/ Technology

Does getting a phone repaired push all the wrong buttons?

When your smartphone kicks the bucket, you’d hope your contract provider would be there to offer a suitable replacement. Unfortunately, that’s not the experience of two of my fellow Which? colleagues.

Aniela’s old-school replacement

I had to take my Samsung smartphone in for repair at O2 last week. Please note the word ‘smart’. When asked if I wanted a replacement phone I said, of course, and the sales assistant took a £25 deposit. The assistant then went out to fetch my replacement phone from the back room.

When she opened the box in front of me it was like stepping back in time. The phone had buttons, a tiny screen and its main selling features seemed to be an inbuilt mp3 player. Great if I was in search of props for a movie set in the noughties; not so great for replacing my smartphone.

I asked how O2 could offer this as a replacement phone (or a ‘courtesy phone’ as the sales assistant kept calling it) and was told this was the standard replacement phone.

Huh? To me it doesn’t seem quite right for my provider to offer these old phones when most people today have smartphones. A quick glance at the phones on display revealed nothing but sleek and shiny smartphones, making the situation even more ironic.

I was told that O2 would have to take higher deposits to provide smartphones as replacements. I’d gladly pay a higher deposit to be able to use all the services that I’m currently paying O2 for, rather than being stuck with the relic they gave me.

Now, I suppose I should count myself lucky for getting a replacement phone at all – as my colleague Jen was less fortunate…

Jen’s non-existent replacement phone

When I heard Aniela’s story, I nodded along with a sympathetic smile. My Samsung smartphone was also malfunctioning, which was frustrating as it was just months old.

I called T-Mobile to let the company know, and it offered two options. The first was having a ‘silver bag’ sent to my house so I could send my phone in the post. The second was to go into one of its branches, receive a courtesy phone and have one of their staff send the phone off for me. I chose the second option because, like Aniela, I needed a replacement.

However, it simply wasn’t to be. I headed to my local T-Mobile store, where I was told they didn’t have any spare loan phones. I was also told that any phone I did get would be a basic text-and-call only model. Considering I wasn’t going to receive any reimbursement for the time apart from my phone, I felt pretty put out.

So I decided to try another T-Mobile store. This store didn’t have a loan phone either, but as my patience was wearing thin, I decided to send my phone off anyway. However, this wasn’t to be either, as the ‘computer said no’. The assistant informed me that he’d sent off ‘loads of phones’ that morning and was none the wiser as to why it wouldn’t work with me. His manager said I’d simply have to try again another day.

Frustrated and deflated, I called T-Mobile again and asked for a silver bag. I received the bag, sent off the phone and received my phone back in full-working order approximately two weeks later. T-Mobile made no apologies, gave no refund and the staff made me feel like they were doing me a favour.

Have you had any similar experiences? What do you expect from a replacement phone? Would you be willing to leave a higher deposit to get a phone similar to yours?


It depends whether what the contract has to say about a courtesy phone. If there is no provision for this, then being loaned an older model should be welcomed and not criticised.

When I was working I was careful to select an insurance company that would guarantee a loan car if I had an accident. Though I never needed this, it was a reassurance to know that I was covered.

I wonder what the evidence is for saying “most people today have smartphones”. Perhaps in metropolitan areas but not in rural areas. My nearest mobile phone network shops are 25 miles away in Norwich. Luckily, plain vanilla telephones rarely malfunction – the availability of a signal is the variable factor.

Hi Wavechange – I’ll have to admit that I don’t know if my phone contract contains a clause referring to courtesy phone provisions in the event of a breakdown. I could even be pushed to agree with you that it’s good of them to offer a courtesy phone under these circumstances, but as you can see from my post, I couldn’t get my hands on one and they made no effort to help me obtain one.

In my mind, regardless of what the contract says, I pay a lot of money for my smartphone contract – which I know is largely to pay off the high ‘cost’ of my handset. So, if my handset doesn’t work and is taken away, shouldn’t it be a basic courtesy of the phone company to provide a replacement or some kind of recompense? After all, I didn’t break my phone – it was simply faulty.

Thanks Jennifer. It was Aniela’s comments that provoked my reply. I take your point.

Perhaps the phone companies could agree standard practice on courtesy phones for those on contracts.

My impression is that mobile phones are about the most unreliable products on the market. It’s hardly surprising considering how some treat them. On the other hand, perhaps they should be designed to take a bit of abuse.

