If you have an issue with your mobile service provider, you can submit your complaint through Resolver.

Mobile phones

Our mobile phones are usually our saving grace, but at times they can be quite a headache. Many of us have received a bill with unexplained expenses or had our call cut out in the middle of our conversation or sent our phone in for repair and had it returned still not working. As a user and consumer you are protected by the Consumer Protection Act (CPA,) which is there to ensure that you receive quality products and services.

If you feel that your rights have been infringed, you can raise your issue through Resolver for free. You first need to give your service provider an opportunity to address the issue but if they don’t arrive at a satisfactory resolution, we will help you escalate your complaint to a higher level in the organisation and ultimately, to the relevant regulator or ombudsman.

The communications sector in South Africa is regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA.) Other consumer protection agencies such as the National Consumer Commission and the Wireless Applications Service Providers’ Association are also available to assist you if you can’t reach a resolution with your service provider.

This guide looks at common mobile-related complaints and highlights your rights in those situations.


Billing

Billing can be a nightmare for both prepaid and contract consumers. Knowing what your rights are in some of these most common and usually annoying situations, will help you reach a desirable solution with your service provider.

Prepaid data and airtime

Data or airtime not received

This can be difficult to prove as your data and airtime can be used up in various ways, such as applications running in the background, selecting the incorrect billing plan (for example per second billing instead of billed per minute), WASP service subscriptions and your airtime being used when your data bundle has run out. If you bought data or airtime and haven't received it or if you receive a notification that says you have used it up within an impossibly short period of time since loading it, make your service provider aware of the issue immediately. Make a note of what happened and when or preferably take screenshots of the notifications received from your bank and/or service provider regarding the purchase of the bundle. You can get in touch with your service provider by using Resolver. They’ll look into your issue and reimburse you the airtime or data if it is because of a fault on their side.

It will also be helpful to track your data usage on your phone. If you’ve received the data but it disappears almost immediately then it could be worth checking which apps are depleting your data and change these accordingly. You could also get assistance in-store and ensure this doesn’t happen in the future.

Will my prepaid airtime expire if I don’t load it?

Your airtime should not expire until you have used it up in its entirety or within 3 years from when it was issued. If your unused airtime disappears, you must contact your service provider immediately and claim it back in its entirety.

Disappearing airtime

High out-of-bundle (OOB) data charges are the top cause of ‘disappearing airtime’ and while service providers have attempted to help consumers avoid OOB data usage, most of the attempts have not being very successful for consumers. When you run out of data your phone uses your airtime automatically causing you to believe you airtime has vanished.

Again, it is helpful to use the data usage facility on your mobile to track your data usage and have it warn you just before your bundle runs out to prevent OOB rates being applied. You should also be aware of the price or tariff plan you are on to make sure you understand the rates you pay for calls and SMSs. Phenomenons like pocket dialing may also be responsible for mysterious airtime depletion.

Other culprits of airtime seemingly disappearing even when your mobile data is off are apps that may be running in the background. Ensure that your mobile is set to restrict background data for the apps on your phone and that your wifi connection will not connect to your mobile data automatically when the signal is poor. Also make sure you understand and are connected to the correct network, i.e. LTE may cost you extra airtime.

Missing data

Common culprits of data seemingly going missing or disappearing even when your mobile data is off are apps that may be running in the background. Ensure that your mobile is set to restrict background data for the apps on your phone and that your wifi connection will not connect to your mobile data automatically when the signal is poor. Also make sure you understand and are connected to the correct network, i.e. LTE may cost you extra data. In addition, use the data usage facility on your mobile to track your usage and have it warn you just before your bundle runs out.

If your data continues to go missing or depletes abnormally, note down the date on which you bought your data and monitor your usage in as much detail as possible then contact your service provider immediately.

ICASA released a review of the 2016 End User and Subscriber Charter Regulations which now require your service provider to:

  • notify you when your data has been 50%, 80% and 100% depleted.
  • give you an opportunity to specifically agree to be charged OOB rates, the switch from data to airtime will no longer be automatic.
  • rollover your unused data, ending the previous ‘data is valid for 30 days’ rule.

