Mobile firms banned from selling locked handsets

News, Smartphones

Mobile phone companies will be banned from selling locked handsets, under a range of new rules from Ofcom designed to make switching suppliers even simpler.

Some companies – including BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone – still sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked, a potentially complicated process which can also cost around £10. Ofcom research has found that more than a third (35%) of people who decided against switching said this put them off.

Almost half of customers who try to unlock their device experience difficulties doing so. For example, they may experience a long delay before getting the code they need to unlock their device; the code might not work; or they could suffer a loss of service if they did not realise their device was locked before they tried to switch.

So following consultation, Ofcom has confirmed that mobile companies will be banned from selling locked phones – allowing people to move to a different network with their existing handset, hassle-free. The new rules will come in from December 2021.

Says Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s Connectivity Director:

 “We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked. So we’re banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort – and help them unlock better deals.”

Adds Natalie Hitchins, Head of Home Products and Services at consumer watchdog Which?:

“We know that some customers who stay with the same provider for long periods of time are more likely to be overpaying than customers who switch, so this ban on selling locked handsets should make things easier for customers looking for a better deal.

“If you think you might be out of contract, check your phone bills as you could potentially switch to a SIM-only deal and depending on the network you might find that you can already switch elsewhere and save money right away.”

The ban on selling locked handsets is part of a broad package of measures Ofcom is introducing, most of which reflect new European rules. This includes making switching easier and helping ensure customers are treated fairly.

Under the new measures announced today, people will also get a summary of the main terms of their contract in writing – before they sign up. This will include, for example, contract length and prices, and broadband providers will have to tell customers the minimum internet speeds they can expect.

Ofcom is also making it easier to switch between broadband networks. At present, customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach’s copper network can simply contact their new provider, who will manage the switch from there.

But customers moving to a different broadband network – such as Virgin Media, CityFibre, Gigaclear or Hyperoptic – need to manage the switch themselves and co-ordinate with both their new and existing provider to avoid a gap between the old service ending and the new one starting.


Chris Price
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