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‘Text-to-switch’ service announced by regulator

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Mobile phone customers will be able to switch provider by simply sending a free text message, the communication regulator has announced.

Under the Ofcom plans, phone users won’t need to speak to their current provider to switch service. Instead from 1 July 2019, they can send a text message or go online to request a code for the switch to complete within one working day.

Under the new rules, mobile providers will be banned from charging for notice periods running after the switch date. This will stop people paying for old and new services at the same time – saving mobile customers around £10m in total each year.

The move comes as Ofcom found that two in five mobile switchers – 2.5 million people – said they experienced as least one major problem during the switching process. They said the biggest hurdle in changing provider is having to speak to a current supplier that often attempts to persuade them to stay.

It said this will “give customers control over contact with their existing provider”, making the switching process “quicker and easier for people and businesses to leave their mobile company”.

How will the ‘text-to-switch’ service work?

Currently, when a customer wants to transfer their number to a new provider, they usually have to call their provider to request a ‘porting authorisation code’ (PAC), and give this to the provider they plan to join. If a monthly contract customer doesn’t want to keep their number, they must cancel their service with their existing provider and set up a new contract with the new provider.

Under the new plans, after requesting the switching code, the onus is on the new provider to switch the customer and for the process to be completed in one working day.

People will text one of two memorable short codes, depending on whether or not they want to keep their mobile number. All mobile providers will have to use the same short codes.

The old provider will need to respond immediately by text – with either a PAC or a cancellation code for those who want a new number. For businesses, they will get this code within two working days.

The provider’s reply must also include information on any early termination charges, outstanding handset costs, or pay-as-you-go credit balances.

Ofcom said the switching code will be valid for 30 days so a customer will be able to pass it on to their new provider at the point they place an order for their new service.

However, given the fact that providers will need to make substantial changes to their systems, Ofcom said there will be an 18-month implementation period.

Preventing a frustrating switch experience

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director, said: “Too many people are put off by the hassle of switching mobile provider. Our changes will make it quicker and easier for mobile phone users to get a better deal.

“Customers will control how much contact they have with their current mobile provider, preventing companies from delaying and frustrating the switching process.”

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.com, said the steps are encouraging, but added: “Consumers shouldn’t wait until 1 July 2019 to get a better deal. If you’re out of contract you can switch now and save up to £98 a year – and you might even benefit from improved service too.”