Ofcom has today confirmed a number of changes to its regulations that will benefit consumers, as a result of new European telecoms law.
The changes include shorter phone and broadband tie-in periods, compensation for delayed number switching and improved access for disabled consumers to emergency services.
From tomorrow, the tie in period for new phone or broadband contracts will be limited to a maximum of 24 months. And consumers and businesses must also be offered a choice of contract lasting no longer than 12 months.
Shorter contracts are likely to promote competition and enable consumers to switch providers more easily to benefit from better prices and services.
Ofcom has also confirmed plans to make the emergency SMS scheme mandatory in the UK.
Under the new European regulations, disabled consumers should - technology allowing - have the same access to the emergency services as other consumers.
The emergency SMS scheme, which allows registered users to text 999 in an emergency instead of making a phone call, has been running on a voluntary basis since 2009.
It has around 14,500 registered users and is predominantly used by hearing and speech-impaired people who find it difficult to use the phone.
From tomorrow, mobile providers will be obliged to make the scheme available on a permanent basis for hearing and speech-impaired consumers.
The new regulations require mobile providers to port customers' mobile phone numbers to a new provider within one working day.
Ofcom implemented this on 11 April 2011 for individual mobile numbers and it is now extended to other customers, such as businesses, who want to port a large number of mobile numbers at one time.
For fixed number porting, switching providers involves certain additional steps, such as measures to ensure that customers are protected from slamming (where a customer is switched to another provider without their permission). Providers will have to port fixed numbers within one working day but only after these steps have been completed.
Providers will also have to pay reasonable compensation to customers should they not port the number within one working day, or if there is an abuse of the porting process.
Providers are able to design their own compensation schemes, but Ofcom will review them after 12 months to ensure that they are adequate. Ofcom has suggested that, as a minimum, compensation should be based on the daily line rental rate.
The revised Electronic Communications Framework is intended to ensure more effective and better rights for consumers. Ofcom's statement confirming changes to its regulations can be found here. Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: "These changes to the regulations should make it easier for consumers to take advantage of the wide range of competition in the UK communications market.
"The emergency SMS scheme has proved very successful and is highly valued by hearing and speech-impaired people. It is right that this service should be made permanent in order to safeguard it for the people who depend on it."