locked smartphone handset

Ban on locked phones coming into force in 2021

Image credit: Dreamstime

Ofcom has said it will ban mobile networks from selling ‘locked’ handsets to consumers, as part of a new set of rules intended to make switching simpler.

Currently, firms including EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked.

The potentially complicated process can cost around £10, and Ofcom research found that 35 per cent of people who decided against switching said this put them off. Almost half of customers experienced difficulties going through the switching process.

Many said they experienced a long delay before recieving the code they need to unlock their device; the code might not work; or they could suffer a loss of service if they did not realise their device was locked before they tried to switch.

The new rules banning the practice will come into effect from December 2021.

Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s Connectivity Director, said: “We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked. So we’re banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort – and help them unlock better deals.”

The ban on selling locked handsets is part of a broad package of measures Ofcom is introducing, most of which reflect new EU rules.

Under the new measures, people will also get a summary of the main terms of their contract in writing before they sign up. This will include contract length and prices, and broadband providers will have to disclose the minimum internet speeds they can expect.

Ofcom will also make it easier to switch between broadband networks. At present, customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach’s copper network can simply contact their new provider, who will manage the switch from there.

But customers moving to a different broadband network – such as Virgin Media, CityFibre, Gigaclear or Hyperoptic – need to manage the switch themselves and coordinate with both their new and existing provider to avoid a gap between the old service ending and the new one starting.

A Vodafone UK spokesman said: “We stand ready to implement these changes, when they come into force.”

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at comparison site Uswitch.com, said the announcement “will finally rid the industry of this anachronistic practice”.

He said: “Despite some modest improvements to the process, unlocking, when required, is often a pain. When the new rules come into force, customers will be able to buy the phone and package they want, with whatever network, safe in the knowledge that if they later choose to switch to another network, they can do so easily and base the decision purely on what’s right for them.”

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