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Problem with a cellphone or plan

Woman puzzled by phone

Your new cellphone doesn’t work as expected. Or your new phone plan isn’t what was promised. There are steps you can take to make this right.

What you should know

When you walk out with your shiny new phone, remember, 15 days. Canadian laws give you a 15-day trial period from the start of your contract during which you can return your phone with no cancellation fee.

Save the packaging the phone came in. Set a reminder. Mark day 15 on your calendar. And make sure you stay under half of your monthly usage limits. If you have a disability, you get 30 days, and the usage limit doubles.

If there’s a problem, pack the phone up in its box, go into the store (or give them a call), and let them know you want to cancel. Be firm. Get the name of the person who helped you. This will keep them accountable.

They told you 5 GB of data, but really you have 1 GB? They said unlimited overseas calls, but really it’s just Canada-wide?

If a key term in the contract isn’t what you agreed to, you can walk away without paying a cancellation fee or other penalty.

Check the contract (they have to give you a copy) to make sure everything lines up with what you agreed to. You have 30 days to cancel.

If you agreed to it, but just aren’t happy, that’s different. You have no legal grounds to cancel. But that doesn’t mean you can’t complain. You might get a better deal. Where there’s no official legal protection … you just have to be a savvy negotiator!

Under BC law, a new phone must:

  • be fit for the purpose you bought it for,
  • not be broken or damaged,
  • be durable for a reasonable period of time, and
  • match the description given in selling it.

These conditions are called the legal warranty. It’s like a promise by the seller that the phone will work the way it’s supposed to for a reasonable length of time.

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.

If you broke it yourself, or lost it, the legal warranty won’t help you. But providers often sell extended warranties. Or the manufacturer (that’s the actual phone maker, like Apple, Samsung and so on) may have a separate warranty. Always find out whether you’re covered before going in to the store or calling in to complain.

Ads for cell phones, whether on TV, in magazines, or on the store wall, must be truthful.

For example, service providers can’t sell you a phone for more than its advertised price. If they did this (or misled you in some other material way), bring proof when you go to complain.

Another type of unfair practice is “unconscionable” behaviour from a salesperson. Like:

  • taking advantage of a disability or language issue
  • charging far more than what is reasonable
  • pressuring you to buy a phone or plan they know you can’t afford

If any of this happens, any agreement you signed is not valid.

Take action

Feel misled? Taken advantage of? Don’t let them get away with it. Whether it’s a broken phone, or you’re just sick of paying north of $100 per month, there are steps you can take to 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. The customer service reps are trained to deflect complaints and encourage you to give up. Hang in there. Make notes and take names.

Keeping cool is essential to getting what you want.

Step 2. Come prepared

Before you call or go to the store, do your homework. 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 can give you more perspective on what you actually deserve. Sometimes googling the problem may reveal this is an ongoing issue with the provider or the phone.

Step 3. Make contact; be resilient

If you dealt with somebody in person, go back to that store. Ask to talk to the rep who sold you your phone or plan. 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.

The first person you speak with is often just a gatekeeper. Calmly describe the problem and what you want. If they can’t deliver, politely ask to speak with their manager or the customer retention department.

Continue to escalate the problem 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. If you say something that is untrue, you may expose yourself to a claim against you.

Social pressure is powerful. The cellphone provider may be eager to make things right to prove they’re good corporate citizens. It may help to let them know you are going to go online and report the issue so they can fix it before you do.

Step 5. Send a complaint letter

If discussing the situation doesn’t resolve the problem, the next step is to send 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

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

Give a time frame for them — such as 10 working days — to address the problem.

Tell them what your next step will be if they won’t make it right. You might say you plan to file a formal complaint with the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services, go online to report the problem, 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.

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 their response
  • what you believe to be a fair resolution to your complaint

That’s it for now. Go forth! You’re ready to go to battle with the cellphone companies.

If you want to go further, we can help.

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People's Law School
The People's Law School website has deeper coverage on problems with cellphones.
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Who can help

If you’re still getting the cold shoulder from the cellphone companies, 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 administers the Wireless Code and deals with cellphone service complaints.
Call 1-888-221-1687Visit website
Competition Bureau logo
Competition Bureau
Deals with complaints about false or misleading advertising.
Call 1-800-348-5358Visit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in January 2020
  • Time to read: 7 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.


On Dial-A-Law

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