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Mobile Operators Now Banned from Selling Locked Phones


From last Friday, mobile providers can no longer sell handsets locked to their networks, as Ofcom begins to enforce rules announced in October 2020.

Until recently mobile providers EE, Vodafone, and Tesco Mobile (O2's network) were selling devices that could only be used on their networks. While the phones could be unlocked, customers often had to wait until they had owned the device for a certain period of time and pay a fee, usually of around £10, to do so.

Additionally, around half of customers who try to unlock their devices face difficulty doing so, including long delays and loss of service, Ofcom found.

That’s why, following a consultation, the telecoms regulator has banned the sale of locked handsets from 17 December 2021, part of a suite of reforms designed to make it easier for customers to switch mobile providers.

The reforms will also limit contract terms for bundles of mobile service and handsets to a maximum of 24 months. Additionally, if a customer adds a service to the package, providers will no longer be able to extend the contract periods of the customer’s existing services without their consent.

These changes have been introduced to support Ofcom’s Text-to-Switch service, which since 2019 has allowed mobile customers to switch simply by texting the word ‘PAC’ to 65075 and passing the PAC code they receive to their new provider.

Ofcom has also strengthened protections for telecoms customers with disabilities. It already requires that mobile and broadband companies provide blind and vision-impaired customers with bills and contract information in accessible formats, such as braille and large print. But it will now give disabled customers the right to request any important information about their service—excluding marketing materials—in a format that is reasonably acceptable to meet their needs and at no extra cost.

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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