Everything you need to know about switching mobile phone provider

Switching mobile phone provider has never been simpler, yet millions of us stick with the same network year after year, even though we might be able to save money by moving to a different deal.

According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), seven out of 10 people could save £222 a year by switching to a mobile phone contract that better suits their needs.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has introduced rules to make it quicker and easier to move from one mobile provider to another, so it now just involves sending a text message to your existing provider and using a comparison site to find the best deal to move to.

Here’s what you need to know.

How do I switch mobile phone provider?

Start by checking whether you’re still under contract with your provider, in which case you’re likely to have to pay charges to leave your contract early.

You can find out whether you are under contract and how much you’d have to pay to leave by texting INFO to 85075. Your provider will then text you the information you need. If you are out of contract and won’t have to pay to leave your deal, you can then start looking for a deal to move to.

There are plenty of comparison sites where you can see the various deals on offer, including uSwitch.com, comparethemarket.com and MoneySuperMarket.com or you can use our own Rest Less mobile phone comparison tool. It’s also worth haggling with your existing supplier to see what sort of deal they might be able to offer you.

Can I keep the same number if I switch?

Yes, you can keep your mobile number if you move networks. To do this, you’ll need to text PAC to 65075. PAC stands for ‘Porting Authorisation Code’ and is essentially the code which allows you to move provider. You should get a response from your provider by text within a minute and your PAC code will be valid for 30 days. They’ll also send you details of any charges that you’ll need to pay if you’re leaving your contract early; or your credit balance, if you’re a pay-as-you-go customer.

You can also request your PAC through your online account on your provider’s website. You can find contact numbers and links to all the main providers here. If you have more than one number linked to your account, you can only request your PAC online or by phone rather than by text. You then give the PAC to the provider you want to move to and they must arrange for the switch to be completed within one working day.

What if I’d like a new mobile number?

If you want to change your mobile number when you switch to a new network, you’ll need what’s known as ‘service termination authorisation code’ (or STAC code). This enables you to cancel your mobile number with your previous provider when you move to a different network.

To get this code, all you need to do is text STAC to 75075 and you’ll be sent it by text from your provider. If you prefer you can request your STAC either online or by phone. Bear in mind that the code is only valid for 30 days so if you don’t use it within this period you’ll have to request another one. Your new provider should be able to cancel your number the next working day.

How do I know which sort of mobile deal is right for me?

The main types of mobile deal are SIM-only deals, pay as you go and monthly contract deals.

SIM-only deals

SIM stands for ‘Subscriber Identity Module’ but you probably know it better as the little plastic card that you slot into the back or side of your phone to activate it. When you take out a SIM-only deal, you pay only for the SIM card itself, which enables you to make calls, texts and use data, and not for the handset itself. As a result, your monthly costs are usually lower than if you have a standard contract deal where you also pay for the handset too.

What are the benefits of a SIM-only deal?

A SIM-only deal can be a good option if you already have a handset and don’t want or need a new phone. Not only will your monthly costs be lower with a SIM-only deal, but they can often provide you with more flexibility as you can take out a contract lasting as little just 30-days if you want to. This mean if a better deal comes along, you can move across to it without have to wait months for your current deal to finish. Most standard mobile phone contracts require you to sign up for at least 12 to 24 months, so you’re often locked in for much longer.

There are also lots of different SIM-only deals to choose from. For example, you might decide to opt for a data-only SIM deal which only gives you access to data, but no calls or texts, or you might prefer an unlimited SIM deal which allows you to use an unlimited amount of data, and to make unlimited minutes of calls and texts.

What are the downsides of a SIM-only deal?

If you want a SIM-only deal but don’t have a handset, you may have to pay out a big lump sum to get the phone you want. With a contract deal, you pay for your handset monthly, which can make costs more manageable as they’re spread out over a long period of time. It’s also worth noting that sometimes network providers reserve their best deals for those signing up for longer-term contract deals, so you might not be able to secure the deal you want if you sign up for a SIM-only option.

Are there different types of SIM card?

Yes, not all SIM cards are the same size. As a general rule, the older your handset, the more likely you are to require a standard SIM card, which typically measures 15mm x 25mm. Some older models require a smaller micro SIM, measuring 12mm x 15mm whilst the very latest handsets require a tiny Nano SIM which measure just 8.8mm x 12.3mm.

Always check before you order a SIM that it’ll be the right one for the mobile you intend to use. Your phone should have details of the type of SIM you’ll need in the instructions, but if you don’t have these, the manufacturer’s website should have all the information you’ll need.

Lots of pay as you go SIM cards are Combi SIMS which means they are effectively a micro SIM within a standard SIM, so if you need a micro SIM, all you need to do is break the additional plastic away from around it and then insert it into your phone.

Pay as you go phones

If you opt for a pay as you go SIM deal, there’s no contract and you only pay for the calls, data and texts you use.

What are the benefits of a pay as you go deal?

Pay as you go can be a good option for you if you only use your phone rarely and would rather not sign up to a lengthy contract. You don’t normally have to go through a credit check with pay as you go mobiles, which can be useful if you’ve had debt problems in the past.

What are the downsides of a pay as you go deal?

