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.


Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].


2 responses to “Ask LH: When Should My Carrier Stop Repairing My Phone And Start Replacing It?”