How to cancel a UK mobile phone contract and switch providers


Updated on 15 February 2018

Three and EE have both announced mid-contract price hikes. Some people might be able to dodge it, however.

EE and Three price hikes

EE and Three have both announced mid-contract price hikes.

At the end of March, EE pay-monthly customers will be hit with a hefty 4.1% rise unless they joined or upgraded after 6 February 2018. Pay-as-you-go customers are not affected.

Three also says that a price hike is on the way, but has yet to confirm when or by how much.

Sneaky hike

Under current law, customers are allowed to increase customer's mid-contract price by up to the rate of inflation, as measured by the Retail Prices Index (RPI).

This also happens to be the index that tracks at a higher rate, as we wrote about in our piece on how inflation always seems to work against us.

While we don't yet know the extent of Three's hike, we do know that EE's hike is the maximum amount permissible without the customer having the right to terminate their deal penalty-free.

To be fair, this has become standard practice in the industry, but it doesn't make it any less annoying. 

So while people still mid-contract are forced to pay the latest hikes, anyone whose contract is up should use this as the catalyst to search for a cheaper deal.

If you want to stay with your provider, put your haggling to the test. Head over to How to haggle and save a fortune for some top tips.

For those who are angry enough about the hike to want to switch, here's what you need to know.

Check your contract status

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:

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.

How to switch or cancel mobile phone deals

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 will be 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.

Providers will 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.

EE for example charges £8.99 to unlock a phone for those cancelling their contract early but won’t charge customers who have are no longer bound by their contract.

Unlocking a phone can take 10-28 days, so make sure you factor this in when switching to avoid losing service.

How to find the best deal

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: 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:

PAYG

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.

Pay-monthly contracts

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

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 Recombu.  

How to cancel or switch mobile phone providers

Once you’ve found a new network and deal that suits you and are ready to move, you can initiate a switch.

How to start your switch

If you don’t want to keep your 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.

If you’re still in a contract you need to contact your current provider to give 30 days’ notice that you want to leave and pay an early exit fee.

How to keep your number when you switch

To keep your existing mobile number when switching networks, you need to 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.

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.

‘Text to switch’ coming soon

Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, has confirmed plans for a ‘text to switch’ automated system that will make moving to a new mobile provider much easier.

Switching mobile provider could save the average user £176 a year according to figures from price comparison site uSwitch, but many see it as a hassle.

Under the new system, you will just need to send a free text message to your provider stating you wish to leave instead of having to ring them up.

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 will be able to pass on the unique code to the new network which would be able to switch you over within one working day.

The automated process would work for people that wanted to take their mobile number with them or not and you would also be able to request your unique switching code online if you prefer.

See the diagram below from Ofcom for more information on how it'll work.

Don't expect it anytime soon

While it's a welcome move, the bad news is that many of us will have a long wait until we see networks implementing it. That's because Ofcom has given them until July 2019 to comply.

In the meantime whether you want to save money, need a new handset, are struggling with poor signal strength or are just fed up with the level of service you are getting, here's everything you need to know about changing mobile provider today

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