Mobile phone companies must unlock better deals for their customers

Which? launches a new campaign to help people Unlock Better Mobile Deals as we find many don’t trust their provider to put them on the right deal for their usage.

New Which? research reveals only four in 10 (40%) currently trust their mobile phone provider to put them on the best deal for their usage at the end of their contract, and many think it is unfair phones are locked to one provider.

One in ten (12%) weren’t confident when taking out their contract that it was the best tariff for them and four in ten (42%) think there is probably a better value tariff for their usage than the one they’re currently on, suggesting mobile phone companies could be doing more to help people identify the best deal for them.

When we surveyed mobile companies, the majority don’t contact customers proactively about the date their contract is due to end, but more than half (53%) of people said they would like to be notified.

Seven in ten (69%) said this would make them spend more time considering deals or haggling with their current provider and many (78%) also said this would prompt them to put more time into finding a deal that is better value for money.

Mobile phone companies also tend to charge people to unlock their phone and will often only do it when asked, which can act as a barrier to switching. However, two thirds (66%) think it’s unfair that phones are locked to the provider’s network and three-quarters (77%) say it’s frustrating that phones need to be unlocked to use them on a different network. Eight in 10 (82%) think providers should unlock a phone for free when the contract comes to an end.

We want mobile phone companies to:

  • Unlock the best possible deal: Provide customers with their contract expiry date, one month’s notice before their contract ends, and details of all the available deals to best match their needs.
  • Unlock handsets for free: Sell pay as you go handsets unlocked and automatically unlock contract phones for free at the end of the contract.                                                                                                            

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said: 

“Mobile phones are an essential part of daily life for many people and consumers shouldn’t be locked into contracts that do not suit their usage. We want to send a message to mobile phone companies that they should help customers get a better deal by alerting people that their contracts are about to end and by unlocking handsets for free.”

People can support the campaign at

We also found wide variation in the rules around unlocking handsets between providers, in particular around cost. Virgin told us it charges £15.32 to unlock pay as you go phones, while Tesco charges £20 within the first 12 months, and although O2 charges £15 for pay as you go users, those with a contract can have it done free of charge at any time. GiffGaff and Three provide all devices unlocked. We think all mobile phone providers should offer this service for free at the end of a contract and at point of sale for pay as you go phones.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Methodology: Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed 2,111 UK adults, of whom 2,014 have a personal mobile phone and 1,184 have a contract, online between 16th and 18th May 2014. Data was weighted to be representative of the UK adult population. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
  2. Which? contacted all the main mobile operators in January 2014, asking a series of questions on customer notifications, financial caps and phone unlocking. We received responses from Vodafone, Virgin Media, O2, GiffGaff, Three and Tesco Mobile. EE did not respond.
  3. According to Ofcom, 94% of people in the UK own or use a mobile phone.
  4. Seven in ten (69%) say this would make them more likely to consider deals or haggle with their current provider (23% definitely would, 47% probably would) and many also said this would prompt them to put more time into finding a deal that is better value for money (78% – 30% definitely would, 48% probably would).

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