Here's a step-by-step guide to getting out of your existing contract and moving to a cheaper deal.
- Cancelling your phone contract is just a text away
- Can you cancel without paying?
- Check if your handset is locked
- Find a cheaper deal before cancelling
- Cancel phone contract by text
- Keeping your number or choosing a new one
- How long will it take and will I lose service?
- Your rights if you’re not happy
Cancelling your phone contract is just a text away
If you want to cancel your UK phone contract, the good news is you don't have to phone your network provider and listen to the hard sell before leaving.
Instead, you cancel phone contracts with a free text message.
This guide will take you through all things you should consider before ditching your current deal, but if you've already done your homework and want to leave now simply scroll down to the section titled 'Cancel phone contract by text'.
If you're unsure of what to do next, let's start by looking at why there's a good chance you are paying too much and when the best time to switch is.
Most of us on the wrong phone deal
The fact is, most of us are paying for more than we need in the first place.
Research from Citizen's Advice last year estimated the average person was paying for 2GB of data every month that they didn't use – and that's before we factor in unused texts and minutes.
While some mobile phone providers do allow you to rollover the data you don't use at the end of each month (for a limited time), such as Sky and EE, most of us are simply wasting money on the wrong deal (you can search for cheaper ones here).
If you're out of contract soon – and remember networks are now required to inform you when you're nearing the end – then it's important you move onto the right deal for you.
Given this will often involve changing networks (because most networks still offer better deals to new customers), the rest of this guide will take you through the steps for switching mobile phone providers as painlessly as possible.
Can you cancel without paying?
The first thing to do is to confirm you're definitely able to switch penalty-free.
Here are the contact numbers for some of the major providers (although as we'll explain in the section 'Cancel phone contract by text' you can also get this info with a single message).
Three: 0333 338 1001
O2: 0344 809 0202
EE: 0800 956 6000
Vodafone: 0333 304 0191
Pay-monthly contracts typically last between 12 and 24 months, while SIM-only deals usually last 30 days or 12 months. If you are on pay-as-you-go (PAYG) you won’t be locked into a contract.
Also, take a look at your current pay TV supplier: Sky, for example, has mobile phone deals reserved for existing TV customers.
If you're out of contract, why not search for a cheaper phone or SIM-only contract with Carphone Warehouse?
Check if your handset is locked
If you have a mobile phone that you took out as part of a contract, check if you can take it with you when you move.
You are entitled to keep a handset after your minimum term ends or when you pay to cancel the contract, though there could be a minimum term stipulation.
For example, EE states in its terms and conditions that the handset remains EE property until after six months into your contract.
You should check if the handset is ‘locked’ to your network.
While the regulator, Ofcom, has announced networks will be banned from doing so from next December (2021), at present the practice is still depressingly common.
Providers have different policies about unlocking phones, which allows you to use them with any network.
Some do it for free, while others will only do it after a certain period and charge a fee.
Unlocking a phone can take 10-28 days, so make sure you factor this in when switching to avoid losing service.
Find a cheaper deal before cancelling
Once you’ve figured out where you stand on your current deal, it’s time to think about the network and tariff you want to move to next.
If you’re struggling with service make sure you research which provider can offer you better coverage and take a look at which companies attract the most and least complaints in our guide to the UK's best and worst mobile phone providers.
To make sure you pick the right plan for you, work out how many texts and minutes you will likely need. You might want to look at old bills to see what your usage is like.
If you don't have any to hand, some smartphones will also allow you to check your monthly minutes, texts and estimated data usage.
Next, you should work out what sort of deal could work for you: PAYG, pay monthly or SIM-only. Here’s a quick refresher on what they offer and who they are good for:
With a PAYG deal, you don’t get a phone, inclusive calls/texts/data, there’s no credit check, contract or monthly bills. You just top up your account manually and pay for calls/texts/data at your network’s rates.
This type of deal is good if you have a phone that you don’t use that often or only really need it for emergencies, your credit history isn’t great and you don’t want to commit to a long contract.
With a pay-monthly contract, you usually get a handset and an allowance of inclusive calls, texts and data for a monthly fee. Contracts can last between 12-24 months and require that you undergo a credit check before taking one out.
This type of deal is best if you are likely to make a lot of calls, send lots of texts or use a lot of data on the go. It’s also good if you want the latest top of the range handset but can’t afford to pay for it outright.
