Cheap Mobile Tips

Cheapest way to get a handset, mobile phone rights & more

cheap mobile tips

There are millions of people overpaying on their mobiles, yet switching to a new deal has just got much easier. You can now ditch your pricey plan by simply sending a text – without the need to call. So if out of contract, check now if you can cut the cost – either with a new handset or just switching your Sim, many can save £100s a year. 

Cheap mobile tips, including...

Top mobile need-to-knows 

Whether your phone's rarely out of your hand or you only use it for the odd call, the chances are you're massively overpaying for the minutes, texts and data that you use – especially if you haven't switched in a while. Here's our top tips for cutting sizeable chunks from your mobile bill. 

  • Switching to a cheaper deal with another network has got a lot easier. Under new rules from regulator Ofcom, which came into effect on July 1, you no longer have to call your current provider to ditch it, so you avoid the hard sell of them trying to make you stay. Here’s what to do:

    • Request a switching code by text. Simply text 'PAC' for free to 65075 on any network and you’ll be sent your 'porting authorisation code' (PAC) immediately via text so you can keep your number. To get a new number, text 'STAC' to 75075.

      Its text must include important info such as any exit penalties, outstanding handset costs or credit balances.

    • You need to give the switching code to your new provider within 30 days. You'll then be switched within one working day. You won't need to contact your old provider again.

    What’s more, if you're out of your minimum contract period, mobile providers are now banned from charging you for the remainder of your notice period after you've switched (which is typically 30 days), putting an end to paying for your old and new contract at the same time. 

    If you're still in contract you could be charged early termination fees for leaving – check how much you'd be charged by sending a text with the word 'INFO' to 85075.

    • Though the process varies by provider and you may be able to do it on the phone, once you've got your new (temporary) number from your new network, you'll usually then need to fill in an online form. If you're switching from another provider, the links below tell you each network's process for porting.

      The number switch takes place the next working day after you gave your PAC to the new provider.

      It's a different process if you're swapping within the same provider

      If you're switching to a new tariff on the same network, for example if you're on pay-as-you-go and upgrading to a contract, you shouldn't need to carry out this process – just call your mobile provider's customer service helpline and they should be able to sort it.

  • Don't be sold on overly generous allowances that you'll never use. Do you really need unlimited minutes or 10GB of data? Most don't use anywhere near that – check your actual past usage with an online tool.

    There are two sites accredited by regulator Ofcom to choose from. Both will analyse your bills from the last three months to determine your average usage and suggest deals based on this.

    • Billmonitor* works for customers of EE, O2, Tesco Mobile, Three and Vodafone. It's not the most user-friendly site, but it gives a detailed bill analysis.

    • Ctrlio will handily remind you when better deals at your usage become available (monthly or just at the end of your contract). Currently it can read the bills of EE, Giffgaff, O2, Three and Vodafone customers.

    CompareMyMobile* and HandsetExpert are also useful for when you're ready to locate the best deal.  

    There's also a relatively new app called Yboo* which, once downloaded, will track your usage and present you with the best Sim only deals. It even shows you where it may be cheaper to opt for a lower allowance and pay extra for the data you actually need, though you'll usually need to have it downloaded for 7-30 days before it will start to match you to deals. Used it? Let us know what you think in our feedback thread.

    • Many mobile contract and Sim only deals offer 'unlimited' minutes, texts or data, but it's important to understand what that actually covers.

      Unlimited minutes are to UK landlines and mobiles, and unlimited texts to UK mobiles – other calls/texts and roaming outside the UK may cost more. Always make sure you know exactly what's covered and what you'll have to pay extra for.

      Similarly some networks place 'fair usage' caps on their 'unlimited' tariffs, (confusingly) limiting the allowance you actually get. Where a provider does this on a plan we write about we'll say so, but it's worth checking yourself before signing up.

    • You may find you can keep costs down by taking a smaller data plan and using free Wi-Fi while you're out and about. However, be careful not to use public Wi-Fi for online banking, accessing email or anything that could make your personal information vulnerable to hackers. For more tips on staying safe online, visit Action Fraud.

      There are Wi-Fi hotspots dotted all over the UK (and abroad), most of which are free. Countless places now offer it for free as standard, including large chains such as McDonald's, Starbucks and Wetherspoons.

