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Disputing a phone bill

Man on phone with bills in hand

You know what your monthly plan costs, so how come there’s a charge of $40 for “roaming”? And what’s this data overage fee? Get help disputing your phone bill.

What you should know

If you’re surprised, first look at the bill line by line.

Do the charges appear incorrect, or just higher than expected? Have you bought extra services, dialled premium-rate numbers, or been hit with roaming charges?

Are you on a shared plan? Maybe other family members have gone over their limits.

Roaming charges happen when you travel. You may roam onto the network of another provider. This most often happens if you’re travelling outside Canada.

You can incur roaming charges just by leaving your phone turned on while travelling — some apps automatically send and receive data. Even getting a text message can trigger it. To avoid this, disable data or, total failsafe, take out your SIM card altogether.

Roaming is generally not included in phone plans, and roaming rates are typically high. Most providers offer roaming packages or add-ons that you can buy before you travel.

Your provider must notify you, at no charge, when your device is roaming. The notice must clearly explain the voice, text and data charges while roaming — no generic text messages here; they have to get specific!

The good news is that the days of returning from vacation to find a thousand-dollar roaming bill in your mailbox are over. Roaming charges are now capped at $100 per billing period.

Your provider will send you a text when you hit that limit, asking you if you’ll consent to additional charges. You can only get charged over $100 if you say yes. (If you don’t respond, you won’t be able to use data until your next billing cycle.)

Quick tip: when travelling out of Canada, take your SIM card out. Canadian phones have to come unlocked, so you can just buy a local pay-as-go SIM card, load it into your smartphone, and avoid those roaming fees.

Or, as soon as you land, call your phone provider and ask them your options for a roaming package. Don’t presume it’s too late if you’ve already left the country.

Like roaming charges, data overage charges have a cap. It’s $50 within a single billing period, unless you explicitly agree to pay additional charges.

If your phone was lost or stolen and someone else runs up a big bill on your phone, you’ll usually have to pay for the use of the phone up until the moment you notified your provider.

If you’re planning to dispute your bill, you may get charged late fees for not paying on time.

If your account balance exceeds $50 or has been past due for more than two months, your provider can disconnect your service. But they’ll have to warn you, normally at least twice, before doing this.

Take action

Feel like you’ve been overcharged? Taken advantage of? Don’t let them get away with it. These steps can help you navigate the long wait times and tricky customer service departments.

Step 1. Understand customer service

Step 2. Come prepared

Step 3. Make contact; be resilient

Step 4. Tell your story on social media

Step 5. Send a complaint letter

Step 6. File a complaint with the CCTS

Step 1. Understand customer service

Two things you need to remember when dealing with phone companies: be calm, and be patient. They’ve spent years building and training their customer service reps to deflect complaints and encourage you to give up. Don’t.

Throughout your journey to dispute your bill, staying calm and collected is essential. You will get frustrated; just don’t show it. Keeping cool is essential to getting what you want. Document what was said and by whom.

Step. 2 Come prepared

Before you contact the phone provider, be prepared. Read your contract. Understand your rights. Know what you want to get out of this.

You could even discuss the situation with a friend. Ask them how they would word your complaint. Is what you’re asking for reasonable? When you feel wronged, a second opinion (Google and Reddit included) can give you more perspective on what you actually deserve.

Step 3. Make contact; be resilient

Contact the phone provider. Discuss your issue with them firmly but politely.

Be clear on the outcome you’re seeking. You may not get everything resolved at once, but don’t leave until you feel you’ve made progress.

Dealing with phone reps can be frustrating.

Keep in mind that the first person you speak with is often just a gatekeeper. Calmly describe the problem and what you want. If you’re not getting anywhere, politely ask to speak with their manager or the customer-retention department.

Continue to climb the management ladder until you get what you want, or a reasonable compromise. Be persistent.

Some providers have an online chat feature where you can talk to a rep over the web. The same rules apply as in store or over the phone — be calm, be firm, and be resilient!

Step 4. Tell your story on social media

Consider telling your story on social media. Be factual and truthful about what happened — using foul or insulting language may work against you, and lying can expose you to legal troubles.

Social pressure is powerful. The cellphone provider may be eager to make things right to prove they’re good corporate citizens.

Step 5. Send a complaint letter

If discussing the situation doesn’t resolve the problem, the next step is to fire off a complaint letter.

The letter should cover these points:

  • 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

Find their corporate address on their website, or call them. Send the letter by registered mail to ensure they get it.

Give a time frame — say, 10 working days — for them to address the problem.

Tell them what your next step will be if they won’t make things right. You might say you plan to file a formal complaint with the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services, or seek legal advice.

Step 6. 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.

Among the complaints the CCTS deals with are 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 with your service provider, including their response
  • what you believe to be a reasonable resolution to your complaint

People's Law School logo
People's Law School
People’s Law School website has more in-depth coverage on disputing phone bills.
Visit website 🌎

Who can help

If the cellphone company continues to stonewall you, there are government agencies that may be able to help.

Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) logo
Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS)
CCTS administers the Wireless Code and deals with cellphone service complaints.
Call 1-888-221-1687 📞Visit website 🌎
Competition Bureau logo
Competition Bureau
Deals with complaints about false or misleading advertising.
Call 1-800-348-5358 📞Visit website 🌎

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in January 2020
  • Time to read: 6 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Dean Davison, Davison Law Group

Dean Davison, Davison Law Group

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Cellphones in the section on Consumer.