Problem with a new cellphone

What are my rights?

My cellphone contract has a different data plan than what I agreed to on the phone. Can I cancel?
  • Yes
  • No

Your new cellphone doesn’t work as expected. Or your new phone plan isn’t what was promised. The Wireless Code, Canada’s main set of rules for cellphone service providers, offers some protections. Here are the steps you can take when you have a problem with a new cellphone.  

What you should know

If you signed up less than 15 days ago

If your cellphone contract includes an early cancellation fee, you have a 15-day trial period to see whether the service meets your needs. During this period, you can cancel the contract — for any reason — without having to pay any penalty or early cancellation fee. 

To cancel the contract during the trial period, you can’t have used more than half of your monthly usage limits. You must return the phone in near-new condition, including the original packaging.

The trial period starts on the date on which your service begins.

For persons with disabilities, the trial period is 30 days, and the usage limits are doubled.

If the terms in your new contract don’t reflect what you agreed to 

You might agree to a new cellphone contract on the phone. Under the Wireless Code, the service provider must send you a copy of the contract (see our page on signing a cellphone contract). 

If the key terms and conditions in the contract conflict with what you agreed to on the phone, you can cancel the contract without paying a cancellation fee or other penalty. You have 30 days after receiving the copy of the contract to cancel.

The key contract terms and conditions are:

  • the voice, text and data services included in the contract 

  • any limits on the use of those services that could trigger overage charges or additional fees 

  • the minimum monthly charge for services included in the contract

  • the length of the commitment period, including the end date of the contract

  • any early cancellation fees, how much they decrease each month, and when a cancellation fee no longer applies

  • if you received a free or discounted phone on signing the contract, the retail price of the phone and the amount you paid for the phone

If your new phone doesn’t work

Under BC law, when you buy a new phone, it must meet certain conditions. It has to be: 

  • fit for the purpose you bought it for, 

  • of “merchantable” quality (not broken or damaged), 

  • durable for a reasonable period of time, and

  • “as described” (it has to match the description given in selling it).

These conditions are called the legal warranty. They're found in this law. This warranty is like a promise by the seller that the phone will work the way it’s supposed to for a reasonable amount of time.

You are protected by the legal warranty

The legal warranty applies regardless of whether the seller mentioned it. It is in addition to any warranty the seller or manufacturer provide.

The end result is that if your new phone is faulty or doesn't work, you have the right to get it repaired or replaced, or to get a refund, depending on the situation.

The legal warranty doesn’t cover problems that you caused. For example, if you drop your phone in the water, you will probably have to pay to replace it.

If there is a warranty from the seller or manufacturer

In addition to the legal warranty, many sellers and manufacturers offer their own warranty or guarantee for a product. This is their promise about the quality of goods sold and what they will do if there are problems. Read any warranty or guarantee to see if it covers the problem.

If the phone provider's advertising misled you

Advertisements for cellphones, whether they are on TV, in magazines, or posters in stores, must be accurate and must not mislead.

Phone providers cannot sell you a phone at a price higher than its advertised price. 

They must base any claims about the performance of their product on adequate and proper testing. For example, if a cellphone provider advertises that its network is the “most reliable in Canada," they must have done adequate and proper testing to support that claim.

If the salesperson misled or pressured you into buying a phone or plan 

Under BC law, a salesperson can’t use unfair practices to convince you to buy a phone or phone plan. Unfair practices include making statements, verbally or in writing, or any conduct that has the capability of deceiving or misleading you.

For example, a salesperson must not:

  • tell you that the phone or plan is of better quality than it really is

  • tell you that the phone or plan is only available for a limited time if that is not true

  • tell you that you are getting a special price or benefit when they are really offering the same thing that you can get somewhere else

Another type of unfair practice is when a salesperson does something unconscionable. Examples of unconscionable practices include:

  • taking advantage of vulnerabilities that you may have that affect your ability to protect your own interests, such as any physical or mental disability, illiteracy or language difficulties

  • charging far more than what is reasonable for a phone or plan

  • pressuring you to buy a phone or plan that they know you cannot afford

If the salesperson did something unconscionable, any agreement you signed is not binding on you.

Work out the problem

Step 1. Contact the seller or provider

If you have a problem with the phone handset, the seller, not the manufacturer or the service provider, is responsible for dealing with your complaint.

If you have a problem with your cellphone service, you need to contact the service provider you have a contract with.

Give the seller or service provider, as the case may be, the first chance to solve the problem. Talk to someone in authority, such as a manager. Be firm and businesslike, but polite.

Calmly and accurately describe the problem and what you want the company to do to solve it.

Request specifics of how and when something will be done. Get the other person's name in case you have to refer to this conversation later.

Write down any details of your complaint and keep it in your file. Make sure to date your notes.

Step 2. Send a complaint letter

If discussing the situation with the seller or provider doesn’t resolve the problem, the next step is to send them a complaint letter. 

The letter should cover these points:

  • a description of the phone you bought or plan you agreed to (include the date)

  • anything the other party said that you relied on in making the purchase or contract

  • details of the problem, including when you first noticed it

  • what you have done to try to resolve the problem

  • what you want them to do to resolve the problem

You should give a time frame for them to address the problem. Usually 10 working days is sufficient. You can write something like this:

"I look forward to your reply and to resolving the problem, and will wait until ___________________ [date] before taking my next step. Please contact me as soon as possible at the above address or by telephone at ____________."

You can also say what you will do next if they do not address the problem. For example, you might say that your next step will be to file a complaint with the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services, or to seek legal advice.

Step 3. File a complaint with the CCTS

The Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) administers the Wireless Code and deals with consumer complaints about cellphone service.

Contact the CCTS with questions or problems about:

  • prepaid phone cards

  • a contract dispute

  • cancelling your contract within the trial period

  • unlocking your phone

  • service delivery or billing issues

You can file a complaint with the CCTS. You must provide:

  • specific details of your complaint

  • the steps you’ve taken to resolve the complaint directly with your service provider including your provider’s response

  • what you believe to be a reasonable resolution to your complaint

Common questions

Do the protections in the Wireless Code apply to the phone I have under my work phone plan?

The Wireless Code and its protections apply to some but not all work phone plans. 

If the work plan is with a small business, the Code applies. To qualify as a small business, the monthly bill for all telecommunications services for the business must be less than $2,500 per month. 

As well, the Code applies to work plans — regardless of the size of the business — where the employee is responsible for some or all of the charges related to the account. For example, the Code applies to a work plan where the employer pays the basic monthly payments but the employee is responsible for data overage or roaming charges.

If the employee is not responsible for any of the charges incurred under the work plan (and the work plan is not with a small business), the Wireless Code does not apply. 

I want to have my phone unlocked but my provider won’t unlock it

You have a legal right to have your phone unlocked, at no charge, upon request. If your provider refuses to unlock your phone, you can file a complaint with the CCTS. You must provide the CCTS with the steps you’ve taken to resolve the complaint directly with your service provider, including your provider’s response.

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services
CCTS administers the Wireless Code and deals with cellphone service complaints.
Competition Bureau
Deals with complaints about false or misleading advertising.

  • Reviewed in July 2019
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 7 minutes

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