Increasing competition between mobile phone providers is leading to more competitive deals appearing all the time. You can often save money each month by switching to a new contract. This can also be a cost-effective way of upgrading your handset. However, it’s important to find a contract that meets all your needs at the best possible price.
Before you start
The first thing to do is establish exactly what you need from a mobile phone contract.
- How many minutes do you use each month?
- Do you send a lot of text messages or use a lot of mobile data?
- How regularly do you access voicemail?
- How much will it cost to get out of your current contract?
Most mobile phone contracts have a minimum term; if you leave before this date you are likely to have to pay an exit charge. However, this should be no more than the amount of your remaining bills, and in some cases, considerably less.
You can get mobile phone contracts direct from service providers, or from independent retailers. However, it’s often also worth looking at comparison sites. Providers and retailers pay these sites to be included when customers are comparing prices. As a result of this, comparison sites are often able to negotiate exclusive deals that you won’t find anywhere else. They also allow you to search for the exact service and features you need, and find you the cheapest deal.
It’s important to check signal coverage before you enter a new contract, as it varies between providers. Ofcom offers a map comparing signal strengths for all four mobile networks.
If you are moving to a different network and keeping your handset, you may have to get it unlocked. If you are unsure whether or not your phone is locked, you should try it with a SIM card from a different network. If there is a problem with the different SIM, it is likely your phone is locked. Most providers will agree to unlock your phone, like Vodafone, but some will only do it after a certain time period, and some charge for the service.
Switching without keeping your number
If you want to switch providers but don’t want to keep your existing number, you simply take out a contract with your new provider, and contact your old provider giving them notice that you want to leave your contract. It’s worth organising the dates so your contracts don’t overlap, to prevent you having to pay for two services at once.
Keeping your number
If you want to switch providers but still keep the same number, you will have to request a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC) from your current provider, which you will then have to give to the provider you are switching to. Once you request a PAC, it has to be given to you either straight away over the phone, or within two hour by text. You then have 30 days in which to give your PAC to your new provider before it expires. However, you can request a new PAC if it does expire.
Once your new provider has your PAC, they will contact your old provider and arrange to port your number across to your new contract. You will normally be able to use it within one working day.
What to expect from your new contract
Your provider is expected to give you certain information about your contract at the point of sale:
- The price you will be paying
- Additional key charges
- A description of the service
- Payment terms
- Termination rights and procedures
- The start date of your service provision
- The minimum period of your contract.
All this information should be given to you in writing. Please remember that the maximum initial duration of a consumer telecoms contract in the UK is 24 months; do not sign a contract longer than this.
Price is obviously the most important consideration. It is worth checking whether the basic rate you pay each month will remain the same throughout your contract, or whether your provider reserves the right to increase it. You should also look at whether they charge for voicemail, caller ID, or any other services you are likely to need.
In addition, it’s worth asking what the company’s procedure is for repairing faults. Do they guarantee a timescale, or offer compensation if you suffer a problem with the service?
If you change your mind after taking out a new contract, you have two weeks to terminate your contract without charge. You also have the right to leave your contract without charge at any time if your service provider increases its prices. Your provider has to give you one month’s notice of any change it intends to make to the terms of your contract.
If you are unhappy with the service you are receiving, or feel that you have been mis-sold a contract, you have the right to complain. In the first instance this should be done through your provider’s customer service department. If after eight weeks you have not received a satisfactory outcome, you can then take your case to whichever Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme your provider belongs to; your case will then be independently assessed and a resolution proposed.