Ofcom plans ban on mobile firms selling 'locked' phones

17 December 2019

  • New rules also proposed to make broadband switching easier

Mobile phone companies would be banned from selling 'locked' handsets, under a range of new plans from Ofcom 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, which can cost around £10. Ofcom research has found that more than a third of people who decided against switching said this put them off.[1]

Nearly half of customers who try to unlock their device find it difficult. For example, they may experience a long delay before getting the code they need to unlock their device; 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 are 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 major reforms, introduced in July, that mean 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.”

Simpler broadband switching

Ofcom is also planning to make it easier to switch between broadband networks, as part of a broad package of protections for customers that reflect new European rules.[2]

At present, customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach’s copper network can already follow a simple process, where their new provider manages the switch.

But this has not been available to customers moving to a different broadband network – such as CityFibre, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic or Virgin Media. These customers need to contact both their existing and new provider to co-ordinate the switch and make sure there is no gap between the old service ending and the new one starting.

Our research shows that more than four in ten people (43%) who decide against switching do so because they are worried about arranging two different services to start and end at the right time. More than a third (37%) are put off by having to speak to two different companies. And a similar number (35%) worry about having to pay their old and new provider at the same time.[3]

Under our proposed new rules, switching would be made easier for all broadband customers, whether they are switching between different networks, or a full-fibre service on the same network.

Providers would also have to compensate customers if things go wrong and they are left without a service for more than one working day. And we are proposing to ban notice-period charges beyond the switch date.[4]

999 video calls for sign language calls

As a further action to ensure fairness for customers, we are 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.[5]

Fairness for Customers logoFairness for customers

Ofcom has an extensive programme to help people shop around with confidence, make informed choices, switch easily and get a fair deal. This also includes:

  • 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.[6]
  • Clear, honest information for broadband shoppers – before they commit to a contract – about what speeds they will get.
  • Fairer pricing. Following our reviews of both broadband and mobile pricing, a number of the UK’s biggest broadband and mobile companies have committed to fairer prices for customers whose initial deal has ended.
  • We regularly shine a light on which major telecoms and pay TV providers are best and worst for customer service.
  • We are also today consulting on changes to our accreditation scheme for price comparison tools, to make sure they continue to work for customers in the digital market.


  1. O2, Sky, Three and Virgin all choose to sell unlocked devices to their customers.
  2. Today’s proposals are part of our work to implement the new European Electronic Communications Code (EECC). It entered into force on 20 December 2018 and EU member states have until 21 December 2020 to transpose it into national law. Other elements of the code that we are proposing to implement include changes to the information customers receive before they agree a contract, and their right to exit a contract before its end date.
  3. Ofcom switching experience tracker 2018. The data refers to people who bundle their landline and broadband services together, those who package their pay TV with these two services, and customers who buy their pay TV separately.
  4. In July, we banned mobile providers from charging for notice periods running after the switch date. We are now looking to extend this to broadband switching.
  5. We have published information in British Sign Language about our proposals, and also welcome responses to our consultation using sign language.
  6. 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.