/ Technology

Brief cases: faulty smartphone


Vodafone initially reneged on its obligation to offer a replacement handset to a Which? member. So what should you do when a mobile phone manufacturer fails to fulfill its promise to customers?

Which? Legal member Robert Gregson took out a 24-month mobile phone contract, including minutes, data, text messages and a handset, with Vodafone on 2 August 2016. After four months, the handset stopped working. He returned it to a Vodafone store and two weeks later he received a replacement. This briefly worked, but then it performed an automatic software update, stopping the phone’s Bluetooth feature working, so Mr Gregson could no longer synchronise the handset with his car.

At the Vodafone store, Mr Gregson explained that he’d lost faith in the handset and that any replacement would probably have the same update problem. The store said that he would have to contact Vodafone directly. After weeks of calling and getting nowhere, Vodafone then only offered to replace the handset for a budget smartphone, not a premium one like his original phone, so he turned to Which? Legal for advice.

Our advice

We explained that this was a ‘mixed contract’ for goods and services. Here, ‘goods’ referred to his phone and ‘services’ meant his minutes, text messages and data. Under the Consumer Rights Act, when goods are not of satisfactory quality or not fit for purpose, you can request repairs or a like-for-like replacement with the seller bearing any costs. If the remedy hasn’t been provided within a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience, you can seek a price reduction.

Using our advice, Mr Gregson convinced Vodafone to replace the handset for an agreed model and he removed the software update option, finally leaving him with a working phone.

The law

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 requires that goods supplied on or after 1 October 2015 must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and match their description. If this is not the case, you can request a repair or a like-for-like replacement. If this happens within six months, it’s generally assumed that the problem was present at the time of sale. After six months, it’s up to you to prove this was the case.

The seller can choose whether to offer a repair or replacement, and it must do this within a reasonable time, without significant inconvenience to you and at its own cost.

This article by the Which? Legal team originally appeared in the July 2017 edition of Which? magazine

Has your mobile phone ever broken down on you? Did you find it difficult to get a replacement? What did you do about it?


I always find posts by the Legal team to make for mandatory reading. Perhaps more than any other aspect, this part of Which? is the most valuable.


A lot of positive changes start with people having a dream. Imagine if everyone were a member of ?Which/Legal and systematically fought all the chancers out there…


. . . and if only access to justice was not so expensive and complicated. Even the ‘free’ routes via regulators, ombudsmen, Citizens Advice, and trading standards are not exactly straightforward.

Which? Legal, newspaper columns and individuals win Consumer Rights Act cases [mostly before court action] but it doesn’t seem to make much difference to the behaviour of retailers generally. What’s the answer? Naming and shaming might be one way of changing the culture.


They dont dream about it in America Sophie they get together and start a class action. Also they have solid support from the US Administrative Departments in enforcing legal action against actionable “hurt ” to the American public . Unlike here . If we are good enough to buy goods from big US companies surely we deserve the protection that American citizens have when their legal rights are broken otherwise we are just another Third World Country, in reality.


Does the USA have the equivalent of our Consumer Rights Act, Duncan?

This case concerned a UK retailer selling the product and service of a UK company. The customer eventually got satisafction but it was clearly a struggle and he had to involve Which? Legal. How would an individual in a similar situation get on in America [either against Vodafone or a US cellphone company]?


Vodaphone sold its 45 % stake in America,s telecom wireless business to Verizon Communications for $130 Billion as it was not getting its own way in the USA and if you check out it isn’t getting its own way in Australia. I will check into other US cell-phone providers John .


The USA is fairly complex in terms of Consumerism. Individual States have their own laws, there are also Federal laws and the Federal Trade Commission is established to protect consumers.



Don’t do a lot of research, Duncan. I was just wondering whether you might know how the same scenario set out in the Intro to this Conversation would play out if it happened in the shop of a cell-phone operator in America and they messed the customer about in the way that Vodafone did here.


Thanks for that link, Ian. I like the very direct language used on the FTC website.

The USA seems to have very good top-level policies and enforcement agencies dealing with major commercial misbehaviour. I am not sure how much support an individual citizen gets when their rights are being ignored or denied – it’s not always possible [or economically worth while] to undertake a class action process as so many cases are unique and if they have to be dealt with under the particular state jurisdiction that makes it harder to get widespread support.

I presume day-to-day enforcement of consumer rights is left to the County Sherriffs’ offices or the state administration according to the relevant state’s legislation. None of the people I know in the United States seems to have any direct experience and if they have a problem they take it up with the trader concerned accepting the outcome as par for the course. America is generally more litigious than the UK and seems to rely more on contract law for obtaining relief than on public statutes.

I should watch Judge Judy more perhaps.