All mobile operators in the US now have to unlock mobile phones and tablets at the end of your contract.
In late 2013 mobile providers in the US agreed to a Consumer Code for Wireless Service which included rules around handset unlocking for customers on contracts, as well as Pay as You Go. This means once you’ve paid for your phone, you can use it on any network.
US mobile providers will need to automatically let you know when you are eligible to unlock and they have two days to complete the process once you’ve notified them.
However, in the UK the majority of providers still sell all of their handsets locked to their network. Just Three, Utility Warehouse and GiffGaff sell them automatically unlocked. When you can unlock them and how much it costs can vary hugely - some charge as much as £20.
Even when companies allow you to unlock your phone, some customers find themselves waiting far longer than promised. David told us:
‘I have spent a long time trying to get Vodafone to unlock a phone at end of contract, it actually took three attempts and five months.’
In the UK, we want providers to follow the US’s lead and make switching easier by unlocking handsets automatically for free. We also think they should tell you when your contract's about to end, give details of the best deals for you and separate the cost of the handset out from the rest of the tariff so it’s clear how much you are paying. You can help by signing our petition.
Join the conversation - If mobile phones can be unlocked in the US - why not in the UK?
Today we launch our campaign to Unlock Better Mobile Deals. You shouldn’t be trapped in contracts that aren’t right for you, and we need your help to get the message through to providers.
Only four in 10 people trust their mobile phone company to put them on the best deal at the end of their contract. That’s why we’re calling on providers to proactively contact you about when your contract's about to end, along with details of the best deals for your usage.
Then we come to the issue of locked phones. Mobile companies can charge people as much as £20 to unlock their phones and will often only do so when asked, which can hold you back from switching providers.
Two thirds of mobile users think that’s unfair, including our supporter Pat:
'Two months after I left T-Mobile they refused to unlock my phone as I'm not an active customer. They should have automatically unlocked it when I left. I basically feel like I have been used.’
We want providers to unlock handsets for free when contracts end, and to sell pay-as-you-go handsets unlocked from the get go.
Our executive director Richard Lloyd 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.’
So if you’re sick of being locked into a mobile contract that’s not right for you, sign our petition and get your friends and family to take action too.
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