Customers buying mobile phones are often not given enough information about cancellation policies in the event of coverage problems, according to the Communications Consumer Panel, an Ofcom advisory body.
Research by the panel called Can I Cancel? discovered that 56 per cent of shoppers were not given a full and correct outline of their right to terminate fixed contracts if the phone does not work well on a given network.
Anna Bradley, chairman of the Communications Consumer Panel, argued that a set period should be introduced during which customers can return a device.
"A new mobile phone is no good if it can't be used. We are calling for an across-the-board minimum 14 days to cancel contracts where consumers have coverage problems," she said.
"People must be given enough time to test coverage in the places where they want to use their phone."
The organisation also said that staff in mobile phone shops need better training about cancellation policies, and that there should be more consistent policies between operators and retailers.
Orange emerged as the worst operator, according to the report, with just 32 per cent of shoppers being given accurate information. It was also the only one not to allow contract cancellation owing to network issues.
O2 achieved the best score with 79 per cent, followed by Tesco Mobile at 71 per cent and T-Mobile at 68 per cent.
Third-party retailers fared very differently, however. Carphone Warehouse staff gave accurate information on network operators' tariffs 56 per cent of the time, while Phones4U scored just four per cent.
Gavin Sheldon, O2's head of network, argued that customers should always be encouraged to use operators’ coverage checkers before they buy.
"But we’d go further to say that as an industry there needs to be greater transparency about mobile coverage, so customers are equipped with the information they need to make good purchasing decisions from the outset," he added.
"Using messages that focus solely on geographical reach only serve to confuse and mislead. No operator can guarantee a perfect experience to their customers. But what we can and should guarantee is that they have been given honest and accurate information.”
Ofcom's move underlines the watchdog's continued attempts to get a better deal for consumers, following new number porting regulations that force mobile operators to move customers' mobile numbers across a network within one working day.
Orange was recently rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority over an advert in which it falsely claimed that its 3G service covers more people in the UK than any other operator.
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