      Find out more about free Wi-Fi hotspots and how to save on mobile data costs in the Free Wi-Fi and Mobile Broadband guides.

  • If you use up your data allowance before the end of each month, it could end up costing you. You can now add a spending cap which means you won't be able to exceed this limit, so you can avoid any unexpected bills. This can usually be managed via your network's online account or app, though if in doubt just call it and ask.

    If you'd prefer not to add a limit, make sure you're on top of your usage as some networks won't warn you about extra charges – which are often at eye-watering rates. Here are some other ways to avoid this:

    • Use Wi-Fi whenever possible – but not for emails, online banking or anything that could make your personal information vulnerable to hackers when using public Wi-Fi.
    • If you really need more, then consider switching to a different deal or speak to your network about upping your allowance if you'd prefer to stay put – this may cost, but it'll likely be cheaper than exceeding your limit.
  • Your mobile network is permitted to increase its monthly tariff price up to inflation each year, but only if its T&Cs state so before you sign up. Sadly all the major networks have such terms, including EE, O2, Three, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone.

    Changes are usually made in accordance with the Retail Prices Index (RPI), a measure of inflation, between February and April each year. Occasionally some firms will choose not to exercise this right, but this year we've seen price rises kick in from all of the biggies, including EE, VodafoneVirgin MobileO2 and Three.

    You do have rights if your mobile phone provider hikes prices mid-contract which it didn't warn you about.

    If a provider hikes your monthly bill by more than the RPI – or hikes it when its T&Cs don't state this – then you might be able to leave your contract penalty-free.

    In these cases providers need to give at least 30 days' notice of any such rises and allow users to leave the contract without penalty if they wish to leave. If your network changes prices of other services – such as out-of-bundle charges for texts or minutes – you may have have a case to leave penalty-free, but only if you can prove you will suffer "material detriment" as a result of the price increase.

  • If you don't want to switch, and are near or past your contract's end, you're wielding a powerful weapon... your loyalty. When approaching the end of your contract, make sure you demand the very best deal possible – not just of your network, but of any out there.

    The mobile world's a mature market. Everyone has a handset, so networks fight hard to win custom from elsewhere AND keep their own. If your provider won't give you a good enough deal, let it know. The aim's to get through to 'customer disconnections', which internally is often called 'retentions' as its job is to keep you.

    See full help and tips to do this successfully in our Mobile Phone Haggling guide.

  • You can get an idea of signal strength in a particular area with Ofcom's Telecoms Coverage Checker.

    This'll show you results for one of the four main networks – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – but 'piggyback' networks use their signal and generally offer far better value, so don't think your options are limited to one of the biggies. See a full list of which provider is on which network in our Mobile Piggybacking guide.

    For a more accurate indication than Ofcom's checker can give you, it may be worth picking up a free pay-as-you-go Sim from the network you're considering, topping it up with a bit of credit and putting it to the test before committing.

    • Ofcom's tool uses the networks' data on coverage, but it says it builds on this with information gathered from its own field tests. The regulator's also used its own research to determine what threshold of signal it believes is required for a clear call connection – and it's higher than that set by the networks, so in theory you should get a more robust picture of the service you're likely to get.

      The tool's by no means perfect and you may find you don't agree with the results it shows. If so, Ofcom says it wants to know so it can improve it in the future (on the tool, click the 'your feedback' link below the map).

    • It very much depends. Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, if you ordered online or over the phone you can cancel your mobile contract up to 14 days after you sign up (30 days if with Vodafone), for any reason. But if you buy in store or a problem arises after that, it can be tricky.  

      Ofcom says it expects providers to deal "fairly and sympathetically" with customers who have signal issues because of mobile network problems – for example, if a provider switches off a mast or there are faults with the network. In these circumstances the customer should be offered compensation or be allowed to leave the contract early without penalty.

      However, if the reason for the loss of coverage is unclear or in dispute – say, if there's bad weather – it's less clear cut. In these cases Ofcom says you have "clear rights to seek redress or a resolution" to a complaint. In the first instance complain directly to your network, and if it's not able to help then go through its official complaints procedure.