You don’t get a handset with a pay as you go deal so if you haven’t got one already you’ll need to buy one. If you use your phone a lot, you’re likely to pay a bit more a pay as you go deal than a monthly contract deal.

Monthly contract phones

With a monthly contract phone, as the name suggests, you sign up for a set period of time, typically 12 or 24 months, and pay monthly for a set amount of call time, data and texts. You’ll get a handset as part of the deal.

What are the benefits of a monthly contract?

If you tend to use your phone a lot, a monthly contract is likely to be more cost-effective than a pay-as-you-go deal and you’ll get a handset too. It can be a good way to update your handset regularly, although bear in mind than the newer the model you go for, the more expensive your monthly costs are likely to be.

What are the downsides of a monthly contract?

You’ll often be locked into your contract for one or two years or sometimes longer, so you’ll need to be certain you’re happy with the deal and handset you’ve signed up for. If you find a handset you prefer or a different deal, you’ll often have to stump up hefty exit penalties to leave your existing deal.

What if I want to switch to a SIM-only deal from a monthly contract deal but my phone is locked to my current provider?

If you’ve reached the end of your contract and have decided a SIM-only deal is a better option for you, get in touch with your provider and ask for a Network Unlock Code. This should allow you to unlock your phone so you can use it with a new SIM, or your provider may be able to unlock it for you remotely. Some high street phone shops or websites offer phone unlocking services too, but always check reviews before using one of these and make sure you know how much they’ll charge you. Typically, you can expect to pay £15-£20.

How do I know which type of mobile deal is right for me?

When you choose a mobile deal, think carefully about how often you use your phone, and look through some of your old bills to get an idea of your usage. Although signing up to a mobile package with a limited amount of data, calls and texts, may have a lower monthly cost than one with more generous allowances, exceeding your allowances could prove more expensive in the long run.

Overestimating how much data you need can also prove costly. The majority (71%) of mobile customers with a SIM-only plan are overpaying for data they don’t use, according to analysis from Citizens Advice, at a total cost of £800m per year. It claims that SIM-only mobile customers could save approximately £63 per year by switching to a cheaper deal that matches their data consumption. The average amount of data wasted each month was 2GB. equivalent to streaming 3 hours of video or 28 hours of music.

When choosing a mobile phone deal, you’ll also need to check the network coverage in your area, as there’s no point signing up for a network which only provides patchy coverage where you live. Consumer association Which? has a helpful mobile phone coverage map which shows you the average upload and download speeds for the different networks in your area.

What if I lose my phone or it gets damaged?

The cost of replacing your mobile phone if it gets damaged or is stolen can run into hundreds if not thousands of pound if you have one of the newest handsets, so it’s worth making sure you have financial protection in place should the worst happen.

All the mobile networks offer their own cover, and you can also buy policies through mobile phone stores and independent providers, so make sure you compare several different quotes before buying to ensure you end up with the best deal to suit your needs.

Always read the small print carefully too. For example, how much is the excess in the event of a claim? The excess is the portion of any insurance claim which you must pay yourself. You should also find out whether the policy covers any unauthorised calls made from your phone. If not, and it is stolen, you could find that the thief has racked up massive bills calling abroad which you might be liable for.

Some packaged current accounts, which offer a range of benefits in return for a monthly fee, include mobile phone insurance as part of the deal. That means you may not need any additional cover, but make sure you find out what you are and aren’t covered for. For example, the policy might pay out for the same model you have already, or it may only provide a replacement which might be an inferior model.

Your home contents policy is likely to cover your telephone if it is stolen by burglars or if it is destroyed by a house fire, but it usually won’t pay out if it’s taken why you’re out and about.

What if I’ve got a problem with my mobile phone service?

If something’s wrong with the service you’re getting, for example, your phone service keeps cutting out in the middle of a call, or you’ve lost signal in an area where it previously worked, get in touch with your provider and explain the fault.

They should look into the problem and establish what’s wrong so they can make repairs where necessary. If it looks as though fixing the problem could take a while, you might be entitled to a refund or credit to your account. Your provider also might agree to release you from your contract without penalty if you decide you want to leave.

If they don’t fix the problem by the date they’ve said they will, or you’re not happy with their response to your problem, you’ll need to follow their official complaints procedure, which can usually be found on their website.

If things still aren’t sorted out after eight weeks, you can refer your complaint to an independent Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. They will act as a middleman and try to sort out the issue. Request a ‘deadlock’ letter from your provider so the ADR can see you’ve failed to reach a resolution.  Ofcom has approved two ADR schemes: CISAS and Ombudsman Services: Communications. You can find out which one your provider belongs to here.

What happens if my mobile phone network goes bust?

Thankfully it’s rare that a mobile network goes bust, but it has happened to some smaller networks in recent years. If your network does fall into administration, you’ll be notified of the date it will cease trading and you’ll no longer be able to make calls, texts, or use data. You’ll be sent a PAC code prior to this so that you can switch to a new network. If you’re tied into a contract, no charges will apply for you to move.

Have you switched and saved? Or are there any other mobile switching questions that you’d like to see answered above? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at [email protected] or leave a comment below.

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