Which? uses cookies to improve our sites and by continuing you agree to our cookies policy.

Campaigns | Unlock mobile phones

Unlock mobiles media image 360963

Vodafone, EE and Three respond

Yesterday we revealed that mobile customers are collectively overpaying by £355m a year for handsets they’ve already paid for. Read how the main offenders - Vodafone, EE and Three - responded to our call for action.

Unlike customers on other mobile networks, Vodafone, EE and Three customers are charged one bundled price for their handset, minutes, texts and data.

Here’s what these three major mobile networks had to say in response to our research:

A spokesman for Vodafone said:

'We offer competitive pricing on both 12 and 24 month contracts which often include a handset as part of the bundle. We’re clear with our customers on when their contract ends – through customer services, their online account and the My Vodafone app.

'We also proactively contact the vast majority of pay monthly customers before their contract ends to discuss the best possible bundle for their future needs.

'At the end of the contractual period customers are able to upgrade and take a new handset or move their contract to a SIM Only plan.'

A spokesperson for EE said:

‘Separating phone and tariff doesn’t always represent the best deal for consumers and can sometimes result in them paying more. EE customers have the flexibility to choose the tariff and upfront phone cost that is right for them, often with better value than tariffs that are separated.’

A Three spokesperson told us:

‘We offer a range of plans which include a handset with different data and call allowances to suit customers’ needs. At the end of their contract, customers can upgrade to a new handset with a new plan, switch to a SIM-only plan where they pay only for airtime and not a handset or move to another operator.

‘We already unlock devices for free and we are looking at developing new contracts which will split out the cost of the handset and the airtime for customers.’

We’re calling on all mobile providers to separate out the cost of the handset so you don’t continue paying for it after your contract ends. So it’s great to hear that Three is looking to offer contracts where these costs are separate. You can help us convince Vodafone and EE to do the same by signing our petition.


Millions of pounds wasted paying for mobiles you already own

Mobile phone owners are collectively shelling out an extra £355m per year for handsets they’ve already paid for. 

Our research found that nearly half of mobile owners don’t switch immediately when their contract comes to an end. And since most contracts don't separate the cost of the handset from calls, texts and data, you’ll find yourself paying over the odds for a phone you’ve already paid off. 

Collectively we’re overpaying by a total of £355m a year - an average of an extra £92 each. 

Paying over the odds

O2, Virgin Media, Tesco Mobile and Utility Warehouse have tariffs where the handset and airtime costs are separate, while giffgaff has never bundled the handset in. Whereas customers on Vodafone, EE and Three still continue to be charged one bundled price.

For example, a contract with O2 Refresh for an iPhone 6 costs £49 a month for 5GB of data and unlimited minutes and texts. Of this, O2’s clear that the handset is £25, meaning you’ll only pay £24 per month when the contract ends. 

On a similar plan with Vodafone (4GB of data and unlimited minutes and texts) it costs £48.50 a month – but that price doesn’t change once you’ve come to the end of your contract. If you don’t switch or change your contract, you’ll keep paying for the phone you’ve already paid off.

Make mobile firms play fair

Our executive director Richard Lloyd said:

‘Consumers are being misled and as a result are collectively paying millions of pounds each year for a phone they have paid off.’ 

We’re calling on all mobile providers to separate out the cost of the handset so you don’t continue paying for it after your contract comes to an end. You shouldn’t be handing over money for nothing. If you agree, please sign our petition today.


New cap for lost or stolen phones falls short

The Government has announced a new voluntary agreement with five major mobile operators to tackle shock phone bills.


Win! EE cuts mobile unlocking fees

27th February

Victory for mobile unlocking in the US - what about in the UK?

All mobile operators in the US now have to unlock mobile phones and tablets at the end of your contract. In the UK, we want providers to follow the US’s lead and make switching easier by unlocking handsets automatically for free.

Mobile users should not foot bill for fraud

We're calling on Britain's biggest mobile phone operators to play fair with their customers one year after they promised to protect people facing massive bills if their phone is lost or stolen.

New protections against mobile phone bill shock

New proposals from the Government will protect consumers from huge bills run up on stolen mobiles.


Have you bartered for a better mobile deal?

When your mobile phone starts to slow down and it generally begins to look a bit tired, you may be looking to upgrade to a new handset. But how do you make sure you’re getting the best out of your upgrade?

Is it too difficult to unlock mobile phones?

A recent YouGov survey for mobile operator Giffgaff finds that almost a third of mobile users aren’t sure if liberating your handset (from the network it’s initially locked to) is legal.
Take action

This campaign is now closed - sign up to help us win our next campaign

petition signatures
Help us reach 80,000

Recent Supporters

  • carmel 2 days ago
  • Darren 3 days ago
  • Ashley 9 days ago
  • Craig 9 days ago
  • jen 12 days ago