When I bought my new ‘phone on a contract with O2 I received a ‘phone call shortly after, encouraging me to recycle my old ‘phone, which had internet access, e-mail etc.

My new ‘phone started to malfunction after a week or so, but at that point I thought that it was just a problem with settings. However, it was sent off for repair, and I was offered the most basic handset possible as a replacement. As I hadn’t parted with my old ‘phone, I was able to use this instead. My new ‘phone was returned after a couple of weeks, with the same fault as it was sent off with, and was eventually replaced.

When a new ‘phone is faulty, I really do think that it would be reasonable to get a courtesy ‘phone that enables you to continue using what you pay for in your contract. And I can’t tell you have upset I would have been if I had allowed myself to be persuade to part with my old ‘phone for a few pounds!

That makes sense, but if the company does not already do this, they will have a valid reason to raise charges to cover the cost of the extra service. Most people are not very happy when companies increase charges during a contract. Look at all the recent discussion that has led to the Which? Fixed Means Fixed campaign.

Maybe this is something to look for when you take out your next contract. You will not be the only one who wants a decent courtesy phone when theirs is away for repair, but expect to pay for this service.

Recently I took my not-so-smart phone with a broken screen to the Orange shop. The screen had stopped working but wasn’t cracked. As it’s half-and-half touchscreen/keypad operated it was unusable. It’s worth about a tenner. Orange offered to replace it at a cost to me of £80.
I have bought a temporary £15 replacement from Tesco. My plan is to get an early upgrade but not through Orange, through Phones 4 U at no additioanl cost to myself apart from a couple of extra pounds a month data allowance.

Nedludd says:
15 October 2012


I can’t help thinking we’re letting these (very highly profitable) companies off the hook a little lightly here! Surely when they sell you a contract they are selling you a commitment to provide that service, the phone which forms part of that contract being a part of that service, From the moment the contract starts to the moment it ends. It is outrageous that they should be allowed to get away with still charging for a service (the handset is an integral part of the service) which they are not providing. In turn, this means free repairs and servicing, FOR THE LIFE OF THE CONTRACT, as of right, with refunds for any time the phone isn’t working as of right. Anything less is quite simply a ripoff!

I sent a phone back to Three and the got back to me with a letter saying it was water damaged when it had been nowhere near water.

Sometimes you can’t win.

prentonboy says:
6 November 2012

I am fed up with everything to do with so called smart phones and mobile phone shops. On the 31st August I bought a Apple iPhone 4 from Carphone Warehouse. Today I returned it as it did not work anymore. I had a black screen with a thin blue line vertically down the center. Nothing had happened to it it just stopped working. I checked out on the Internet and this seemed to be a known problem. I returned it to Carphone Warehouse expecting to be given a replacement or a refund. Apparently Carphone Warehouse don’t do that as it was outside the 28 days of their warranty. I asked what my rights were under the Sales of Goods Act and basically they said I had no rights as the staff at Carphone Warehouse had to comply with their own rules regarding the 28 days limit. They took the phone off me and said it is likely to take 5 days to send back to Apple. I asked for compensation and/or a replacement and was told it was not the stores policy to do that. Apparently the consumer has rights but in reality they do not. I insisted on speaking to ‘Head Office’ but whoever I spoke to did not seem to have heard anything regarding consumer law and just repeated what was said about the 28 days. Please forgive my rant.

John says:
20 January 2013

At least they offer a replacement, tescomobile refuse to do this. I don’t think by law they are allowed, but what can we expect from a company that puts horsemeat in burgers. I went in store, and was told they would send me a bag by post, I wondered why they couldn’t have one in store. They told me to buy a £9 phone, and I refused and I have now informed the telephone ombudsman.

Tasha says:
13 February 2013

After having an iPhone for over 3 years, I was really surprised that when my upgrade came up, I was leaning towards a Samsung not an iPhone – the Samsung galaxy S2 to be exact.

So last month (3 months after getting the phone) things went belly up, stopped working. I thought it was a network problem as it said I had full signal, but nobody could call me/text me, and if I tried to call someone it said Not Registered on Network. Phoned O2 – no network issues.
They gave me a new sim card incase that was the problem – it wasn’t.
So the man in the o2 shop did something that seemed to work for around 4 hours, then back to square one. I was already getting a little annoyed, as it’s difficult for me to get to the O2 shop before they close, what with me working. Anyway, took it back, they sent it away.

