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Mobile phone switching could take just one working day

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Switching mobile provider could become quicker, easier and cheaper under proposals announced by the communications regulator.

Mobile phone users could be allowed to switch provider simply by sending a free text message to the company they wish to leave, under proposals announced by the industry regulator Ofcom.

Customers would then receive a text back which includes a unique code to pass on to their new provider which will arrange the switch to take place within one working day.

The process would be the same no matter if users want to take their mobile number with them or not.

Alternatively, Ofcom proposes that customers would also be able to request the code via their online account.

Under the plans which are now up for consultation, Ofcom said it would mean customers no longer have to speak to their provider which is one of the major barriers to moving to another network.

A report from comparison site uSwitch published last year revealed the average mobile phone customer spends 25 minutes trying to leave their provider and retention staff use a number of tactics so people will stay on.

And Ofcom’s own research revealed about 2.5 million people who changed mobile provider said they experienced at least one major problem when switching (38%). This included difficulties contacting their current provider (11%), cancelling their service (10%), or keeping their phone number (10%).

The hassle of switching mobile providers also means a quarter remain loyal so they’re collectively missing out on £5.8bn of savings.

Ofcom also said providers would be banned from charging for notice periods running after the switch date which means customers would no longer have to pay for their old and new service at the same time, helping to save them £10m each year.

How will ‘auto switch’ work in practice?

All mobile providers would be required to use identical short codes and when a user requests their switching code, they would have a choice depending on whether they wanted to keep their mobile number.

The losing provider would immediately respond by text with either the relevant number transfer code (known as a porting authorisation code or ‘PAC’), or with a cancellation code for those who aren’t intending to keep the same mobile number.

This text reply must also include important information relating to any early termination charges, outstanding handset costs, or pay-as-you-go credit balances.

The switching code would be valid for 30 days and customers would be able to pass the code on to their new provider at the point they place an order for a new service.

Wasn’t the gaining provider meant to handle the switch?

Last year Ofcom announced two proposals to make switching mobile provider easier and quicker, one of which was the PAC by text idea.

At the time, its preferred measure was the introduction of a ‘gaining provider-led’ process which would place responsibility for the switch, including the transfer of a customer’s mobile phone number, entirely in the hands of their new provider. The customer would need only deal with the company they are switching to.

However, Ofcom said it conducted further research which showed that people who had switched previously, and kept their mobile number, said they would be more likely to request a PAC by text in future (78%) than to use a one-stop process (66%).

Further, the ‘text-to-switch’ or ‘auto switch’ method would be cheaper to implement, costing an estimated £44m over 10 years compared with £87m for the ‘gaining provider-led’ system.

Ofcom said it is therefore proposing to implement the text-to-switch measure “as it’s the most cost-effective, yet proportionate way to address consumers’ mobile switching problems”.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director, said: “We want people and businesses to benefit from simpler, speedier mobile switching, making it easier for them to vote with their feet and take advantage of choice in the market.

“Our ‘text-to-switch’ plans would give greater control to mobile customers about when and how they switch, and prevent losing providers from delaying and frustrating the switching process.”

The consultation will run until 30 June and Ofcom expects to publish its final decision in autumn this year.