      The free complaints-handling company Resolver can help you with your claim. If it doesn't get anywhere with the provider, it'll escalate your complaint on your behalf to the relevant ADR scheme.

  • If you live somewhere with rubbish phone signal and only get coverage on one or two networks, fear not. You may assume your choice of provider is limited – but switching to a 'piggyback' deal can allow you to cut bills without your signal dropping.

    There are only four UK networks – EE, Vodafone, Three and O2. All the others piggyback on and buy space from one of these four. For example, Tesco and Giffgaff are on O2, Asda is on EE, Smarty uses Three and Voxi is on Vodafone.

    You're still using the same network as the larger company so the reliability's the same, but it's normally cheaper or you get more for your money. There are lots of piggybackers to choose from – see our full mobile piggybacking guide & list to see which you can move to, paying less with the same signal.

  • Most lock their smartphones instinctively these days. Yet even if your handset is locked, if someone steals it there's nothing to stop them using your Sim in another phone. If your phone is stolen make sure to ring your network to deactivate the Sim. Some have had £1,000s racked up on their bills after their (locked) phones were stolen.

    To prevent this, you can lock your Sim with a four-digit PIN, so whenever it's put into a new handset (or in some cases, such as with iPhones, when the phone it's in is restarted) service won't be available until it's unlocked.

    Lock your Sim

    You can find instructions online for locking your Sim on an iPhoneAndroid phone (may vary by handset) or Windows Phone. Your Sim may already have a default PIN (even if it's not activated) which you'll need to enter to change it – contact your network for this.

    Note: if you enter your PIN incorrectly three times you may need a Personal Unblocking Key (PUK) code to enable your Sim again. You should be able to get this from your network.

    Lock your handset

    As we said, most do this already. If not though it's vital you do – you don't want those with light fingers getting access to your personal data and other sensitive info.

    See screen-locking instructions for iPhonesAndroid (again, this may vary by handset) and Windows Phone.

  • The best mobile phones don't just make calls. They're our diaries, contact books, cameras, games consoles and more – so lose it, break it or have it nicked and there can be tears.

    Insurers play on this fear with hefty prices and unnecessary cover. But you can get cheap smartphone and iPhone insurance from £80/year.

    But do you really need insurance? Deciding whether to get a policy comes down to the fact that you know yourself better than insurers will.

    • How likely are you to lose or damage your phone? If your mobile's been permanently attached to your hand and you haven't broken or lost it in the last 10 years, the chances you'll lose or break it in the future are slim. If you have smashed or misplaced a phone in the past, however, it might be worth considering. It's important to know yourself, then you can play the odds.
       

    • Are you worried about mobile phone theft? Theft of mobile phones is falling, according to a Home Office report – but these numbers are often questioned because it's believed a high proportion of mobile theft is never reported. If you live in a crime hotspot then insuring your phone for theft might be a good idea.

    If you decide that insurance is for you, don't just get what is offered by your network provider, think about a specialist insurerself-insuring and/or covering your phone on your home insurance or a package bank account. Full info and best buys in Mobile Phone Insurance.

  • Head abroad and your mobile provider may hike prices massively, and even charge for receiving calls as well. Yet you can cut the cost substantially by using networks' hidden deals or by getting a specialist Sim card to use overseas.

    Get more info on the cost of using your phone abroad and the various specialist Sims available in the Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guide.

    • Calling someone overseas from your mobile often costs big bucks, yet it doesn't have to be that way. Making free internet phone calls (VoIP) sounds complicated, but it's very easy, especially if you have a smartphone.

      Our Free Web Calls guide has details on apps that let you call for nowt, how to make free calls via the internet and the best way to call friends who don't use VoIP.

      Alternatively, if you want to call a foreign mobile or landline number, it's possible to do this for next to nothing – see the Cheap International Calls guide.

Happy with your handset? Switch to a cheap Sim deal to cut your monthly costs

If you're happy with your handset, most don't need to pay any more than £10/mth. That's because you can get a decent amount of minutes, texts and data for under £10/mth, simply by swapping out the Sim in the back of your phone for one with a better deal. 

