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Mobile firms to be banned from selling 'locked' phones

Mobile firms to be banned from selling 'locked' phones

Mobile companies will be banned from selling 'locked' phones which only work with their network, under new rules coming into force at the end of next year. 

At the moment some major mobile phone companies - including BT, EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone - still sell handsets which must be 'unlocked' if customers want to switch to a different network. Others such as O2, Sky, Virgin and Three already sell unlocked handsets.

Unlocking a handset in order to switch can cost around £10, and consumers often experience problems such as long waits to be sent a working code to unlock their device, or losing service if they try to switch without realising their phone was locked.

Research from communications watchdog Ofcom has shown that over a third of people who decided not to switch mobile provider said they were put off by the unlocking process. 

As a result, Ofcom will ban mobile companies from selling locked phones from December 2021. This means people who buy a phone from then will be able to switch networks using their existing handset, without unlocking it - though unfortunately if you've already bought a locked phone before this you'll still need to go through the unlocking process. 

See our Cheap Mobile Tips guide for more info on cutting the cost of your mobile phone. 

What are the new rules? 

The new rules banning firms from selling locked mobile phones from December 2021 are part of a wider set of measures being introduced by Ofcom, which mostly reflect new European rules.

As well as the ban on selling locked handsets, the new rules for telecoms providers will mean: 

  • Customers who need information in accessible formats, such as braille, will be able to request this. This rule will also come into force from December 2021. 

  • Consumers will need to receive a summary of the main terms of their contract before they sign up. This must be in writing and include information such as the length and price of the contract, while broadband providers will need to tell their customers the minimum internet speeds they can expect. These rules will come into force in June 2022. 

Ofcom is also consulting on proposals which would introduce a simpler switching process for all broadband customers.

At the moment, customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk, which are all on the Openreach network, only need to contact their new provider, who will then manage the switch. But customers moving to a different broadband network, such as Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, CityFibre or Gigaclear, need to manage their own switch and co-ordinate between their old and new provider to avoid a gap in their service.