Mobile phone service down? Here’s what to do if it keeps happening.

3 min read
October 18, 2019

A quick guide to mobile phone outages and your rights

‘Nomophobia’ – the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use your phone for some reason, such as the absence of a signal or running out of minutes or battery power – entered the dictionary this week. But that fear became a stark reality for customers of Three as access to their mobile phone services were denied.

What happened?

Despite some initial confusion over the scale of the problem, Three announced that there were ‘technical problems’ with ‘voice, internet and text’ services. We don’t know the full scale of the outage, but Three has 10 million users in the UK alone.

People were unhappy with the official advice to turn the phone/airline mode off and on again, with many taking to twitter (and my inbox) to complain of long delays, with ten hours often being cited.

Website monitor Down Detector logged problems beginning on Wednesday evening peaking on Thursday morning.

While Three stated on Thursday evening that the service had been restored for most people, there were still some reports of problems.

The problem was reportedly after work on part of the network’s infrastructure.

What are the consequences?

Much mirth occurred on the internet from people making jokes about our addiction to our mobile phones. But for many people, the outage was distinctly unfunny. It raises wider issues about may of the things we take for granted and the advance of technology in our lives.

Aside from the obvious lack of phone/data/text services, here’s some of the situations that people might have encountered that could have had a significant impact:

  • Authenticating some plastic card transactions under the new two-stage authentication procedures.
  • Contacting older or more vulnerable people or those in rural or isolated communities.
  • Making phone banking contactless transactions, like transport tickets, for example.
  • Access e-tickets that haven’t been saved by screenshots.

Now, of course, many people will have been able to access the internet or make calls through other sources, so this will have been annoying but not the end of the world. But for others, they may have been stranded or left without funds as a result of the reasons above

What are my rights for compensation?

Compensation isn’t automatically due when there’s a mobile phone or broadband outage. But it has been given in the past – O2 did last year – monthly O2 customers got two days’ worth of use for free, while pay as you go users got discounts.

Regulator OFCOM states that depending on the circumstances, you ‘may’ be entitled to get some money back. If it’s an ongoing problem you may be able to switch provider without penalty (this shouldn’t apply to most people in this case).

There are three main types of compensation.

  1. Compensation for loss of service (like refunds or credits to your account.
  2. Consequential loss (for things that you’ve not been able to do as a direct consequence of the loss).
  3. Distress and inconvenience (for situations where the loss of service has had a significant impact on you, like being stranded in a foreign country, for example).

If you’ve experienced a significant loss or a serious situation, take the time to note down what happened and why your options were limited due to the service outage. If you incurred expenses then save any receipts and proof.

Three are now asking people to contact them via Live Chat if they have any issues.

If you’re still not happy with Three’s response, there are two ombudsmen services for the telecoms industry – CISAS and Ombudsman Services: Communications. Three is a member of the Ombudsman Services scheme.

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