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Bad phone signal at home – can you cancel your contract?

What happens if you’ve got rubbish mobile phone signal at home, but you’re locked into a one- or two-year contract? Is it easy to cancel? No, as many of the stories shared on last week’s BBC Watchdog showed.

For many of us, mobile phones are attached to us like another limb. They’ve become essential for organising our lives – whether it’s keeping in touch with friends and family or for making those dreaded work calls.

But however much you use it, the least you’d expect is to have a working phone signal at home. But that’s not always the case, as James told us on Twitter:

Most providers have a mobile coverage checker to see if you’ll get a good signal in your home or at work. This is something Vodafone advises:

‘We would always advise customers to check the coverage for the locations that are important to them before taking out an agreement with us or any other operator. They can check Vodafone coverage online using our network and coverage checker.

‘New Vodafone customers can also test their coverage over their first two-week period with us and return the phone to us, without any fuss, if they find the coverage isn’t satisfactory for their needs.’

You can also check the 3G and 4G signal for each of the main mobile providers in your area with our mobile coverage map.

Only getting signal in your garden

But what if your signal goes Pete Tong well into your contract? That’s what happened to Catherine Pugh, who shared her story on BBC Watchdog.

She’d been with Orange for years with perfect signal, until it started to go bad. In order to speak to someone she had to go outside to sit on a bench in her garden and point her mobile in the right direction. Catherine tried to get out of her contract, but was told she’d have to pay a £200 termination fee.

It turned out one of the phone masts in her area had been decommissioned and through perseverance she was able to get out of her contract. Orange told BBC Watchdog:

‘We look into each signal issue on its own merits but if it’s not possible to restore service, as is the case with Ms Pugh, we will release a customer from their contract.’

If you get a sustained and prolonged lack of service you may have a chance of getting out of your contract – you can read up on this in our consumer rights guide. It’s certainly not easy. So does something need to be done?

Ofcom and bad phone signal

Ofcom has said it’s supporting initiatives to improve mobile phone coverage, and recognises that it’s an issue the networks need to sort. It’s also providing people with better information on the quality of service they can get from each provider, so you can make better choices. But could it be doing more?

Should mobile providers be more upfront about your rights to cancel if you get poor signal? Have you tried to get out of your contract for persistent signal problems at home or at work? What happened? We’ll then share your comments with Ofcom.

Comments

hi, just joined the group and need some advice.
I am just coming to the end of a 12 month contract with o2, and want to change my network and contract, to a monthly one, with Sim only. I dont know if it my phone, a £100 htc bought from Tescos, or the o2 network, which is giving me slow connection to my emails, I dont download fils, or any of that, just want to check emails and use the internet, thats all. Which is the best network to use, any ideas

jamie says:
18 February 2015

4 months now and there still not fixing the mast I asked about leaving then and was told I’ll have to pay 300 pounds as works out 32.99 a month using 37mins a month

sean says:
13 June 2015

I work for a mobile phone network and though I should probably not be saying this, the best option by far is to save up and buy a phone outright. I bought the galaxy s5 outright.for 422 euros on an online site. The likes of pixmania and simplyelectronics.net offer great deals. I would have bought the same phone in ireland on payg direct from any carrier for at the lowest price 459.99 euros. The phone is unlocked and will stay that way. I requested it to be unlocked from vodafone and they said it already was unlocked. I tested and it is. I switch between my three and vodafone sims depending on varying coverage from time to time. I am on payg but there are great 30 days simo offers too. If you want a phone, the price has to be subsidised in your upgrade deal. You will have a lot of hassle getting out if things go wrong. The terms and conditions are cleverly worded. Even coverage checkers online state they are best estimates and not a guarantee of coverage in every house. Some of the networks offer wifi calling as well as femtocells or picocell signal boosters. Wifi calling is fantastic as it eliminates the need for a booster box and can be used anywhere you have wifi access. I may be biased but I think the networks are really trying hard. It’s annoying when it does not meet expectations but you cannot just ring up and say I want to cancel and expect the network just to cancel. They will need you to prove it is a clear denial of service, you’ll need to trythings such as isolation tests or sim swaps, provide examples, postcodes and they will be able to access your overall usage records so if you’re dropping two or three out of twenty calls a day, they won’t just right off hundreds of pounds. People need to be realistic too. It’s very complex. You may change address and move to blackspot for coverage or change your phone to a phone that may not be as good in terms of the rf equipment installed. New builds may go up to interfere with coverage. That can not be held against a mobile phone network. Before you make that call, examine your terms and conditions carefully, gather as much info as possible. Compare coverage with other customers on the same network in affected areas if you can. It can be any number of things. Hope this helps.

