Phones, particularly smart phones, are now such an integral part of our lives that many would be lost without them. So what are your rights if they break down? 

Anyone who has a smart phone will know how difficult it is to get redress when that iphone starts behaving erratically.  How many of you have had the experience of a fault to be told that you can't get a new phone unless you sign a new contract? 

Tina Leonard explains on Today with Pat Kenny, how difficult it can be to get redress for your faulty phone and why the information provided by the phone companies on refunds and repairs is not clear enough.

Examples of complaints

Complaint 1- the iphone: Daniel’s eight-month old iPhone went into ‘recovery mode’ and was unusable after connecting to the computer for usual updates. The shop told him there was a software issue and the repair would cost him €210.

What should have happened: It should have been repaired free of charge.

Complaint 2 - phone dies: Sarah’s seven-month old phone broke down when it simply turned off and wouldn’t turn back on. It was repaired by the shop, (under warranty) but broke down again so was repaired a second time. Then it broke down for a third time, but the shop refused to give a refund as requested by the customer and repaired it again and then a fourth time after it broke once more. By the time the phone broke for the fifth time the warranty had expired, so this time she was told that she would have to pay for repair or replacement.

What should have happened: Should have been given a replacement or refund.

Complaint 3 - faulty phone: A phone just under two years old (and with a two year warranty) broke when the screen went blank. When she brought it back to the shop she was advised to buy a new phone.

What should have happened: Should have been repaired if faulty.

Complaint 4: Water damage to phone: When Patrick’s four-month old mobile stopped working he brought it back to the store and was told it couldn’t be fixed because it had water damage i.e. the phone wasn’t faulty and he had caused the damage himself.

What should have happened: If it was accidental damage, Patrick has no rights.

These are examples of typical problems: no repairs outside of manufacturer’s warranty; no replacement phones or refunds outside warranty and broken phones where the damage is alleged to have been caused by the consumer.

What are your rights? 

Statutory rights

If a product is faulty the consumer is entitled to redress from the retailer (under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980).

This means a repair, replacement or refund for a faulty product or one that is not as described or fit for purpose (at no cost to the consumer).

Furthermore, within the first 6 months of purchase (under EU Directive 99/44 on the sale of goods and associated guarantees), the consumer does not have to prove a fault as it is deemed to have been there at time of purchase.

You should take into account how the phone should perform and its expected life-span taking into account wear and tear. Under our Statute of Limitations you have 6 years to make a claim (although that could be considered a long time frame given likely wear and tear to a phone over that length of time).

Accidental damage

If you have caused the damage to the phone yourself, then the retailer is not obliged to provide any remedy, as your statutory rights don’t cover this. When it comes to phones however, a common cause for breakage seems to be water damage. You may not have dropped your phone in a bucket of water but apparently damage can be caused by exposure to condensation over time for example. I’ve heard of cases where the customer was told their phone must have been on the car dash-board or near a radiator or in the bathroom over prolonged periods.

In these situations it is very difficult for a consumer to prove that the phone is faulty rather than suffering accidental damage, if they believe that to be the case.

Warranties

These statutory rights above are in addition to anything offered by a manufacturer’s warranty.

A warranty is a private contract between you and the manufacturer (or seller). It will typically last a specific period of time (i.e. 12 months) and what it covers will be down to the terms and conditions of the particular warranty. Often a specified number of repairs are allowed, and replacement or refunds may be covered too. The warranty may cover for accidental damage or not, but will generally cover defects.

The warranty provider has no legal obligation to you apart from whatever is promised in the warranty and for the period of time it lasts. So, if the warranty has expired, they don’t have to do anything for you.

++But remember even if your warranty has expired your statutory rights still apply.

This means that if you should not let a shop fob you off when the warranty is up as they still have a legal obligation to you to provide a remedy for a faulty product.

Why it can be confusing for customers

A search through the information on repairs and returns on various phone sellers’ websites indicated how easily it would be for consumers to get confused about what rights they have versus the shop’s own policy or rights under warranty.

This is because the information provided relates mainly to manufacturers’ warranty terms or the shop’s warranty terms and your statutory rights are not clearly explained.

Some extracts:

Carphone Warehouse

“If your handset or mobile broadband develops a fault within 28 days of purchase, we will arrange a replacement (under certain conditions).”

- Your statutory rights last a lot longer than 28 days, but this isn’t mentioned here and the same goes for Meteor:

Meteor

From their ‘returns’ information:

“If you bought your phone or broadband stick directly from us and there is something wrong with the phone or broadband stick itself, you can exchange it for a new one, as long as you bring it back within 28 days.”

3

To qualify for a free of charge repair under the Device warranty provided by the manufacturer, you’ll need to show your proof of purchase (till receipt). Make sure that your claim meets the conditions of the Device manufacturer’s warranty (details of which can be found in your Device box). If your Device isn’t covered under the manufacturer’s mobile warranty, you won’t be eligible for a free Device repair. However, we can give you a quote for the repairs before any work is carried out.”

- This is the only information I could find, It relates to the manufacturer’s warranty, which is fine, but what about your statutory rights and your entitlement to a repair, replacement, or refund (for free) for defective products? Why isn’t that information made clear?

O2

“If you have it less than thirty days and it becomes faulty, then you can have a replacement phone or a refund - whichever your prefer. Just take your phone back to any O2 Store and we’ll be happy to help you.

If you have your phone more than 30 days and it develops a fault, you can bring it into any O2 Store and we’ll send it away to be fixed.

If your phone is out of warranty there is a charge of 60E for it to be repaired.”

- Again, no time limit of 30 days exists under consumer law for replacements or refunds so this is confusing as that isn’t mentioned. And if your phone is defective you should not have to pay for repair under consumer law.

Vodafone

Where the problem is with the handset itself and falls under warranty or repair service, we will refer you to our nearest approved agent to avail of their repair service. Charges may be incurred for repairs of handsets outside the warranty period.

Why the information provided to customers could be clearer

It is one-sided. The above information, readily available on the websites of the various companies, seems to focus mainly on provisions under warranty. It is absolutely fine for a manufacturer’s warranty to only provide a replacement within a certain number of days, or to charge for repairs after a specific time frame for example. That warranty is a private contract between the consumer and the manufacturer.

But the information provided is NOT clear in saying that these are warranty terms and that you have statutory rights too.

And the seller cannot deny you your statutory rights. For example, there are no time frames mentioned in the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act in relation to how long you can expect a replacement or refund for.

Your consumer contract is with the retailer from whom you buy the phone and if a phone becomes defective, the shop is legally obliged to provide a remedy. And it doesn’t matter if its more than 28 or 30 days.

So, if you are a customer in the store and someone says, for example, that you can’t get a replacement after 30 days or you have to pay for repair if your warranty is up, you might accept that, not realising that your statutory rights are always there too and offer more.

In my opinion it would be far better if there was clear and transparent information for the consumer on their statutory rights, in addition to any other after-sales service offered, as then consumers would be in doubt as to their rights.

And do argue your case and take small claims action if necessary.