Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question: I have a contract problem with my mobile operator. I can't get any mobile coverage where I live but my operator (Vodafone) won't let me out of my contract. I don't have a subsidised phone from them so I don't understand what the problem is. It's complicated by the fact that my family and I have just moved home. The new house, which we built ourselves, is in a black spot in West Cork with no mobile coverage from Vodafone outside the house. There is a decent mobile signal from a rival operator. Am I really stuck? What can I do?
Based on the facts as you put them, you're not stuck. You will eventually be able to exit the contract.
I asked Vodafone for clarification on this and they agree: if there is no signal in the area where your new home is, they won't tie you down for the remaining months you have. They call this their 'Network Guarantee' scheme.
"We understand customers' circumstances can change and they may relocate to an area which may unfortunately not be served by our network," a spokeswoman told me when I raised your specific issue.
"Our agents are trained to deal with those queries and are empowered to cancel an existing contract for those genuine cases. The conditions around this tend to be specific to the customer involved and we will attempt to resolve issues and provide service where possible. Ultimately, if we are unable to provide a service, there may be a settlement required to cover any device or hardware and the customer will be free to find a more suitable arrangement. If the plan included a new phone, we will take it back and refund what the customer paid for it."
The spokeswoman said that the matter should be dealt with if you call 1740.
As to why the customer service person you have been dealing with didn't relate this to you is a bit of a mystery.
However, I do suspect that it might not be as straightforward if you were seeking to cancel the contract because you couldn't, say, get service once a month at a holiday cottage or within a favoured restaurant you eat in several times a week.
But you have a clear case when it relates to the area in the vicinity of your actual home residence.
Unfortunately, you are somewhat relying on common sense and courtesy. There appear to be no hard and fast regulations you can rely on to invoke cancellation of a contract with a mobile operator because you move home. Nevertheless, it's a fair bet that the three big operators (Vodafone, Three, Eir) will be reasonable in such circumstances. It's their own network, after all: it's a little embarrassing for them if they're taking your money for no service whatsoever.
Does this mean you can demand cancellation of a contract in all situations where you have a weak or absent signal in your home? Not necessarily. Unfortunately, it's normal to get a much weaker signal - or maybe none at all - inside your home compared to what you can get right outside it. This is as true in cities as it is in rural areas and it is especially the case in the situation of a new-build house like yours, with its modern construction and insulation standards. Generally speaking, the very materials that are great for keeping heat in and lowering your utility bills also do a heightened job at weakening mobile and Wi-Fi signals, from room to room and from outside to inside. This is a fairly accepted fact with mobile reception. If you do find yourself in that situation, you can get a signal booster from the operator that usually solves the problem. The booster uses some of the decent reception outside (using a roof antenna, for example) and mirrors it inside the house via a cable and a router.
The other potentially complicating factor is if your mobile contract is part of a bundle with other services, such as landline, broadband and television. You indicate that yours isn't, which makes it a lot more clear cut. But if it was, it might be harder to separate out.
I must admit to being a little curious on one point - why are you committing yourself to a contract in the first place if you have no subsidised phone? The market has changed a lot in recent years: you'll get almost unlimited calls and texts and a decent whack of data for a rolling monthly tariff of between €30 and €40 on almost any network now. (In Vodafone's case, the only real advantage to going for a 12-month contract over pay-as-you-go is more data - 20GB versus 8GB.)
Plus, if you ever have a problem like this one again, you can just change network instantly while keeping your mobile phone number.
So if I were you, I'd reconsider any contract.
In summary, I'd be optimistic that you'll get this sorted. But you'll have to persist with making the case on it, which means trying again and, if you're denied as before, escalate it.
Recommendation: Call 1740 and ask to cancel the contract under Vodafone's 'Network Guarantee' scheme
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