SIM-only deals can offer a happy medium between contracts and PAYG.
They don’t come with a handset but you get inclusive calls, texts and data for a monthly fee.
A SIM-only deal makes sense if you make a lot of calls or text and use data, might not have the best credit history (30-day rolling contracts don’t normally require a credit check), don’t want to be locked into a long contract and have a handset you can use.
You can compare PAYG, pay-monthly and SIM-only tariffs using most price comparison sites or a dedicated service like Carphone Warehouse. It's generally a good ideally to compare prices on at least a couple of sites to get a better idea of how much you should be paying.
Once you’ve found a new network and deal that suits you and are ready to move, you can initiate a switch.
Cancel phone contract by text
Up until recently, if you wanted to cancel a contract you'd have to phone your provider to explain that you wanted to leave – followed by a hard sell as the salesperson tries to talk you out of cancelling.
Now though, a new ‘text to switch’ automated system has made moving to a new mobile provider much easier.
Under the system, you just need to send a free text message to your provider stating you wish to leave.
The provider will then send a text back with a unique code and any other related information to closing your account like termination charges and outstanding handset costs.
If happy with these costs, you then pass on the unique code to the new network, which will switch you over within one working day.
See the diagram below from Ofcom for more information on how it works.
To be clear, you can still cancel over the phone if you wish – the text to switch service is merely a new alternative.
How to cancel your mobile phone contract by text
Whether you're looking to cancel with Virgin, Tesco, Three or anyone, the number you'll need to text is the same (although it does vary based on whether you want to keep your number, as we'll explain in a bit).
The annoying thing is each provider has a slightly different process: for example, Vodafone asks you to text the word 'PAC' plus your PIN to cancel, while Virgin wants 'PAC' plus your date of birth.
It can be confusing so it's often best to simply text the word 'PAC', which will kick start the process (although it might require you to provide some extra info).
So what number do you text to cancel your mobile phone contract? That depends on what you want to do with your existing number.
Text the number that best describes what you want from the three scenarios below.
I want to cancel and keep my number
For this, you'll need to text 'PAC' to 65075 to begin the process.
I want to cancel and get a new number
If you're keen on changing your mobile phone number, you should text 'STAC' to 75075 to kick things off.
I want more info before I cancel
If you're unsure of your current contract situation and want to know about any fees you might face, text INFO to 85075 and make a decision from there.
Keeping your number or choosing a new one
When switching to a new provider, the process varies slightly depending on whether you want to keep your existing number, as five out of six people do, or whether you're happy to be given another by your new provider.
We'll talk you through the steps for each below, looking at how it works if you want to sort it over the phone or by text.
Keeping your existing number
To keep your existing mobile number when switching networks, you can phone and ask your current provider for your Porting Authorisation Code or PAC.
Your existing provider should give this immediately to you over the phone or within two hours by text.
Your PAC is normally made up of nine digits and is valid for 30 days. If not used within this time it will expire and you will need to request a new one.
Once you have provided your PAC to your new provider, they will contact your old provider to port your number. This should take one working day.
Simply text 'PAC' to 65075 and your existing provider will respond by text within a minute.
You'll be sent your PAC, which will be valid for 30 days. Your provider’s reply must also include important information about any early termination charges or pay-as-you-go credit balances.
You then give the code to your new provider, which must arrange for the switch to complete within one working day.
If you don't want to keep your number
If you are happy to be given a different number, you just need to contact your new provider to apply for a new service and contact your current provider to end your existing contract.
Sent the word 'STAC' to 75075, and you'll receive a service termination authorisation code, which you can use to ditch your provider.
The text that you'll receive in response must include any important information about early termination charges or pay-as-you-go credit balances.
How long will it take and will I lose service?
It’s a good idea to time the end date of your old contract with the start date of your new one to prevent overlap.
You shouldn’t lose service while your number is switching networks. Your number will stay active on your old SIM up until it becomes active on your new SIM.
When the number switch is completed you just need to swap your old SIM for your new one with your new network.
Check the SIM you have works in your new phone and that the number has been transferred across.
Your rights if you’re not happy
You have 14 calendar days from the date you enter a new contract with a new provider to cancel your request to switch without being charged.
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