Uniformed service members are constantly confronted with stressful situations, such as receiving permanent change of station orders or being told to prepare for a short-notice deployment. The last thing they need is added stress from a company charging them early termination fees to get out of a contract.
As a precautionary measure, members should ensure all service-related financial obligations include a military clause, prior to signing a contractual agreement.
The March Air Reserve Base legal office is currently investigating several cases of local Airmen who had difficulty terminating service contracts, despite providing advanced notice and a copy of their orders.
Companies such as ADT Security Systems and Cox Communications, have corporate policies that provide protections to military members. A Cox Communications consumer relations liaison said that when a military member wants to disconnect his or her account, the Early Termination Fee does not apply.
While conducting investigative research, the legal office noted that the deception was not with the companyâ€™s corporate policies, but with its authorized independent contractors. Some dealers do not honor their respective corporateâ€™s methodology, and will charge military members steep cancellation fees or forward those consumerâ€™s cases to collection firms.
Although, according to ADT, they cannot force their independent dealers/installers to follow ADT corporate policy, there is a program in place to help servicemembers combat this issue.
The Servicememberâ€™s Civil Relief Act, successor to the Soldiersâ€™ and Sailorsâ€™ Relief Act, was enacted to create certain protections and rights for active duty military or Reserve when dealing with service contracts.
The purpose of the SCRA is to afford military members the ability and flexibility to focus on their commitment to serve without the worry of civil prosecution, foreclosure, or eviction under uncontrollable (defense needs of the Nation) circumstances. However, the SCRA is broadly stated and does not provide specific guidance on all service-related firms. It allows for military members to be relieved of contractual obligations for cell phones but makes no mention of other types of service agreements like cable, internet or satellite TV.
Not all companies are willing to help the military, said Maj. Deric Prescott, staff judge advocate, 452d Air Mobility Wing.
â€œIt is well understood that military members may be required to relocate, sometimes earlier than planned,â€ Prescott said. â€œIt is critical that military members make sure the companies they enter into a contract with, agree to release them from that contract if the military member receives orders.â€
What can you do to protect yourself against unwanted service penalties?
- Shop around. Service providers are competing for your business; many of them have different types of contractual agreements. The important idea is to keep your options open and consider what is best for your current living situation.
- Include a military clause in the contract. When deciding to have a service installed (cable, internet, security, etc.) make sure the service provider will honor a military clause that relieves you of any penalties from ending the terms of the contract early. You must be diligent and demand that either a military clause be inserted or receive written documentation releasing you from your obligations upon a PCS or deployment. If a company is not willing to add a military clause, keep shopping around.
- Get a name and a number. When calling to address a grievance, a name, case number, or file number is necessary for better and faster service. Make sure to keep good documentation.
- Report them. The Better Business Bureau is a strong and diligent advocate for consumer needs. If you are not making any progress with a dishonest service provider, notify the BBB to register a complaint. Most large companies will quickly respond to complaints, especially when it involves military members.
- Contact your local Senator or Representative. Prior to the 2003 amendment of SCRA, cell phone contracts were not included in SCRA. It was not until after legislative pressure that Â§535a was included that provided military members protection against recourse when terminating telephone service.
- Visit the base legal office for guidance. Sometimes, correspondence from a legal assistance attorney might help your situation.
- Read the fine print in all contracts. The best way to avoid finding yourself in such a predicament is to make sure you read and understand what you are signing.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Base Legal Office at 951-655-4479.