Other tips to help you lower your data usage:

  • When surfing the internet, load a page and switch your mobile data off, then browse through it and switch it back on if you want to fill in some information or proceed to another page for instance
  • Try to get as much done as you can when you switch your mobile data on - check your WhatsApp, check and respond to emails, refresh your Facebook timeline, load tweets, Instagram posts, etc. to avoid constantly switching it on to do each thing separately
  • Turn off auto-playing videos on your social media accounts as this can quickly deplete your data. You can find out how to do this in the FAQs of the particular platform.

If you realise your airtime or data is still vanishing continuously, it will be worthwhile to contact your service provider via Resolver and enquire about the missing balances.


Account billing issues

I was charged for a service I cancelled

Cancelling a service before the contract period is over may attract some penalties. Most service providers generally allow you to cancel a service within a period of 28 days with no charges or penalties. It is important that you read through your contract to understand the cancellation terms so that you are aware of any implications this will have .

It is a common occurrence for service providers to continue billing you even after you cancelled a service or your cellphone contract. If you notice you have been charged for a service you have cancelled, contact and enquire with your service provider. Most service providers require you to complete a cancellation form. After submitting your form, ensure you receive feedback from your service provider acknowledging receipt. If any dispute arises it will be easy to prove that you no longer required the service and should be refunded.

Similarly, if you cancel a service and realise you still have access to it, contact your service provider and inform them. It may be nice to enjoy a free benefit or service, but eventually, you may have to pay for it.

I am being over-billed!

If you get even the faintest suspicion that you are being overcharged, double check! You should be paying for what you agreed to pay for in your contract. There are several reasons why you could be overcharged - for instance, it could be an innocent mistake on the part of the service provider, a technical issue affecting the service provider’s billing system, you may have agreed to additional services that you were under the impression were free, your service cancellation was not relayed to the service provider’s accounts department or you may not have had access to the service or benefit you were charged for.


A higher bill may also be a result of increases in prices, but you will most likely be informed of such changes. Keep a look out for any such notification. The recent VAT increase of 1% (effective April 2018) will also very likely increase your bill.

If you have been overcharged by your mobile provider, then you can contact them via Resolver as soon as possible to rectify the issue. Remember to check your contract to see what you agreed to. It is often the case that promotional offers give you a fixed subscription fee that cannot be changed until the contract term is over. In your email to your mobile provider, you should set out what you expected to pay and what you have paid, and ask for a refund of the difference.


Being undercharged is a rare occurrence, but in the event that it does happen, you should inform your service provider of the error as soon as you pick it up. If you continue to pay a lower cost when you reasonably knew you should have been paying more, you may be liable for some or all of the costs at a later stage. This is similar to not receiving a statement - you must still pay what you know you owe.

I have been placed on the wrong tariff!

If you have been placed on the wrong tariff, then you must contact your service provider immediately as you may be paying to much, too little or incurring extra charges. You need to be switched to the correct tariff if you were placed on the wrong one due to your supplier's error. However, check the small print on your service agreement very carefully as there may be charges for changing your tariff - although these should not be applicable if the error was on the part of your supplier.

Additional or unknown charges

Checking all line items on your bill is very important, otherwise foreign charges may go unseen and as a result, you will continue to pay for them. But before you start blowing steam out of your ears, re-visit your contract and read the small print to make sure those charges aren’t covered or you didn’t hurriedly agree to pay for them without understanding what they were for. According to the CPA, your service provider has the obligation to ensure that any small print in the contract is presented in such a way that a ‘reasonably informed consumer’ would be aware of it. It must also be written in plain and understandable language. You have the right to dispute a charge that is not in line with the aforementioned CPA provisions.

If you don’t spot any small print that you may have missed in your contract, you should proceed to contact your service provider and ask about the charges. In your enquiry, try to include a neat record of the charges along with a note showing when you were first charged.

Statement not received

Not receiving a statement from your service provider doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay - it could be as a result of your service provider having the wrong address or contact details. If you don’t receive a statement, whether physically or via email, you should contact your service provider and check that the details they have on file for you are correct. If you have opted to have a 'paperless statement' sent to your email address, check your 'spam' or ‘junk’ box as messages sometimes get filtered into these folders. If you have any queries about not being billed, we recommend that you submit your concern in writing to your service provider's customer service using Resolver.

