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Know your rights: How to solve SIM problems with ADR

SIM Only deals are relatively hassle-free compared to the 18 or 24-month contracts typically involved with handset packages.

But we know SIM cards are one of the most common causes of problems with any mobile contract.

And although they’re obliged to investigate any complaints made against them, mobile providers may not be willing to provide adequate compensation for any inconvenience or losses incurred.

If your SIM Only deal isn’t living up to expectations, it’s crucial that you know your rights and how to escalate a complaint.

SIM Only problems

While no service is entirely fault-free, common issues experienced by customers on SIM Only deals include:

  • Problems with network signal strength
  • Calls dropping out suddenly
  • Lack of reliable 4G – most people have seen the 4G graphic on their handset replaced with a G or E symbol as the phone drops onto slower data connections
  • Billing issues – typically involving overcharging, where customers end up paying for services they didn’t ask for or can’t benefit from

Complaints should be directed to the mobile provider in first instance, though providers may fail to repair a fault or resolve an issue in good time.

ADR and how to use it

Your next option is to escalate your complaint to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service, where independent rulings are made on unresolved complaints against mobile providers.

ADR schemes have been around for some time, but since 2015 under UK law every mobile service provider must belong to one of two schemes covering the telecoms sector.

The UK’s two independent ADR schemes are operated by the Ombudsman Service (Ombudsman) and the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS).

Most of the UK’s main providers use the Ombudsman Service, while a couple are registered with CISAS.

Find out which scheme your provider uses

This is the complete list of SIM Only providers available through and the ADR service they’re signed up to:

Can I complain to an ADR scheme straight away?

The simple answer is no, because you’ll need to demonstrate you’ve made reasonable attempts to identify and resolve the problem yourself.

You’ll also have to log a complaint with your mobile provider, and give them eight weeks to resolve any dispute.

These are the stages to go through before escalating your complaint to an ADR scheme.

  • Make written notes about what’s going wrong, when it happens and how long it persists, to support any future claims against your provider
  • Look for possible patterns, such as particular times of day or specific locations where problems keep arising
  • Try to rule out obvious errors, like using a SIM card for one network in a device registered to a rival network
  • Remove and reinsert the battery and SIM card, cleaning the gold SIM connectors with a lint-free cloth to remove any dust or dirt
  • Use your network provider’s status checker (or a tool like Downdetector) to see whether other people are experiencing similar problems, which could indicate wider network issues

If the above steps don’t resolve your issue, speak to your SIM provider and give them an opportunity to fix any problems by recommending workarounds or resolutions.

If the desired outcome still isn’t achieved, every mobile provider must offer a formal complaints procedure.

If your problem is unresolved after eight weeks, ask your provider for something called a ‘deadlock’ letter, which acknowledges that no further progress can be made with this particular dispute.

A deadlock letter should indicate the mobile provider has made its final position clear and doesn’t intend to proceed any further.

Once the deadlock letter has been received, you have a period of twelve months from the letter’s date to submit a complaint to one of the ADR schemes.

What happens next?

The Ombudsman Services encourage people to contact them by phone, although written and emailed complaints are also accepted.

By contrast, CISAS recommend people download and complete a claim form.

Both organisations will ask for various information relating to your account and the services you signed up for.

They’ll want detailed evidence of any issues you’ve experienced, and full information on how the service provider attempted (and failed) to resolve your issue.

After a period of consideration, the ADR scheme will make a binding decision about whether the service provider is liable for any issues encountered.

After ADR

A decision might involve the provider having to apologise, correct a mistake or make a financial award of up to £10,000 (though it’s usually far less).

There may also be recommendations made to the service provider about avoiding similar issues in future – which won’t help you, but might benefit other people.

If the consumer accepts the ADR decision, the mobile company has to take whatever remedial action was outlined.

If the consumer rejects the ADR decision, any settlement offer is withdrawn and a complaint can then be made through the courts.

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