Mobile phone companies in the UK are now legally banned from selling ‘locked’ handsets, as of today, December 17, 2021.
Locked devices only run on a specific mobile network and cannot be used on rival carrier networks, a practice Ofcom believes can discourage consumers from switching providers for a better deal.
Initially proposed in December 2019, and confirmed by Ofcom in October 2020, mobile companies are now banned from selling locked phones – allowing people to move to a different network with their existing handset, hassle-free.
All phone companies now have to adhere to the new rule:
“Some companies have still been selling mobile phones that can’t be used on other networks, unless they are unlocked. But this can be complicated for customers and cost around £10 too,” Ofcom said.
Ofcom research found that more than a third (35%) of people who decided against switching said this put them off.
Almost half of customers who try to unlock their device experience difficulties doing so. For example, they may experience a long delay before getting 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 ban on selling locked handsets is part of a broad package of measures Ofcom is introducing, most of which reflect new European rules. This includes making switching easier and helping ensure customers are treated fairly.
The plan from Ofcom follows the successful launch of Text To Switch, which lets customers switch networks by sending a text message rather than having to phone their current provider.
Other new measures that come into force today include extending rules that limit phone and broadband contracts to a maximum of two years, so they cover bundles. Also, if a customer adds a service to their package, providers will not be able to extend the contract periods of the existing services the customer already has without their consent.
Ofcom says this will help give customers more flexibility to switch package or provider, without being locked into long deals.
The regulator has also strengthened existing requirements on phone and broadband companies to provide blind or vision impaired customers with bills and contract information in accessible formats, such as braille or large print.
It has extended the scope of these rules, so disabled customers can request that any important information about their service – excluding marketing materials – is provided in a format that is reasonably acceptable to meets their needs, and at no extra cost.
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