It is a great pity that so many companies now require all such discussion/negotiations to be on the telephone rather than by letter or email where the customer has a record of what was said. Whereas it may be true that people lie on the telephone more than face to face or in writing, but the converse is also true. That is people can hear what they want to hear and not understand fully what is said to them. If it is in writing, they can read and re-read.

Lawyers hide unethical or unpopular points in reams of terms and conditions, so the writing does need to be specific to each customer.

Maybe this is something Which? could consider: Insist that all legal customer agreements have the author(s) names appended, together with their office addresses. I wonder whether this may reduce the number of “clever” or unethical clauses?

sean says:
23 June 2015

It’s a noble idea but it won’t happen. You’re right. The notes on these accounts are dreadful. I know. You get people ringing in saying it’s in the notes. It’s like hieroglyphics half the time. Best thing is ask for a confirmation text of anything promised by an agent. It’s not nice to deal with. Cleaning up other people’s messes.

sean says:
23 June 2015

I would debate whether the clauses are unethical. Mobile phone networks can only do so much. To guarantee permanent coverage indoors which a lot of people expect from masts situated sometimes miles away, contending with cell site traffic, essential maintenance, line of sight issues and also other rfi issues from things like airfields etc is asking a lot.

Paul says:
12 August 2015

I have issues with Vodafone. No 3 or 4G signal where I live and intermittent calling signal. This was not an issue before but i now work from home more often. At my place of work (office) calls and internet are dropped regularly. I contacted the provider and was offered a signal booster for the house (£100) which i declined due to the cost. I was then passed around 4 departments before being advised I would need to pay the full cancellation fee. Whilst I appreciate this is a business to make money, and they need to recoup the cost of the provided phone there reluctance to do anything is terrible. In future I will only ever go for monthly SIM only contract as all providers are not customer focused.

Alex Michael says:
22 August 2015

I signed up to 3 yesterday because I liked the fact of unlimited data I looked on their website about network coverage and the signal appeard good ! But since I got home yesterday evening and today all I have had is 1 bar of signal and that’s outside and inside I also get no service as well appear for a majority of the time as well no matter where I am. I called up 3 to see what they do about cancelling a contract due to poor service / no service and was told I would need to pay off all my contract which is about £1200 odd, I don’t see as to why I should pay it off when I’m paying for them to provide me with a service and their not what can I do to go about cancelling it and not having to pay anything can anyone offer any suggestions I need to sort this asap !!!!

Three have a booster bdevice called ‘Home Signal’ for users who do have a signal but a weak one. Other service providers have similar devices.

I don’t have a problem with my mobile signal but my neighbours tree which has a preservation order has grown this year to the extent it is now blocking my Free Sat dish signal so that I can no longer receive any HD or Free Sat channels. The tree owner who rents the house out to new tenants flatly refuses to pay to prune the tree. The offending branches are hanging over his space so I am unable to lop them. I shared the cost of pruning 2 years ago with the previous tenant but it is proving to be very expensive. The new tenants are anti social and unapproachable. Any suggestions please?
.

Hi Beryl,

Our sat dish is on a long pole because of trees. Would this work for you?

Interesting problem. There is a “right to light” if a window is obstructed by an overgrown tree next door but there is no right to an unrestricted satellite or mobile phone signal. Communications that require a direct line-of-sight transmission path are prone to this problem. Finding a suitable alternative position for a satellite dish is not always straightforward and if a neighbouring tree is very big or tall even a pole or mast might not work – and as Beryl says, it just keeps growing. I am not sure whether even the courts can provide a remedy in a case like this, and it would be costly to seek one, although the risk of costs might persuade the other party to take remedial action.

I suspect a similar issue will arise in due course where adjacent trees increase in size and block the sun’s rays from reaching the solar panels, especially in the case of bungalows where they seem to be very popular.

