Whether to choose bill pay or prepay entirely depends on your circumstances, particularly how much you use your phone and whether you need a new phone as well as a mobile phone service.
What your data, call and text usage is like? You can do this by looking at:
- the number of calls you make to mobile phones on your network
- the number of calls you make to mobile phones on other networks
- any mobile data you use on your phone – using internet, email, social media and apps, for example
- the number of calls to landlines
- the number of text messages (including picture messages) you send
How much do you want to spend each month on mobile phone costs?
Can you manage your mobile usage? If you think you might have trouble staying within allowances for calls, texts and data, a pre-paid plan can help you avoid expensive excess charges.
Do you require flexibility or can you commit to a contract?
Do you need a new phone?
It is important that you consider the above before you start shopping for plans and/or phones as this information will help you to make sure that the option you chose is the right one for you. If you find a price plan that suits you, ask the mobile operator if there are any discounts, for example, if you choose bill pay and pay by direct debit. You may also get discounts or free calls and texts to numbers you specify (such as friends and family), or you might get a discounted rate for calls and texts to other mobile numbers on the same network.
The Commission for Communications Regulation (Comreg) provides an independent website, which can help you compare the costs of different price plans.
With bill pay, you will get a monthly bill for the services you’ve used in the previous month and contracts usually last between one month and two years. Usually, you sign up for a package at a set price every month which includes a certain amount of calls, texts and data. Units outside of these allowances are charged at a set price. It is important to note that if you don’t use all of the allowance in your package you will still have to pay for them each month.
With prepay, you buy credit and top up your account before you spend the credit. Prepay is ideal if you want to be able to closely manage how much you are spending on your phone service. Some providers also offer bundles of calls, texts and data that you can buy for a set price. Unlike bill pay, if you chose prepay you are usually not tied to a particular network and you can move at any point. This means you can change your package depending on your needs or to take up offers that become available.
Buying a phone
If you are buying a new phone you can buy it outright or buy it as part of bundle where you get a bill pay contract and a new phone together. It may look as though getting a phone as part of a bill pay contract is cheaper than buying it outright – but it could actually be more expensive in the long term. With a pre-pay phone, you generally pay the full cost of the phone up front.
When you sign up for a bill pay mobile phone, your contract is with the mobile network operator. Usually, when you are offered a phone as part of a bundle it means you have to sign a contract for a minimum time, usually 18 months. This means that if you want to switch providers during the contract term, there may be a fee for ending the contract early.
Quality standards for phones
Under consumer law when you buy products and services from a business they must reach certain quality standards. If the item or service does not meet those standards you have rights.
Specifically, in relation to mobile phones, this means that when you buy a mobile phone it must be:
- As it was described to you. This means it must match the description you were given either in the shop or by the description provided in an advert. When you open the box the phone should be the same model, have the same features and be as it was described/shown to you.
- Of merchantable quality and an acceptable standard. Acceptable quality takes into account what would normally be expected for the type of product and cost. An example of how this might not be the case is if the phone works but it cannot be charged, then it is not of merchantable quality.
- It should also be fit for the particular purpose for which you bought it. If you tell the business that you want the phone for a particular use then the phone should fulfil this use. For example, if you want to buy a phone that is compatible with your smart watch, and you tell the business this and on that basis, the business recommends a phone to you. However should you find that the phone is not compatible with your smart watch, although it’s not faulty, it is not fit for purpose.
If a phone develops a fault within six months of purchase, there is a presumption that the fault existed at the time of purchase. It is up to the business to prove that the fault was not there at the time of purchase, for example, that the consumer damaged it in some way.
What about guarantees?
Guarantees, regardless of whether they are free or cost extra, do not replace your statutory rights and even if a guarantee has run out, you may be able to claim under your statutory rights.
If you buy a phone or sign up for a contract online or over the phone, there are additional consumer protections in place. These include:
The right to clear information
There should be no hidden fees or charges when you go to sign up to a service or buy goods online. Businesses must show clearly the total cost of the service or product, including any additional taxes or fees, before the order is placed.
The business must also give you the following information in a clear manner before you place the order:
- The name and address of the supplier
- The main characteristics of the service or product
- The cost and arrangement for delivery
- In the case of bill pay contracts, the manner in which the monthly price is calculated
- How payment is to be made
- How the service will be performed
- That a right to cancel exists and how you can cancel
- The minimum duration of the contract
- How long you have to enter into the contract on these terms
- The cost of the communication between you and the business if it is above a basic rate
- Any guarantees or after-sales services available
- The conditions for ending the contract if it is of unlimited duration or for longer than one year
This information should be given to you in a document that you can keep. It is up to the business to prove that you have received the information.
The right to change your mind
When you buy something online or over the phone, you have 14 days to cancel from the date you receive it. This includes when you buy a mobile phone as part of a bundle. Within those 14 days, you must inform the business that you are cancelling and return the phone within 14 days of the day you informed them. You do not have to give any reason for cancelling.
If you cancel the service or return the phone, the business, by law, has to refund you within 14 days of the day you notify the trader that you wish to cancel. The refund also includes any delivery costs that you may have had to pay. But bear in mind you may not be refunded the cost for a non-standard delivery (e.g. express delivery) or the diminished value of the phone (e.g. if the handset has been damaged by you).
The right to refund for delayed or non-delivery
From the day you enter into the contract, the provider has 30 days to perform the service that you have ordered unless you agree otherwise with them.
