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UK Mobile Networks to be Banned from Selling Locked Phones


Mobile networks will be banned from selling unlocked phones in the UK from December 2021 under new rules outlined by Ofcom.

According to the telecoms regulator, unlocking handsets is often seen as a complicated process, and thus locked phones actually prevent customers from switching to a better deal once their contract is coming to an end.

The new rules, which will come into effect by the end of the next year, will not affect all UK networks, as O2, Sky Mobile, Three and Virgin Mobile currently don’t sell locked phones anyway. However, companies including BT Mobile, EE, Vodafone and Tesco Mobile will be affected by the regulations.

Certain networks have made previous suggestions that locked phones help to prevent fraud and theft. However, according to Ofcom’s research, over a third of mobile customers feel discouraged from switching because of locked handset.

When a handset is locked, it means it can only be used on a specific network unless it is unlocked, a process which only costs around £10. However, Ofcom said that around half of the customers who try to unlock their phones encounter difficulties when trying to do so.

Common issues that arise when trying to unlock handsets include long waiting times for the necessary code needed for the process, and the code not even working at all. Ofcom also suggests that some customers may not even be aware that their phone is locked, meaning they are left without service when they try to switch networks.

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

A spokesperson for Vodafone said: “We stand ready to implement these changes when they come into force.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for EE added: “We’ll work with Ofcom to comply with this guidance.”

Fergus Cole
Fergus Cole

Fergus is a journalist specialising in the personal finance, energy and broadband sectors. He also has a passion for travel and adventure so tries to make the most of this in any spare time he gets.

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