Ask LH: When Should My Carrier Stop Repairing My Phone And Start Replacing It?

Ask LH: When Should My Carrier Stop Repairing My Phone And Start Replacing It?

Hey Lifehacker, I have a contract phone with Telstra that has just been sent off for its third repair. I thought that under law and carrier policy companies have to give you a new handset if it’s not fixed after three attempts. If they do replace it, do I have the right to request a different handset? Can they just give you any type of phone they like, or do I have any rights to choose it myself or request a different handset? Thanks, Phaulty Phone

Mobile phone picture from Shutterstock

Dear PP,

It’s certainly the case that a faulty mobile phone which you have purchased under contract has to be repaired by the supplier for as long as the contract runs. However, it isn’t true that there’s a fixed number of times a device has been repaired after which you’re entitled to automatically demand a replacement. The carrier might well make a decision that handing over a new handset is cheaper than continuing with repairs, but there’s no set number of occurrences under Australian consumer law that says when that happens. Each case is judged individually.

Under Australian consumer law, the decision as to whether defective goods should be repaired or replaced hinges on whether the problem is “major” or “minor”. If it’s a major issue, the consumer is entitled to demand their choice of repair, replacement or refund. If it’s a minor issue, the seller has that choice.

Given that your phone has now needed to be repaired three times, I think you’d be entitled to argue that any further issues did indeed mean it had a “major” issue: that, to use the words of the ACCC, “the product is substantially unfit for its normal purpose and cannot easily be made fit within a reasonable time”. That’s a hard argument to make with a single repair, but at this point the goods clearly don’t seem fit for the purpose for which they were designed, and a replacement would seem a reasonable request.

As for your final question: a replacement is just that — the same item, assuming it’s still available. A carrier might decide to give you a new model if the one you signed up for is no longer sold, or as a goodwill gesture to make up for the hassle with your previous device, but you’re not entitled to ask for one as a matter of course.


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  • I went through a similar problem a few years ago now when I bought a Nokia N95.
    The phone was sent away 3 times in total and as per Telstras policy(at the time – it may have changed) if the device was still not fully functioning after 3 failed “repairs” then they must void the contract and you are free to start again on whatever handset or carrier you like.
    In saying that, it wasnt easy to get the retailer to let me leave the store(they actually blocked the exits) without signing up to another contract. I had to call Telstra from within the store and get them to call the dealer and explain to them that I was free to do as I pleased as the contract had been declared as void.
    I stuck with Telstra and have since, however I have never been back to that retailer since.

    • That sounds, quite frankly, effing terrifying. I’d be a panicking, screaming, hysterical mess if somebody tried to physically lock me into a store unless I signed something I didn’t want to sign. It wouldn’t be pretty.

      • I wasn’t panicking as I knew I was in the right. I just couldn’t believe they tried to force me to sign up again with some form of force.
        I definitely made sure the management were aware of the incident and they were rather unhappy about the actions of their staff. I had to laugh when I found the main offender had been laid off not long after.

  • Telstras Repair/Replacement policy is this:
    If the Device has been sent away 3 times for the same fault and that fault is confirmed 3 times by the NRC, on the Third Repair the employee should tick a box in Siebel that reads “MEF Assessment” (MEF = Multiple Equiptment Failure) in which case the National Repair Centre (NRC), will assess the phone and choose to apply a credit on your bill for the cost of the phone so that you may come in to a store and buy a new phone. (That means, if you send it away once because the screen doesnt work, and then 2 times because of speaker/microphone issues, the employees cannot replace the device at an in store level).

    Telstra also offer a “forward shipment” offer depending on what model phone you have, if your phone qualifies for Forward Ship (This depends on weather the Manufacturer has given Telstra permission) they can send the phone off to be assessed, and the manufacturer will send the store a new or refurbished phone of the same model (you can’t decide if its new or refurbished and the staff don’t know, it depends on stock levels at the NRC), this generally takes 24hours for Eastern States and 48 hours for WA. Unfortunately to lower the cost the NRC only replace the phone itself and not the back or battery (if the phones back/battery are removable – ie; galaxy S4) so if you are having battery issues this process doesn’t work.

    Of course if you aren’t happy with those solutions you can jump on the phone and talk to the complaints department and see if they’re willing to credit you for the drama or wave your contract so you can re-contract on a new phone with a new plan.

    I hope this is of some help.

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