Payments and refunds

I cancelled my contract but money is still being deducted from my account!

In the case that your service provider continues to deduct money from your account even after you cancelled your contract or the debit order, or the contract expired and you opted not to renew it, you must send your service provider a written instruction to end the deduction. If it’s not the first time the payment was processed against your account, you must also note how many times your account was debited and ask to be refunded accordingly.

If you have already done so and it still has not been cancelled, you can contact your bank and ask them to reverse the debit order. Most banks however, charge you for this reversal. It is best to contact your service provider and ensure the contract has been cancelled (ideally get written confirmation from them) and that the debit order is no longer scheduled for collection. Keep a copy of your cancellation form and any correspondence that confirms you cancelled the contract so should there be any dispute later, you have proof. Unfair as it may be, if this is not captured on the system then your provider would be expecting a payment from you and eventually hand you over to the debt collectors, as they didn’t receive payment as ‘expected’. Don’t let this go unresolved as it could lead to issues with your credit rating.

My debit order bounced, what do I do?

Most service providers will advise you to either pay in-store, do an EFT or offer to re-run or have you re-submit the debit order. You must contact your service provider as soon as your debit order bounces to avoid additional charges or having your phone lines or account suspended.

You should always try to make sure you have enough money in your account when the date of your debit order approaches. If it is a regular occurrence, consider asking your service provider to move the date of the debit order.

My service provider owes me

If your account is in credit or you are owed money, you can contact your service provider through Resolver. Some providers will automatically credit your account, but double-check to make sure you don’t miss out on money owed to you.


WASP services

A WASP is a third party service provider who distributes mobile content to subscribers using the networks of larger service providers. These services usually bill you a certain amount daily or weekly. Whether you were tricked into subscribing, changed your mind about it or subscribed by accident, the result can be quite frustrating. Even though all of the big four telecommunications companies in South Africa feature a double-opt-in process for WASP services, you should still keep an eye on your subscriptions as a precaution.

Checking and cancelling your WASP subscriptions:

  • Vodacom: You can unsubscribe to all content services by SMSing “Stop all” to 31050
  • Telkom: You can view and block active WASP services on the mobile app. To view your current subscriptions, go to “My product,” scroll to “subscriptions” and view “content services.” To block services altogether, scroll to “manage” instead of subscriptions, then select “protect your mobile number” and set it to “ON.” Alternatively, dial 180 and follow the prompts.
  • MTN: To check or unsubscribe from your current subscriptions, dial *141*5# and select “Content services”
  • Cell C: You can manage all your subscriptions by dialing *133*1#. The menu also gives you the option to block your number from being subscribed to any WASP services.

Resolver tip: If you receive a message from a content service ‘welcoming you,’ check your subscriptions immediately because you may have been subscribed to a WASP. Do not just dismiss it as a harmless marketing gimmick.


Phone contracts

Fixed term cell phone contracts can run up to a maximum term of 24 months (2 years).

I want to renew my contract

Within 40 days before your phone contract expires, your service provider must notify you that the expiry date is approaching as well as explain the options available to you. You can elect to renew the contract, or continue on a month-to-month basis with any changes that the service provider wishes to make, or you can terminate your service.

When can I upgrade my contract?

These days, service providers don’t want you waiting 24 months to upgrade your contract, most telecommunications providers allow you to upgrade from month 21 and 22 of your contract. You can expect to be notified by your provider when you are due for an upgrade.

Different service providers also provide alternative ways for you to access this information, it can either be on their website or their official app. You can also visit your service provider’s store for this information.

When you do elect to upgrade your contract, make sure you are aware of the early upgrade terms and conditions. Before you go through with it, check that you fully understand when the package upgrade will come into effect and how it will affect your monthly payments.

Can I cancel my contract before it expires?

Service providers allow you to make premature contract cancellations. If for any reason you want to cancel your contract before the contract term is over, you must give your service provider at least 20 business days notice - you will however still have to pay any amounts owed to them up to the date of cancellation.

