Cellphone bill complaints surge in Canada. What to do if you’ve been overcharged

Wireless complaints are on the rise in Canada, with incorrect monthly bill charges being the number one grievance, according to a Canadian watchdog group. Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

From exorbitant data charges to getting dinged for roaming fees — complaints about wireless monthly billing in Canada are on the rise.

The Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS), released a report Tuesday showing consumers filed more than 9,097 complaints in 2016-17. This is up 11 per cent from the previous year, which had 8,197 complaints.

READ MORE: Canadians’ cellphone services among costliest in G7, report says

The non-profit group helps resolve disputes between consumers and telecom service providers.

The complaints varied from poor network coverage, breaching a contract and misleading information about terms and conditions. However, the No. 1 issue Canadian consumers complained about involved incorrect charges to monthly bills.

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Problems with inaccurate billing shot up 29 per cent in 2016 from the year before, according to the report.

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CCTS said it was “a disproportionately high rate of increase” compared to other wireless complaints.

The commissioner for the CCTS, Howard Maker, said there are a lot of factors that could have led to the increasing amount of complaints.

“Bell implemented a price increase in February that generated a lot of complaints,” he said.

READ MORE: 6 strangest complaints filed against telecom companies to the CRTC

He also believes more customers are aware of CCTS, leading to more complaints.

What are the incorrect charge complaints about?

According to CCTS, the complaints raised about monthly billing issues usually involved:

  • Charges billed after cancellation
  • Airtime
  • Bandwidth use
  • Credit/refund not received
  • Data charges
  • Monthly price plan
  • Roaming charges
  • Text message charges

Service providers with greatest complaints

The largest number of overall complaints were registered against Bell at 35.7 per cent, followed by Rogers at 11.8 per cent and Telus at 6.9 per cent. Virgin Mobile represented 6.7 per cent , Fido 5 per cent and Videotron 3.8 per cent.

Freedom Mobile Wind represented 3.2 per cent of all complaints, Koodoo was 2.9 per cent, Xplornet 2.9 per cent and Comwave 2.5 per cent.

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In terms of complaints about billing information, Bell ranked the top of the list followed by Rogers, Videotron, Telus, Virgin and Fido.

Marc Choma, a spokesperson for Bell said the company works with every complaint the CCTS receives and is continuing to improve its strategy.

Choma said the report showed Bell had the lowest increase in complaints compared to its competitors.

“Our overall share of complaints continues to decline each year,” he said.

READ MORE: Cellphone horror stories ring through consumers’ troubles with service providers

Telus, on the other hand, said while complaints have been on the rise, the company still has the fewest number of grievances than any other national carrier.

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“However, we know we still have work to do, and that to improve, we need to continue to listen carefully to our customers,” a spokesperson told Global News.

How to protect yourself

Know what you are buying

The CCTS said one of the best ways to protect yourself against an incorrect billing charge is to be informed about the product you bought.

READ MORE: Rogers, Bell, Telus wireless customers face ‘substantial’ price hike

“Try and get a clear explanation of what you are buying in writing,” Maker said.

Check your bill every month

Looking at your bill on a monthly basis is another good step, Maker said. So if you see an error in a price you can catch it right away.

“People don’t often look at their bill on a frequent basis, so you could have six months of the incorrect charge versus one,” he said.

Need consent

Telecom services cannot charge more on your monthly bill without notifying you.

So if you are on an automatic renewing monthly contract, the service provider is prohibited from making a change to your “key contract terms and conditions” without your consent.

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WATCH: Rogers defends data overage fee increases

Click to play video: 'Rogers responds to raising data overage fees' Rogers responds to raising data overage fees
Rogers responds to raising data overage fees – Jul 6, 2017

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Where to go to complain

If you’ve contacted your service provider about the complaint and still feel confused or unsatisfied with the result, you’re encouraged to file a complaint with CCTS.

Out of the 9,097 complaints filed in 2016, the CCTS said it successfully resolved 91 per cent of them.

Other rights to keep in mind

Capped roaming charges

Remember, data charges are also capped now. The wireless code was introduced in 2013 in order to prevent customer “bill shock.”

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A service provider has to cap roaming charges once you reach $50 within a single monthly billing unless you have agreed to pay additional charges. International data roaming charges are capped at $100 per month.

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The data is also capped regardless of the number of devices activated on your account.

Can’t charge to unlock cellphone

As of Dec. 1, cellphone companies will no longer be able to charge customers to unlock their devices.

READ MORE: No more fees to unlock cellphones among changes to Canada’s wireless code

“The wireless code marked a huge step forward for consumer protections, and these updates will further prevent mistreatment of Canadian cellphone users at the hands of the big telecom companies,” OpenMedia digital rights advocate Katy Anderson, said.

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No cancellation fees after 2 years

The CRTC rule, which was implemented in June 2015, said if you signed a three-year contract, you are free to cancel it after two years.

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