No doubt poor reception caused by neighbours’ trees is one of the factors driving the switch to fibre broadband, for those in areas where it is available.

With increasing use of solar panels and the environmental benefit of using your own electricity and hot water I hope that we will see legislation brought up to date. Solar panels should have a right to light too. 🙂

With regards to “risk of costs” I have even known a local authority allowing people to get round planning issues because of this risk if it gets into the hands of lawyers. Even the authority’s budget can support it.

This once again supports the somewhat paranoid idea that the legal profession is a sort of plundering occupying army, rather than a caring supportive agency.

A solution is not a case necessarily of cutting lawyers wages, more of making the profession much more efficient in its work.

Also the charging of VAT on legal fees is a bit of a misnomer as they don’t add value to anything in the same way as a builder adding an extension to a house increases its value. Any taxation with regards to lawyer’s work should not be a tax aimed at the consumers, ie citizen trying to obey the law, but on the fee as it passed into the practise, ie income tax or corporation tax. You don’t have to pay VAT every time you pass a road sign advising the speed limit or lane discipline, but you are penalised this way if you seek advice as to other laws of the land.

Most lawyers will give you a little bit of free advice but they always end up saying “my advice is worth what you’ve paid for it”.

Because the legal system is so inefficiently run, I think there is a rule of thumb that if the monetary value of whatever the lawyer is asked to consider is less than so much, then it isn’t cost effective to employ a lawyer. I think the sum was around £45k, but I am not sure whether this still applies or it is higher.

Many thanks for your reply alfa. I called at my neighbour yesterday on the other side to see if he was experiencing the same problem but as he works away abroad most of the time he is not connected to his sat dish so we were unable to check it out. I will look into the possibility of a long pole and where is the best place to attach it. The tree is deciduous so the situation might improve when it loses its leaves, but there’s always next years growth to consider.

Hi Beryl,

I just remembered, we can also get 14 HD freeview channels through the old TV aerial on the chimney on an HD TV with built-in freeview.

Is cable available in your area? That could be another option.

Thanks alfa. My TV definitely has built in HD. I am not sure about built in free view but will certainly enquire about it. I appreciate your help.

No problem.

Most TVs seem to have come with built-in freeview for a while now, but not necessarily HD freeview.

Our older main TV is an HD Ready (rather than the full HD I mentioned earlier) and although it has freeview built in, it does not receive HD channels through the aerial.

alfa

I have spoken to my son who has come up with a possible solution. It is possible to attach a satellite dish on top of the roof using a new product namely a Tile and Slate Clamp which is a non invasive fastening system suitable for all aerials & Zone 1 satellite dishes – also suitable for CCTV and security lighting with additional interface. Apart from other things it is wind tunnel tested and is simple to Install. I am not sure if Which?Convo will allow me to quote the name of the supplier as it might be considered advertising.

Beryl, sounds interesting but I’d look into what it fixes to. I’d suggest it needs to be fixed to roof timber. Tiles, even ridges, are not secure fixing points and the wind force on a satellite dish will be severe. Maybe worthwhile getting a dish-installer to move it and align it; they may have solutions.

Our planners place restrictions on the visibility of dishes, maybe because we are in an AONB, If on the roof it can only stick out 600mm above the highest part of the roof. Somewhat confusingly they also say it should not be visible from the road. Might be worth asking the question.

Hi Beryl,

Malcolm brings up a very good point of the wind force on a satellite dish. I too would be worried on the effect to the roof in high winds.

Do you have a wall that would take brackets and a pole so the dish can be above roof level?

Getting a quote from a dish-installer would be a very good idea as they would have the best solutions.

I believe there is/was a law that states if you have received a clear uninterrupted outlook for a period of up to 20 or more years when you first moved into your property, you are entitled to withhold it. I live in a conservation area with certain restrictions. The local council, when I approached them for permission to prune the branches on my side were adamant they were unable to take any action to remove or prune it without permission from the owner. As John rightly says remedial action could be costly and I agree with Wavechange, with advances in technological communication there is a need to ensure a right of light and space in order to be able to receive it.