Take note that your service provider will impose a cancellation penalty, which may include administration fees, as a result. You will be liable to pay a cancellation fee because your service provider expected the contract to run until the expiry date. The penalty is a way of recouping expected revenue that would have come from the rest of the monthly payments that you will no longer be making.

In determining this cost, factors like the remaining period until the contract expiry date and how much you were paying per month will be considered. After deducting the penalty your service provider must refund any money that is due to you.

I think I may be a victim of false advertising

According to the CPA, you have a right to fair marketing - service providers are not allowed to mislead you with advertising and marketing that does not reflect the true benefits or inclusions of their contracts.

If you find that the contract you entered into isn't what you had been led to believe or expected, you should contact your service provider to alert them of the discrepancy. You should also have an idea of what you like to do next - do you want to cancel the contract or add or take away some services or benefits? Most service providers will make you an offer that is closer to what you had hoped you were initially getting but it may be at a much higher cost to you, so knowing helps.

Direct marketing: If you were sold a mobile product or service through direct marketing, you have a cooling-off period of 5 business days during which you can return the product or cancel the service without penalty. You must inform the service provider of this in writing, and while you will be liable for the cost to return the goods, you should be refunded the balance of what you paid.

More often than not, you will find that the small print in contracts tell the realistic story behind the colourful sales pitch that stole your heart. As boring and time consuming as it may be, always read through your contracts, especially the Terms and Conditions and small print, as that is usually where the devil in the details lies.


How to calculate your cellphone contract cancellation fee estimate

This is a general look at how different Mobile Network Operators each arrive at the cancellation fee you are charged. Using these methods only serves as an estimate, the actual final amount may differ.

  • Cell C: Your device subsidy will be multiplied by the remaining months on your contract to arrive at the fee you will be liable to pay. A device subsidy is the difference between what the phone cost the provider, and the discounted cost at which it was provided to you. This information should be included in your contract.
  • Vodacom: You will pay 75% of the total amount of money you would have paid if the contract continued for the full term plus the device subsidy. This simply means 75% multiplied by the sum of - your monthly subscription multiplied by the remaining contract period plus the device subsidy divided by the remaining months on your contract.
  • MTN: It is relatively different for MTN customers - your phone’s cost will be divided by 24 months (standard contract period) and multiplied by the remaining months on the contract, plus one month’s invoice or subscription fee.
  • Telkom: You will need to pay the total amount you would have paid if the contract continued for the full term and an additional administration fee of approximately R1000.

In all instances, you will also have to pay any monies owed to the service provider at the time of cancellation.

To be sure that the estimate you arrive at is correct when taking into consideration the information above, request a contract cancellation quote from your service provider as there may be undisclosed line items you haven’t considered such as administration or base fees for cancellation.


Network Issues

Dropped calls

Dropped calls can be annoying, but you don’t have to suffer in silence. If you experience dropped calls, let your service provider know - record how often your calls are dropped off, emphasising that you are complaining about a constant loss of signal. If you can prove that this happens continually, you may have a chance of successfully claiming compensation or at least, if you are on contract, being able to cancel your contract with a reduced cancellation fee. Your mobile provider may wish to examine your handset to see if damage to the handset is the cause of your calls dropping.

Poor signal

Constant signal failure is good grounds for contract termination or network migration.The key element is if there’s no mobile signal in your local area where you use the phone you may be able to terminate the contract for non-performance. When you submit your complaint, set out the facts of your repeated signal failure and ask that they either remedy it or cancel your contract.

Coverage

Usually, network coverage issues affect a particular area. Your service provider should, where possible, warn you of any disruptions to the coverage in your area. If you experience sustained coverage issues, report it to your service provider and provide details of your area and duration of the lack of coverage.

Slow internet connection

A slow speed mobile connection can be very frustrating. Common reasons for a slow internet connection may be as a result of your phone or internet settings needing adjusting, you moving through an area with poor mobile reception or your mobile data or airtime being used up.

Another option to consider is upgrading your package to one with faster network connection.

If you are stuck with a slow internet connection, contact your service provider - you can use Resolver to do this. When you submit your complaint, give clear details of your case - such as what happened, when, and why you are complaining. You should also set out what you expect from them - do you want your internet fixed, compensation for your slow internet or your contract to be terminated?


