Ofcom plans ban on mobile firms selling ‘locked’ phones

17 December 2019

Mobile phone companies would be banned from selling ‘locked’ handsets, under new Ofcom plans to make switching even simpler.

Companies including BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone still sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked. Unlocking the phones can cost around £10, and our research has found that more than a third of people who decided against switching said this put them off.

O2, Sky, Three and Virgin all choose to sell unlocked devices to their customers.

Nearly half of customers who try to unlock their phone find it difficult. For example, they might face a long delay before getting the code they need to unlock it; they might be given a code that does not work; or they could suffer a loss of service if they did not realise their device was locked before they tried to switch.

So, we’re proposing to ban mobile companies from selling locked phones, allowing people to move to a different network with their existing handset, hassle-free.

This follows a change in the rules, introduced in July, that means mobile customers can now switch operator by simply sending a free text message.

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.”

Today we have also announced proposals to make it easier for customers to switch between broadband networks, as part of a package of protections for customers that reflect new European rules.

999 video calls for sign language users

To further ensure fairness for customers, we’re proposing new rules that will mean British Sign Language users can contact the emergency services using video calls.

Under these proposals, an interpreter in a call centre would translate between British Sign Language and English. The service would be free and available 24/7 – helping to make emergency communications faster and more accurate for both deaf users and the emergency services.

We have published information in British Sign Language about our proposals, and also welcome responses to our consultation using sign language.

Fairness for Customers logo

Fairness for customers

Ofcom is carrying out a range of work to help people shop around with confidence, make informed choices, switch easily and get a fair deal.

  • From February next year, broadband, phone and TV customers must be told when their initial contract is coming to an end, and shown the best deals available. People who choose to stay with their provider without signing up to a new contract will be given details of their firm’s best deals every year. All customers who are not within a fixed term contract, like pay-as-you-go and SIM-only customers, will also get these annual notices.
  • Fairer pricing. Following our review of mobile pricing, a number of the UK’s biggest mobile companies have committed to fairer prices for customers whose initial deal has ended.