10 days later, it’s back – hurrah! Except, the letter with my phone said no fault could be found. So they updated the software (wow did I feel dumb, could’ve done that myself) Yes, meanwhile I’d been using a £9.00 from Tesco as O2 had ”rented out” all of their ”courtesy phones”.

So surprise surprise it wasn’t working when I got it back, so I took it straight back, a little anger in my tone, why send it back unfixed?? So they re-sent it back to samsung. So i picked it up on Friday night, seemed fine. Saturday morning however, people were saying WHY AREN’T YOU ANSWERING YOUR PHONE?… Zero missed calls.. Zero texts.. Uh-oh. Took it back on Sunday – 3rd time now!! And i’ve been told they MIGHT offer me a replacement phone – an equivalent. any ideas what i might get offered? As i am not prepared to make a short fast decision there and then if I dont know much about the phone they offer me – no way!

Getting quite used to this £9.00 phone now…

Do NOT ask about o2 refunding your contract for the month(s) you’re without your phone. I got an earful – which I’m annoyed about. They say I pay for the sim not the phone.. Could someone please tell me then why my sim only plan for business is £7.50 a month and my samsung contract with the exact same tarrif on, is £19 a month – yeah that’s right, cos i’m paying for the phone. I got spoken to awfully, as though I was trying to make trouble. At the end of the day i am having to pay for something that isn’t as described when i signed the contract,

Rant over.

For now…..

Unbelievable Tasha.

If they think they can give you the runaround then they will and you’re right that of course you’re paying extra for the handset, or the sim-free contract would be the same price.

I always make sure to raise a complaint so that you have something on record on your account notes, because they’re awfully nice to you when your contract is about to run out and you’re asking for your PAC code. Then, if they ask why you can refer back to your account notes for references to episodes such like this.

Louise says:
5 September 2013

Recently my TV stopped working. I didn’t go back to where I bought it from, I called the manufacturer, allowed them to pick it up, repair it and return it to me. At no point did I ask for a ‘courtesy TV’. I had a grumpy 7 year old for a few days, but, we lived.
Similarly, when my washing machine broke, I went through a similar process, used the local launderette and moved on.
Why are phones any different? Yes, you might need it in an emergency, but I’m pretty sure the phone in the first story would have made calls. When has checking your email, or checking in on Facebook ever been an emergency?
Most networks are happy to give a bill refund for the time you have not used their network… but there’s the point, why do people blame the network, it is the manufacturer of the device which is letting you down! Note to self – based on the stories above, I’ll never be buying a Samsung!

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Robert says:
9 July 2014

Ok so your bible is the Sale of Goods Act 1979. I have just had a similar experience with Carphone Warehouse and a faulty sony xperia Z1 compact. If the phone is under 6 months old and has a fault it is considered to have been faulty when sold. You (not the seller) is entitled to choose a replacement or a repair. They can only object if it is disproportionate to replace it. However knowing the resale value of most handsets I don’t think they have a leg to stand on. Secondly they cannot insist on repair if it causes unresonable inconvenience, (ie being without your phone for a month). So stick to your guns people and refuse repair. A warranty is between you and the manufacturer, it is nothing at all to do with the contract with phone retailer. The reality is if the retailer cannot return the handset to the manufacturer and obtain a full refund they will fob you off with a repair under warranty again at zero costs to them.

Robin says:
19 November 2015

I have a faulty xperia m2 phone 12 months into a 24 month contract, which will no longer charge. Car phone warehouse have loaned me a phone which is like something out of the dark ages while they send it away and consider whether they will fix it for me, and whether it will cost me. Why not loan BETTER phones to encourage people to upgrade? They are really missing a trick.

Emma Gibby says:
11 January 2017

My phone company don’t offer a replacement phone so I’m stuck without a phone for two weeks while mine is repaired

I don’t understand how a non-smart phone could technically work as a replacement. Presumably, you want your replacement phone to work with your existing telephone number so that you can receive calls from your contacts. That means putting your existing SIM card into the replacement phone (transferring a number to a new SIM card would take days). But if your broken phone is a smartphone, you would have a 4G SIM card, while a cheap replacement phone would only take 3G cards, and wouldn’t work with your 4G card.

With giffgaff sims I’ve not noticed any differences – they seem to work interchangeably in both 3 & 4 G phones.

You’re right, Derek. I was under the impression that 3G cards worked in a 4G phone but not the other way around. Now I can no longer find where I got that from. Everywhere I read now, it says any SIM card can work on any phone.