Accounts

Account details

My account details are incorrect

A mistake as 'tiny' as one letter out of place can have dreadful consequences. As soon as you realise that incorrect details are reflected anywhere on your invoice or statement, you must contact your service provider and give them your correct details. Make sure you check that they have been changed and are correct on your next invoice or statement. You should also lookout for these errors in any communication you receive from your service provider. When making a payment, double check that your reference number is correct, a mistake here could make it difficult to link your payment to your account. Make double sure before hitting that “pay now” button.

My statement has my old details

If your invoice or statement still displays your old details like your previous physical and mailing address, you’ll need to get these updated. If you have contacted your service provider's customer care centre and your details are still not updated, you can escalate your complaint to a higher point of authority on Resolver.

I can't access my account!

If you can't access your account, contact your service provider immediately and note, if possible, when you suspect the problem started. In the case where you have forgotten your login details and attempt to reset your password and you don’t receive an OTP, contact your service provider instead of resending it multiple times. It may be a sign of fraud or an issue with the service provider’s system.

Why is my account suspended?

If your account is suspended, it is probably due to your phone account being in arrears, even if you missed your payment by a few hours or one day or because you reached your spend limit. This suspension could extend to the deactivation of your number. Make sure you arrange to settle your account as soon as possible and once you've made your payment send through your proof of payment. It differs for every service provider, but the suspension should be lifted as soon as your service provider receives your proof of payment or payment.

If you did in fact make your payments on time or have some form of arrangement with your service providers, contact them and enquire about the issue.


Customer services

As per the CPA, you have the right to demand quality service and this includes good customer service.

The staff were rude and unhelpful

You don’t have to put up with impolite staff, and your service provider has a responsibility to ensure its consultants are fully equipped to help you with any problem you may have or at least direct you to someone who can help you.

If you experience rude or unhelpful consultants, lodge a complaint with your service provider using Resolver. Remember to include details of the staff member if possible. If your service provider is made aware of a staff member that doesn’t treat customers right, it can deal with them and avoid another bad customer experience.

Nobody responded to my complaint, now what?

It is frustrating when your issue is not addressed or not responded to. To get your complaint speedily dealt with, ensure you clearly explain what the issue is and what you expect from the company. If you didn’t initially use Resolver, then re-submit your complaint via Resolver and explain what happened and when and how you lodged your initial complaint, this will give the company a chance to put things right for you and prevent it from happening to others.

It is important to give your service provider a reasonable period of time to resolve your issue. If you still have not heard anything from the provider, we will help you escalate your complaint to the relevant regulator or ombudsman.


Mobile complaints tool




Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my service provider allow WASPs to take my airtime?

A WASP is a third party to your agreement or relationship with your service provider. This means that they are not part of the agreement, as a result, your service provider does not control the WASP. This is why you are often referred to the WASP or WAPSA when you want a refund for airtime deducted from your balance unfairly. However, your service provider should give you the means to block such services. All the telecommunications giants in South Africa allow you to unsubscribe and/or block WASPs from your cell phone.

How do I know my service provider is charging me an unreasonable cancellation fee?

The CPA requires service providers to charge a reasonable contract cancellation fee, however, it does not set out what ‘reasonable’ means. Any amount that is charged to you must be justified, for example, an administration fee is paid because of the ‘admin’ the service provider has to go through to ensure the premature cancellation and you pay part of the device subsidy initially granted to you back because it was given based on you using the phone for the entire contract period. Even when you cancel your contract you are still liable for what you owe your service provider. This doesn’t mean you can’t enquire about a particular charge with your service provider if you feel it is unreasonable.

Why is money still being deducted from my account after I cancelled my contract?

If money is still being collected against your account, it is best to contact your service provider and ensure your contract has actually been cancelled (ideally get written confirmation from them) and that the debit order is no longer scheduled for collection. Keep a copy of your cancellation form and any correspondence that confirms you cancelled the contract so should there be any dispute later, you have proof. Unfair as it may be, if this is not captured on the system then your provider would be expecting a payment from you and eventually hand you over to the debt collectors, as they didn’t receive payment as ‘expected’. Don’t let this go unresolved as it could lead to issues with your credit rating.

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