Issues with signing up to a contract
There are certain standards which should be met by the service provider. If the service is not carried out within the time agreed, you can contact the provider and ask for it at a later, convenient date. If it has still not been carried out during this extra period, you are then entitled to cancel the contract.
If you didn’t receive the service during the 30 days and this was essential, you are entitled to cancel the contract after the 30 days is up, particularly if you informed them that you needed the service by this date.
If the provider tells you that they can’t or won’t carry out the service, then you are entitled to cancel the contract.
Problems and faults in phones can and do happen. If a product or service you buy fails to meet a statutory quality standard, you have the right to ask for a repair, replacement or refund. The solution you’re entitled to will depend on whether the issue is major or minor and the timeframe in which you became aware of the fault. Consumer protection legislation means that you, as the consumer, must agree with the business on how the fault will be addressed. The information below will help you understand your options and to negotiate with the business.
What to do
Contact the business as soon as you discover there is a problem. It is important that you don’t delay. Explain to them what the issue is. The law says that there are three outcomes, however it does not state exactly which solution must be used, and therefore you will need to negotiate this with the business.
The solution to the problem can depend on a number of things.
- Have you examined the item and are happy that it is what you agreed to buy?
- Have you ‘accepted’ the item?
- Did you agree that the product is what you want and have used it without any issues for a period of time?
- Is the problem with the item major or minor?
You can ask the business for your preference of a free repair, replacement or refund, but consumer protection legislation does not specify what solution should be agreed.
You can request that:
- The business fixes the fault. You should not be charged for the cost incurred in repairing the phone.
- You can request a replacement. Any replacement should be identical to the original phone. Where this is not possible the trader can offer you an alternative, but you do not have to accept it. You also should not be charged for any costs relating to the replacement, for example, delivery.
- You can demand an appropriate reduction in price.
- You have a short-term right to reject the goods and claim a full refund of the price of the phone. The exact timeframe of this short term right is not specified in legislation, but the CCPC’s position is that the right exists for at least 30 days after you bought the phone. Likewise, if the phone cannot be fixed or replaced or the business has failed to fix or replace it within a reasonable timeframe, you can request a refund. If the fault is minor, you do not have a right to a full refund.
If you bought a phone during a sale
Your rights do not change. If you are sold a phone that is not as described, not fit for the purpose intended, or not of merchantable quality, you are entitled to a refund, repair or replacement of the phone or a reduction of the price regardless of whether it was on sale or not.
If you bought a second-hand phone
Although the quality and standards may be lower for second-hand phones, you can still generally expect it to be as described, fit for the purpose intended and of merchantable quality. This means that if you buy a second-hand phone and it turns out to be faulty you can go back to the business to seek redress.
What if you get the phone repaired and the same fault happens a second time?
If your phone has a fault and the business offers to fix the fault, the repair should be permanent and the problem should not reoccur. Where the same fault reoccurs, you can request a replacement or a refund. The business is not allowed to insist on a minimum number of repairs before a replacement is considered.
Should you get a replacement if your phone is being fixed?
For most people, having a mobile phone is essential. Therefore, if a repair on your phone is going to take a number of weeks, you should ask for a similar replacement while the phone is away for repair.
What if the repair takes a long time?
Depending on the length of time, you can request that you are refunded a proportion of the price of the phone or if the business does not repair your phone without significant inconvenience to you, then you can request that you receive a refund.
What to do if you are not happy with the solution proposed by the business?
If you haven’t already, ask the business for details of their official complaints process and set out your complaint in writing. If you are still not satisfied, the Small Claims Court may be an option for you to progress with your complaint.
Generally with any service, you have the right to expect that:
- The service you ordered is provided with proper care and attention
- The business providing it has the appropriate skills to do the job
- Any materials they use in the work are sound and fit for their purpose
- Any goods they supply to you as part of the service should be of acceptable quality too
If the phone service does not operate as expected:
- Act quickly – don’t delay in making your complaint. If you do, the provider may take this as a sign that you accept the service, and this may weaken your case if you take legal action against them. There may also be a time limit on making certain types of complaints.
- Contact the person you originally dealt with, or the business’ customer service department, if it has one. A good business will have its own proper internal complaints procedures, and complaints are often resolved using these.
- Give the business the opportunity to put things right. This may help to solve your problem more quickly and will stand to you if you need to take legal action.
- If your problem has gone on for some time and is still not resolved, you should make a more formal complaint in writing, either in a letter or by email. You can use our sample complaint letters to help you put your complaint in writing.
Finally, if you have a service issue with your mobile phone provider and you have lodged a complaint with the business and it remains unresolved, you may wish to contact the Commission for Communications Regulations (ComReg).
If you are in a contract, check to see when your contract ends and whether you would have to pay a fee if you switched before your contract ends.
Switching is easy and can be done in a few simple steps:
Step 1 – Choose a mobile operator. Compare the price plans on offer from the main mobile operators on the market on the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) website.
Step 2 – Contact your new operator and provide your details. You can either phone them, go online or call into one of their shops. When you move to a new operator, you can keep your old number if you want – this is called Mobile Number Portability (MNP).
Step 3 – Switch. Your new mobile operator should complete the process for you within a few hours.
Read more about switching mobile phones on the ComReg website.
So, if you are unhappy with the service provided by your mobile operator or if you feel you are paying too much, consider switching today.
Who do I complain to if I have a problem switching?
You can contact ComReg if you have a complaint about the switching process.