your contract due to poor network coverage without incurring hefty cancellation fees, you may be able to approach a rival network to ask them to buy you out (either directly or via a high street mobile phone retailer).
Essentially this would involve the rival network paying off your current mobile phone contract in exchange for you taking out a fixed length contract with them.
Whether or not this will make financial sense will depend on how long you have left to run on your existing mobile contract and how much you would be charged in early exit fees.
Although approaching a rival network in this way could enable you to avoid substantial contractual fees, or paying for a contract you cannot use, you could find that you have less bargaining power with the new provider as a result and may not get the best contract possible.
Where have you got signal?
Nowhere - If you cannot find a mobile signal anyway within a reasonable distance surrounding your home then you have the right to raise your concern with your mobile network provider.
You can request a signal strength check to be performed, which will reinforce your claim to the provider. Once this has been addressed, you will have reason to cancel your contract for non-performance.
Outside your home, but not inside - Occasionally, a lack of signal can be caused by something in your home that is interfering with the network signal reaching your mobile device.
Check your mobile contract to see whether your network declared within its terms and conditions that they are not responsible for short losses of mobile service. If you cannot find this, then make sure you express this issue when you speak to the provider.
Regardless of your location... If the loss of signal is of no direct result of your actions, and it was never explained to you before agreeing to your mobile contract that the signal may be weak, poor or sporadic in your area, then you have rights to cancel under the supply of goods and services act 1982.
What to do if you cannot get out of your contract
If you find that you are unable to cancel your contract but still unable to use your phone your options are limited.
Ask your network provider to drop you on to the cheapest contract option possible
If they will let you, a pay as you go Contract could be even cheaper
This way you will be minimising the cost of keeping a contract you cannot use.
Keep your SIM card and use it whenever you can to get your money's worth.
How to complain
If you feel you have been mis-sold your mobile contract or been given misleading information or promises regarding mobile network coverage then you may be able to complain.
Every mobile operator in the UK must belong to the Communication Ombudsman Service and they have the power to award compensation to you of up to £5,000 if your complaint is upheld.
However, before you take your complaint to the service you will need to have complained directly to your network provider and been through their in house complaints procedure.
There is also no guarantee that your complaint will be supported by the Communication Ombudsman Service.
Find a better contract next time
To avoid unnecessary hassle cancelling your mobile contract due to poor network coverage, it makes sense to thoroughly check the reported coverage level in your area before you apply.
All the major UK mobile network providers publish maps of the UK detailing the areas that their networks cover, which you can use to check the signal strength at your most common locations, such as your home and work.
If you find that either area, or any another location you spend a large amount of time, is not covered then you may want to look for a mobile contract from an alternative mobile network.
There is a full list of network coverage maps available on the Ofcom website.