After eye-watering price hikes came into effect earlier this month, new Which? research has found that some Big Four mobile customers could save more than £200 a year by switching when their contract ends.
Using data from its most recent mobile survey, the consumer champion has calculated how much out-of-contract customers of the Big Four providers – EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone – could save by switching to Which?’s top pick of low, medium and high data deals.
Which?’s survey found that out-of-contract Big Four customers pay an average of £22.37 a month – significantly higher than the average £19.01 monthly bill across all providers – and in some cases could save more than £200 a year by switching away to cheaper deals.
When Which? checked this week, the consumer champion found a range of deals with highly-rated providers offering around low, medium and high data packages for under £14 a month – examples included Smarty’s 4GB for £5 deal and iD Mobile’s 200GB for £14 offer.
The average out-of-contract EE customer in the consumer champion’s survey pays £23.80 per month and could stand to make the biggest savings. By switching to Which?’s top low data pick – Smarty’s 4GB offer – they could potentially save £225.60 a year (£18.80 a month).
This is closely followed by out-of-contract Vodafone customers who pay an average of £22.20 per month according to Which?’s survey and could save £206.40 (£17.20 a month) by switching to Smarty’s 4GB offer.
Three and O2 customers would also stand to make significant savings. According to the consumer champion’s survey, out-of-contract Three and O2 customers pay an average of £21.50 a month and £21.30 a month respectively and could save £198 (£16.50 a month) and £195.60 (£16.30 a month) by switching to Smarty’s deal.
Big Four customers could also make significant savings by switching to Which?’s medium and high data picks – such as iD Mobile’s 20GB offer for £7 and iD Mobile’s 200GB offer for £14.
EE customers would again make the biggest savings – £201.60 a year (£16.80 a month) for switching to Which?’s medium data pick and £117.60 annually (£9.80 a month) for high data.
O2 customers would make the lowest savings – £171.60 a year (£14.30 a month) for medium data and £87.60 annually (£7.30 a month) for high data.
In the consumer champion’s recent mobile survey, over half (52%) said they only use up to 5GB a month – so many customers could make significant savings by switching to a cheap, low-data deal. With many providers pushing ahead with price hikes of up to 17 per cent, out-of-contract customers should switch quickly to cut costs.
However, not all customers can switch away so easily. Millions are trapped in a Catch-22 where they either have to accept price hikes of up to 17 per cent or pay exorbitant exit fees to leave the contract early. Which? has called on providers to allow all customers to leave without penalty if prices are hiked mid-contract but many are ploughing ahead with their existing plans regardless.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:
“Our findings show that some out-of-contract Big Four customers could save over £200 a year just by switching mobile providers. Anyone in that position should be thinking about making a switch or at least haggling for a much better deal from their current provider.
“However, millions will be trapped in costly contracts by exorbitant exit fees – and feeling the pain of eye-watering price increases of up to 17 per cent.
“Which? believes it’s absolutely critical that Ofcom’s review of inflation linked mid-contract hikes results in changes that ensure customers are never trapped in this situation again.”
Notes to editors
Which? cost of living campaign
The consumer champion recently launched a campaign calling on businesses in essential sectors – supermarkets, telecoms and energy – to do more to help their customers through the cost of living crisis.
As part of this, Which? called on providers to allow all customers to leave without penalty if they face mid-contract price rises. All of the Big Four mobile brands have ignored these calls and are instead ploughing ahead with price hikes of up to 17 per cent. As Ofcom reviews inflation linked mid-contract increases, Which? will push for pro-consumer changes to regulation that ensure customers aren’t trapped in this lose-lose situation again.
Based on the average amounts paid by customers in a January 2023 survey of 3,400 mobile customers for phone contracts. Data includes a nationally representative sample plus a provider boost approach for brands with low sample sizes.
Which? assesses mobile provider deals against a range of criteria, including length of contract, value for money, how a provider scores in our regular satisfaction survey on criteria such as reliability and value for money, and any extras it offers. Potential savings on offer were calculated against Which? expert pick deals on 12 April 2023, from providers offering low, medium and high data packages for under £14 a month. Link to Which?’s low, medium and high data top picks here.
How much EE customers could save
Out of contract EE customers pay the most on average, although those on bundled contracts may be eligible for a 10 per cent discount after being out of contract for three months.
EE out of contract survey average is £23.80 per month.
Low data pick: Smarty 4GB for £5 – potential savings of £18.80 per month
Medium data pick: iD Mobile 20GB for £7 – potential savings of £16.40 per month
High data pick: iD Mobile 200GB for £14 – potential savings of £9.80 per month
How much Three customers could save
Three does not apply any discount for out of contract customers, so they will continue to pay their full rate.
Three out of contract survey average is £21.50 per month.
Low data pick: Smarty 4GB for £5 – potential savings £16.50 per month
Medium data pick: iD Mobile 20GB for £7 – potential savings £14.50 per month
High data pick: iD Mobile 200GB for £14 – potential savings £7.50 per month
How much O2 customers could save
O2 offers split contracts, so the device and airtime parts of the contracts are charged separately. This means customers will not pay extra when their phone has been paid off, but it could still be worth shopping around for a cheaper Sim-only deal.
O2 out of contract survey average is £21.30 per month.
Low data pick: Smarty 4GB for £5 – potential savings £16.30 per month
Medium data pick: iD Mobile 20GB for £7 – potential savings £14.30 per month
High data pick: iD Mobile 200GB for £14 – potential savings £7.30 per month
How much Vodafone customers could save
Vodafone’s Evo customers will be in a similar situation to O2 customers, as their contracts are split. However, plenty of legacy customers – who joined Vodafone before Evo launched in June 2021 – will still be on bundled contracts and potentially paying extra.
Vodafone out of contract survey average is £22.20 per month.
Low data pick: Smarty 5GB for £4 – potential savings £17.20 per month
Medium data pick: iD Mobile 20GB for £7 – potential savings £15.20 per month
High data pick: iD Mobile 200GB for £14 – potential savings £8.20 per month
Right of replies
An EE spokesperson said: “We aim to make sure our customers are always on the best deal for them. We contact our customers near the end of their contract, and periodically while out of contract, to remind them of our latest deals. All out of contract EE customers are eligible for a 10% discount after being out of contract for three months.
Customers can regularly track their data usage through the MyEE app. We’re the only network that makes sure you stay online and connected even when your monthly data allowance runs out, through our Stay Connected Data offering.”
Three declined to comment.
A Virgin Media O2 spokesperson said: “Unlike the other mobile network operators, nearly a decade ago we launched contracts which automatically reduce customers’ bills as soon as they’ve finished paying for their handsets – so our customers are already saving big when their contract ends. This automatic saving is in addition to the host of benefits we offer to customers including inclusive EU Roaming and O2 Priority which offers exclusive rewards, unique experiences and daily perks, as well as Priority Tickets for thousands of gigs and events across the UK.”
Vodafone spokesperson said: “We encourage everyone to review their plan at the end of any contract so they can make sure they’re on the right deal for their needs – which often change over time. At the end of every contract period we notify our customers of the best value deals available, and can also support them in finding this online, over the phone and in stores.”
“We offer a wide range of great value packages and customers can save by bringing their mobile and broadband contracts to us – (up to £380 a year). Our loyalty programme Very Me gives customers a range of additional discounts on days out, discounts on takeaways, free coffees and more.”
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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