Can you cancel your phone contract if you can't get signal?

By Amy Harker, Editor at Finance.co.uk. Last updated 9th March 2023.

Amy Harker

We’ve all been in a position where we can’t get a good mobile phone signal - it can be incredibly frustrating.

But if you find yourself constantly without a signal, you’ll understandably be feeling like you’re wasting money on a phone you can’t even use.

The question is, can you cancel your contract if you’ve consistently got poor signal?

How do mobile phone contracts work?

Mobile phone contracts are agreements between you and a service provider. You pay a predetermined amount each month in exchange for minutes, texts and data. Some mobile contracts also include paying monthly for the handset as part of the agreement.

Most mobile phone contracts last between 12 and 36 months, though some could be longer. Typically, you won’t be able to cancel your contract without paying a cancellation fee. Cancellation fees tend to vary between providers but can be pretty substantial, especially if you’re still near the beginning of your contract.

However, there may be instances when you could leave your contract without having to pay a cancellation fee.

Ways to cancel your contract early

In certain circumstances, you can cancel your contract without being charged, though this may depend on your contract terms.

Does your contract include a network guarantee?

Many network providers offer a network guarantee within their contracts - so it’s definitely worth checking if your provider does too.

Network guarantees mean that the provider is stating that your signal shouldn’t drop below a certain threshold. If your signal isn’t living up to this guarantee, you should be able to cancel your contract without being penalised.

Remember, though, not all contracts include this guarantee, so make sure you read the terms of your contract.

14-day cooling-off period

If you ordered your phone online or over the phone, by law, you’ll be given a 14-day cooling-off period when you first take out your mobile phone contract.

During this time, you will be able to exit your contract without paying any fees. Unfortunately, you’re not entitled to this cooling-off period if you took out your mobile phone contract in-store.

If, within the first 14 days of your contract, you find that you consistently have poor signal, it’s a good idea to get out whilst you can. You simply need to contact your provider and tell them you wish to cancel your contract and make sure you let them know you’re within your 14-day cooling-off period.

If your phone was included in the contract, you’ll need to send it back to them, and you’ll also have to pay for any calls, texts and data you’ve already used.

Take advantage of price rises

If you find yourself stuck in a contract without signal, you may actually find yourself grateful if your provider decides to hike their prices.

This is because your provider has to give you 30 days’ notice if they're going to raise the price of your contract. Within the 30-day notice, you have the legal right to cancel your contract without paying an early termination fee. Simply contact your service provider and let them know you wish to cancel your contract within 30 days' notice of a price increase.

Unfortunately, if you signed your contract before the 23rd of January 2014, or were told at the beginning of the contract that the prices would be going up, for example, with an introductory rate, then this won’t apply to you.

Of course, there are no guarantees that your provider will hike the price of your contract, so not everyone will be able to take advantage of this.

What if you can’t get out of your contract?

If none of the above options apply to you, don’t worry, there may still be a way to at least improve the situation.

Get a rival provider to buy you out

If you’re wanting to leave your current contract and switch to another provider with a better signal in your area, you may be able to get them to buy you out of your current contract.

When another provider buys you out of a contract, they will cover the costs of you leaving a competitor, in exchange for you agreeing to a fixed-length contract with them.

This option can come with some drawbacks; it might not be as cost-effective as you think, you may not be offered the best deals by the new provider, and they could tie you into a pretty lengthy contract, because they know you have no other options.

Before going down this road, it’s a good idea to weigh up the overall costs of being bought out versus paying the cancellation fee of your original contract.

Ask to move to a cheaper contract

Sometimes, providers will let you swap to a cheaper contract with fewer minutes, texts and data. Whilst you’ll potentially still be paying for a contract that you can’t use, you’ll at least reduce the money you’re wasting. It may be a good idea to try other options before doing this.

Speak to your provider

Providers typically want their customers to have a good experience with their network. If you’re receiving a consistently bad signal, it may be worth speaking to your network provider to see if they have any advice; they’ll often talk you through your options to help you find the best solution.

Remember, the last thing any providers want is bad reviews and complaints, so they’re likely to try to avoid this by helping you find a solution to your problem.

If all else fails, you could make a complaint

Signing up for a mobile phone contract that can’t provide a decent service may give you grounds for a complaint.

If you think you’ve been misled when signing up, and weren’t made aware of the signal issues or you were promised a certain level of service, then you may be able to make an official complaint.

Every mobile phone network in the UK must belong to the Communication Ombudsman Service. The ombudsman has the power to award compensation, which can be up to £10,000, but it is typically around £50 for successful complaints. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that your complaint will be successful.

Before you complain to the ombudsman, you’ll need to complain to your provider; they’ll likely try to work with you to find a solution. However, if you’re unhappy with their response, you’ll then be able to use the Communication Ombudsman Service.

How to avoid this issue again

When looking for your next phone contract, it’s worth taking a bit of time to do some research on the level of coverage each provider has in your area. A useful tool for this is the mobile phone coverage checker on the Ofcom website.

All major mobile networks in the UK should provide a map showing the areas their network covers and the signal strength within these areas.

It may also be a good idea to try and find a contract with a network guarantee, or to make sure that you order your new phone online so that you’re eligible for the 14-day cooling-off period.

The information provided does not constitute financial advice, it’s always important to do your own research to ensure a financial product is right for your circumstances. If you’re unsure you should contact an independent financial advisor.