Mobile phone companies 'should unlock handsets for free'

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Mobile phone companies should offer their customers better deals – including unlocking handsets for free, Which? magazine has said.

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The consumer watchdog has launched a campaign to help consumers “unlock better mobile deals” after a survey it conducted revealed just four in 10 (40%) trust their provider to put them on the best deal for their usage at the end of their contract, and many think it is unfair that phones are locked to one provider.

Which? says that all mobile phone providers should offer the unlocking service for free at the end of a contract and at point of sale for pay-as-you-go phones.

It says that phone companies tend to only unlock a phone when a customer asks, which can act as a barrier to switching.

But the watchdog said that two thirds (66%) of the people surveyed thought it was unfair that phones are locked to the provider’s network and three-quarters (77%) say it’s frustrating that phones need to be unlocked to use them on a different network. Eight in 10 (82%) think providers should unlock a phone for free when the contract comes to an end.

According to The Guardian, Virgin charges £15.32 to unlock a handset, while Tesco charges £20 within the first 12 months of a contract. It says that although O2 charges £15 for ‘pay as you go’ users, those with a contract could have it done free of charge at any time.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “Mobile phones are an essential part of daily life for many people and consumers shouldn’t be locked into contracts that do not suit their usage.

“We want to send a message to mobile phone companies that they should help customers get a better deal by alerting people that their contracts are about to end and by unlocking handsets for free.”

Of course, it’s worth remembering that shopping around is the best way to get a good deal from a mobile phone provider.

Stuart O’Connor