Beryl -While the council cant force a neighbour who owns their own property to prune an overhanging tree on your own property (unless it overhangs a public road.footpath etc ) . It is different in your own case if you own the land your house is on . I like you live in a conservation area in a listed 2 cottage but I am legally allowed to prune any overhanging tree /bush etc as long as I lob the cuttings back into the owners property . This was the case with my neighbour as I like trees etc he was nice enough to ask me in the first place and I said I didnt want the cuttings . What he cant do is reach into your land and prune any branches etc.

Duncan- I am aware of my entitlement to prune any overhanging branches hanging over my landspace (which I own) and to avoid any future misunderstanding I first contacted the local council of my intention to prune the tree growing over my side. I received a document from them with specific and detailed written instructions on what is required by their forestry dept and that the work was to be carried out by a qualified tree surgeon appointed by them. I was required to submit the name and address of the owner of the tree whom I contacted and we discussed whether he wished the cuttings returned to his property. The very pleasant tenant at the time came to the rescue and agreed to pay for his side so that the tree looked more symmetrical when fully pruned. The landlord gave his permission for the work to go ahead on the condition that he did not have to pay for it! And so the tenant and myself shared the cost of £240 between us.

That was 2 years ago and the tree [a cherry with copper leaves} has since grown taller and more
dense and shades most of my garden with the offending branches overhanging their space now interrupting my TV satellite dish so that I have lost all of my freesat and HD channels. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, the local council, the owner of the tree and new very unapproachable and anti-social tenants, my only remaining options being, remove the sat dish somewhere else, preferably higher which would have to be on the roof, or start legal proceedings which would no doubt prove very costly.

To repeat all of the above is not something I am prepared to do every 2 years and bear the cost of maintaining a tree that I don’t even own. I would add it is a very beautiful tree but entirely in the wrong place.

okay Beryl using the same legal logic as I have said you can at least make yourself feel a bit better emotionally by “getting your own back ” subtly ,get a strong male friend or female for that matter and dig up the roots on your side you are quite entitled to cut them back to the legal border of your adjoining property .This could affect the health of the tree and make “tree huggers ” unhappy but it sure would make me happy in your situation. Remember to fill the hole back in and flatten the ground ,now if you were to “trip over ” a can of strong weedkiller and it fell in the hole and burst open well those things happen I certainly wouldnt give in ,no I am not telling you to brake the law but you could say it was interfering with your house foundations or causing a drying of your land by sucking up the available ground water and preventing your growing plants/vegetables etc therebye removing your legal entitlement to the full pleasure and use of your property . On the technical side if you are using a small Sky size dish then you have to be “bang on ” the correct angle and elevation to receive the full signal which in region 1 might be okay but I live in region 2 but use a much larger dish allowing a greater spread of the signal ,as per conservation laws it is hidden from viewing from a public road.

Trees can cause a lot of problems to neighbours, beautiful as they might be and too many owners of offending trees have no consideration for their neighbours and the distress it can cause. Neighbours should not have to pay to maintain owners trees when they cause problems.

The law needs changing to something like:

1. You must write a letter to your neighbour – Your tree/hedge is causing ……… please get it pruned.

2. The neighbour has one month to prune the tree/hedge.

3. If pruning has not occurred, the neighbour can then call the council to intervene. If the council agree with the neighbour, they give the owner a further month to prune the tree or it will be done by the council at the owner’s expense. Owners of trees in conservation areas would be given a month to apply for permission then a further month to prune tree.

4. The only extension to the further month can be proof that a tree-surgeon has been booked to do the work within a reasonable time.

5. Within this same law, anyone could notify the council of trees and hedges blocking public highways and pavements and owners given the same notice.

Simple.

If all home owners knew this law and the ease at which it could be applied, there would be so much less conflict between neighbours.

Loss of signal, loss of light, tree sap, reduced access, damage to buildings and driveways, all cause problems and owners need to take responsibility as in Beryl’s case.

I agree with what you say and would add one more clause. There are some trees such as edible fruit that do need regular pruning to enable them to flourish, therefore a preservation order should include an obligation for the owner to maintain it to a required standard. Apparently a tree has to have a girth of 75cm or more for preservation order to apply.

There are covenants applicable where I live such as you or your neighbour should refrain from building or growing anything that is likely to cause annoyance to one another, but tenants, not having access to the properties deeds are blissfully unaware of this and so the onus lies with landlords and the local council, who presumably possess the power to override a covenant in certain circumstances. Action therefore would involve costly legal fees.

