Mobile phone users could switch network simply by sending a 'goodbye' text to the operator they want to leave, under new proposals by regulator Ofcom.

The so-called 'auto-switch' proposal, unveiled last week, would see customers avoid a long call to their operator to end the agreement and instead just send one text or online message to port their existing number or cancel their old service.

Customers would then then receive their switching code - or PAC - back via a text which they’d pass on to their new provider. The new firm would then be able to arrange the switch within one working day.

Ofcom had previously proposed an easier one-stage process, where consumers had to contact the company they want to leave with one call but after consultation and further research the regulator concluded this would be twice as expensive at the “Auto-Switch” process proposed on Friday 19 May.

The plan is essentially a revamp of an earlier Ofcom proposal which suggested consumers switch with a termination phone call instead. However, after concluding this would be expensive, it has now put forward an alternative.

Martin Lewis
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Concern for customers

Ofcom's support for a text service is based on research which identified three sources of concern for consumers:-

  • Some customers found the existing switching process takes too long because of unnecessary difficulties in requesting their PAC code or because of a provider’s attempts to persuade them to stay
  • Many mobile switchers found themselves paying out for notice period charges weeks after their old service has ended
  • 20% of consumers experienced short-term service loss when switching

The regulator also proposes to ensure that customers cannot be charged by two providers at once during a notice period once they’ve switched providers - this currently costs customers around £10 million a year, Ofcom estimates.

Under the proposed new rules, mobile providers would not be able to charge for notice periods after the agreed switch date.

The new “Auto-Switch” process, if adopted, would be available to all residential and business mobile customers whether they want to port a single number or multiple numbers, or switch a single or multiple accounts if they don’t want to port their number.

Mobile phone customers could switch network with a single text to their old provider, Ofcom suggests
Mobile phone customers could switch network with a single text to their old provider, Ofcom suggests

Ofcom also wants mobile providers to provide clearer information to customers about how their switching and porting process works. The regulator found that a quarter – equivalent to 1.7 million switchers – experienced major difficulties with the switching process and 37% of consumers who had actively considered switching did not do so because of the difficulties in the process.

The changes are aimed at supporting the government’s commitment contained in the Digital Economy Act to improving switching.

In its consultation document on mobile switching Ofcom said: “Our proposals should allow for a switching process that is quick, simple and convenient to use.”

Ofgem is consulting on the issue and wants views from users until 30 June, 2017 and a policy statement will be published in the autumn of 2017.

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