Plus, if you're out-of-contract and still paying for a handset each month, then you're effectively paying for it TWICE – so stop immediately. Don't just settle for the same plan, provider and price each year. Mobile tariff costs are coming down, so if anything you should be paying less each year, not more. Here's how to do it:

Buying a new handset? Do it the cheapest way

Buying a new handset is never MoneySaving – especially the high-end flagship models from the likes of Apple and Samsung – but if you're determined to get one anyway, buying it in the right way could save you almost £600 over two years compared with the cost of a standard contract.

Before looking for a new deal, ask yourself whether you REALLY need a new high-end handset

The latest top-end smartphones typically go for £700+, but there are plenty of cheaper handsets out there with the same core functions as the flagship handsets from the likes of Apple and Samsung.

If you definitely do need a new mobile phone, then there are essentially three ways to get one. Each has benefits and drawbacks – here's a quick rundown:
  • No matter how much storage space your mobile phone's got, it'll eventually fill up with photos, videos, apps and more, severely limiting what you're able to do with it. The natural response to this is to pay out for memory cards or online storage, or even upgrade to a new phone with more space – and a significantly bigger price tag.

    However, it's highly likely you'd be splashing your cash unnecessarily, as there's a variety of very simple things you can do on Android and iOS devices to save anything from a few MB to bundles of GBs without spending a penny.

    Some of these may seem obvious, such as moving photos and videos online, but did you know you can get unlimited FREE online storage, via the Google Photos app? Spring cleaning your remaining apps could also save you GBs, as could hunting down and deleting hidden downloads.

    For step-by-step instructions, see our How to increase phone storage guide.

  • All the usual consumer rights apply when you buy a mobile phone. The phone must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. (See the Consumer Rights guide for more info.)

    Remember here, the responsibility lies with the retailer, not the manufacturer. So if you discover a problem after buying a new phone, it's the retailer who must sort the problem for you.

    If the fault is minor, it's reasonable to accept a repair. If not, you're entitled to a refund, although the retailer can deduct an amount for the use you've already had.

How to get a handset the cheapest way

If you definitely do need a new mobile phone, then there are essentially three ways to get one. Each has benefits and drawbacks – here's a quick rundown:

Mobile contract tips

To help you find the cheapest way to get your hands on your chosen handset, we've put together our top need-to-knows when taking out a new contract deal.

  • As your mobile phone contract comes to the end of its minimum term, you're often hounded by your provider, who'll try every trick in the book to get you to upgrade to a new handset – and lock in to a new tariff to pay for it.

    It's easy to be lured by the promise of a 'great deal', free of the 'hassle' involved in finding a new contract and switching network. The sad fact is though that for most, you'll be paying over the odds if you fall into this trap. Instead, you're better off seeing what else is out there.

    That's not to say you can't get a competitive offer out of your current network though, particularly if you're happy to stick with your existing handset. Swot up on the best rival deals out there using a comparison site and then get haggling.

  • If you sign up for a contract you're essentially committing to a phone company (and often a handset too) for the length of the contract.

    This means you must think carefully about your budget and if you can afford the ongoing monthly payments. The amount of time varies between deals – a few last 12 months, but most high-end smartphone contracts now span 24 months.

    Before you sign up to a contract make sure you're happy to be locked in for the minimum term. If you want to leave early then it's likely you'll have to pay termination fees which cover the cost of the contract.

  • When getting a new handset, recycle the old one and you could earn £100s, depending on the make, model and condition of the phone.

    There are a raft of companies willing to recycle your phone for cash, yet be warned – the differences in what they'll offer are huge. For help, see our Sell Old Mobiles guide.

    You can get up to £400 for some handsets – of course, others are virtually worthless, but it's worth a quick try. Once you agree to sell, most companies send you a freepost bag for your phone. You post it, then they give you the cash.

    These sites are all about instant prices though. If you're prepared to put in a little more effort and flog your handset on eBay, you can often beat their prices. See our full eBay Selling Tricks guide for more info.

How to complain about your mobile provider

The mobile industry doesn't have the best customer service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include limited network coverage, slow data speeds, unexpected charges and more. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then…

Free tool if you're having a problem

This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with it to help people get complaints justice.

If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate it to the free Ombudsman Services or CISAS depending on the firm if you're complaining about.

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