Incidentally my neighbouur on the other side kindly suggested I run a cable along fhe roof from my
sat dish to his as he is away most of the time and had not bothered to connect so we were unable to establish whether the tree was affecting his transmission also. I will be contacting a local aerial specialist to assess the situation who will soon, I hope, come up with a solution. Meantime many thanks for your interest. Will keep you posted

What a nice neighbour you have.

If that works for you and your neighbour doesn’t mind, the LNB on the satellite dish could be changed so you can share the dish. It would probably cost between £10 and £15.

But keep us posted.

Except in conservation areas and in respect of tree preservations orders, I don’t think local authorities have any interest in what happens about trees between neighbours, nor do I think they would want to get involved as Alfa suggests in intervening if one neighbour will not cooperate with another. The proliferation of tenancies has not helped and uncooperative landlords are a growing problem in many ways. Repositioning the dish is the best approach in a case like Beryl’s, failing which lopping the tree on one side might improve reception but is not a long-term solution. Poisoning the roots of an adjacent tree is an unneighbourly act and exposes the culprit to a risk of legal action however surreptitiously done.

Moonraker says:
25 August 2016

Moved from o2 to BT recently due to their half price mobile package with home broadband – checked the signal checker before moving BT claimed signal in my area ‘GOOD’. It has never been good, at best it ‘Pulses’ from nothing to 2 – 3 bars but is getting increasingly worse with hours of ‘no signal’ at a time. Was recently charged £30 for picture messages that wern’t sent, probably due to lack of signal, but charged for every attempt to send. Wish I stayed with O2!

paul says:
29 August 2016

With 3 mobile I keep having to ring up and get them to look at local mast as there are periods when it stops giving me signal indoors for weeks. It’s really quite a nusence. I may have to try and terminate my year contract.

Alan January says:
24 March 2017

Ive been with Orange right from the start & found them excellent until teaming up with T Mobile Uk to form EE.
After that its been down hill, when Tmoblie shows on screen I have no signal, but in general very bad, I hope Orange gets back into the UK again, this time running its own signal masts.

Alan are you one of the original Orange contract holders as EE is now owned by BT who have a large coverage of Britain ? I ask as you say the Tmobile signal appears on your phone , have you not upgraded to the latest contract as your contract is now obsolete and you are being limited in your reception coverage .Could you supply anymore info please ? There is no sign of Orange starting over again here –unless somebody knows different ? It would need to install all new masts if it was going alone ,for a start.

peter says:
3 June 2017

I cannot get a signal indoors on any network, but I can get O2 4g in my loft but not 2g.
I have reported no signal to O2 at least 30 times. They do nothing. Any suggestions?

Hello Peter , there area large range of companies in the UK selling O2 signal boosters like : https://www.o2signalboosters.co.uk for a more professional website go to : https://www.myamplifiers.com/repeaters/gb-o2-signal-boosters/ Its possible to make your own aerial , put it in the loft and run co-ax down to your room with a pickup if you think the units are too pricey but you need a wee bit of technical knowledge. Please get back to me as I have plenty of methods of doing this if there already is a signal nearby . Mobile companies dont approve of “repeater” units attached to your phone as they can spot them and disconnect your signal so I wont go into detail on them.

Jennifer Densham says:
19 January 2018

I am experiencing poor signal ( non existent) with o2 having moved house recently I have discovered their 4g signal is also rubbish in my area. I’m well into a 24 month contract and they want £200 cancellation fee & have basically said that there’s nothing can be done so pay it or lump it!! Not impressed. Customer for over 12 years but will.be leaving them at contract end. What’s the point in pay g a monthly fee for no service?!

Samantha goddad says:
4 April 2018

I moved house 9 months ago and although the mobile coverage looked good , the reality is when I am in or around the house, I have no phone signal.

I pay £80 a month for a huge tarrif if unlimited calls texts and data but am unable to use any of it unless I am out of the house. I work from home, so most of my time is here.

O2 absolutely refuse to move me to a lower tarrif – I’ve been trying for months. In the meantime I’m paying for a service they are completely unable to provide for me.
It seems totally unfair and unreasonable to expect me to pay for something I am unable to use because they can’t provide it.