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Regulator to ban sale of locked mobile phones

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The communication regulator plans to ban mobile phone firms from selling locked handsets in a bid to make switching network easier.

While O2, Sky, Three and Virgin Mobile sell unlocked mobile phones, BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone sell restricted handsets. This means they can’t be used on other networks unless they’re unlocked.

Mobile phone users often have to fork out hundreds of pounds to buy handsets and then they’re forced to pay around £10 to get them unlocked.

According to Ofcom, nearly half of customers who try to unlock their device find it difficult. Some experience a delay in getting the code needed to unlock their device or they receive a code that doesn’t work. Others lose service as they didn’t know their device was locked before they tried to switch.

As a result, Ofcom is proposing to ban mobile companies from selling locked phones.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director, said: “Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating.

“By freeing mobile users from locked handsets, our plans would save people time, effort and money – and help them unlock a better deal.”

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.com, said“This latest round of Ofcom proposals to ban the selling of locked handsets is great news for consumers. Smartphones can cost in excess of £1,000, so expecting people to fork out that sum of cash for a restricted device feels incredibly outdated.

“Changing network is getting easier and easier thanks to rules such as text-to-switch and the introduction of end-of-contract notifications coming in February next year.”

Since July, mobile phone customers have been able to switch network just by sending a free text message.

Easier broadband switching

The regulator is also planning to make it easier to switch between broadband networks. Customers switching between BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach’s copper network have the process managed by their new provider.

But for those moving to a different network such as CityFibre, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic or Virgin Media, they need to contact both the existing and new provider for the switch to go ahead.

Ofcom will set out further details of the process next year, but added that providers would also have to compensate customers if things go wrong and they’re left without service for more than one working day. Further, Ofcom is also proposing to ban notice-period charges beyond the switch date.