/ Technology

Pat and Rob on the case for free mobile unlocking

Unlock Better Mobile Deals logo

In under two weeks, more than 17,500 people have signed our petition to Unlock Better Mobile Deals. We don’t think handsets should be locked to a network after you’ve left – here’s Pat and Rob to explain why.

You shouldn’t be locked into contracts that aren’t right for you, and one problem is that when your contract comes to an end you’re left with a phone that’s locked to your network. We think handsets should be unlocked automatically at the end of your contract, for free. If you’re not convinced that this needs to happen, I’d like to share two stories with you.

‘I basically feel like I have been used’

The first story comes from our supporter Pat, who first commented in 2013:

Pat‘I left T-Mobile two months ago. I was not told at the time that the phone needs unlocking or what I should do to unlock it. They are now refusing to unlock it as obviously I am not an active customer. I cannot use it, I cannot sell it unless they’re a T-Mobile customer, so I am losing money.

‘I think they should have automatically unlocked it when I left or at least tell me it needs doing so I could have requested it then and there. I was with them for four years, always paid on time and never cause them any issues. I basically feel like I have been used.’

The majority of mobile users agree, with eight in 10 telling us that handsets should be unlocked automatically when contracts end.

‘Effectively a charge to prevent me from switching’

Rob had a similar experience with his pay-as-you-go (PAYG) EE phone:

Rob‘EE/Orange have just asked me to pay £20.54 to unlock a PAYG phone. I bought it in December for my wife as a present. At the time I was told we had to have the phone for three months before they would unlock it.

‘This is effectively a charge to prevent me from switching supplier. If, for example, BT were to do this, should I want to switch to another landline supplier, it would not be allowed.

‘EE Customer Services originally told me that they would send me an unlock code via email within 20 working days. I topped up my account with them over the phone at the time as there wasn’t enough money in my account to pay for it to be unlocked. After taking the extra money I said that the account would still be a few pence short. They assured me that this didn’t matter.

‘A month later, I called them back. They said it was because I had less than the £20.42 in the account. They told me they would credit the account as it was only a few pence short and I would receive an unlock code within 10 days. I didn’t.

‘Two weeks later I called again. The person from Customer Services apologised and passed me on to a manager. He said, once again, that they hadn’t sent an unlock code as there wasn’t enough in my account. I offered to pay the extra few pence there and then. He declined saying he would credit my account and I would receive an unlocking code within 20 working days. I mentioned that this is what had happened on 11 June. He apologised and reiterated the 20 working days.’

Rob finally got his EE phone unlocked three months and three days after originally asking the company to do so. And on that point, we think all PAYG phones should be sold unlocked from the get go.

Do you think phones should be unlocked automatically, for free? Sign our petition, and if you’ve had a similar experience to either Pat or Rob, let rip below.


I don’t think any phone should be locked. Consumers should pay a fair price for the phone and be able to use it on any network.

I am also opposed to manufacturers selling cheap printers and charging a fortune for ink.


I agree. Consumers should pay the going price for the phone and pay separately for 1-month SIM-only contracts. There is no need for phones to be subsidised. If consumers can’t afford the upfront price of the phone, they should save up or get a loan. The only purpose of subsidised phones is to encourage consumers to buy phones that they cannot truly afford.

Jeff Richardson says:
11 June 2014

Fine words, I’m sure; but, as everyone knows and many persons would acknowledge, The Consumer always goes for the deal with the lowest up-front cost and then tries to find ways of cutting the running costs afterwards, even if that means moaning about having been ‘conned.’ There is no bigger con-man that Joe Public, himself. Offer him a quality product, at full-price, and he will walk. He always wants something for nothing; and certainly not to be told the truth.

We are a good thirty-years down this route, and, if Joe Public really wanted what you say you want, they would never have stopped making the Russell Hobbs K2 Kettle; the Mercedes W124-series E-Class motor car and knee-length fell-walkers raincoats.


In some jurisdictions (eg, France) locking is prohibited as anti-competitive. Ofcom should take a string line on this. It makes switching difficult. It allows the original network to build in functionality that may not transfer to another network. As NFH says, the consumer would be better off buying a handset on credit rather tan paying for it through a rental deal. All this does is muddy the property rights regarding the handset and the ‘line rental’. A credit deal would also give protection under s75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

DerekP says:
27 June 2014

I agree too. I like to separate the costs of my phone contract from my costs of phone ownership.

New phones are available from prices of £4 upwards so it is easy to buy a new phone if an old one is locked to the wrong network and cannot be unlocked.

Peter M says:
20 July 2014

Sorry, but I have a fundamental disagreement with the argument that someone should perhaps use a loan to fund a “top of the line” phone. The charges people pay during a contract are generally covering both airtime and the phone.

Over 24 months they might total (say) £750, of which (say) £500 is to cover the cost of the phone, the rest cover the charges for voice calls, texts, and data. If they were taking a loan for that £500 over 2 years, and paying an APR of (say) 10% (or using a credit card, where it might be 20% or more), then the phone would have cost either £550 or £600.

While I can understand the wish for a phone to be unlocked, and some networks now do this free (or buying an upgrade at some stores provides a customer with an unlocked phone), I don’t see any strong reason to “insist” on there being no option but to buy the phone outright, in the way you suggest, and it would lead to many spending more overall, because of the interest paid for finance.

Are you really of the opinion that the existing option, of paying over 12, 18 or 24 months for a phone be scrapped ?

Seems a bit ‘elitist’ if the only way someone could get an iPhone, for example, was to pay up front for the cost of one of those (rather expensive) phones…

While there are some ‘budget’ Android phones in the £100-£150 price band, with 4G, and so forth, I doubt there will be any ‘budget’ Apple iPhones in a similar price band, in the near future, or possibly ‘ever’.

Peter M says:
20 July 2014

comment above was a response to that of NFH


I agree with NFH about not buying what you cannot afford, so the suggestion that you could get a loan to buy the phone seems a bit odd.

No-one needs an expensive phone, so buy a cheaper one or buy a secondhand one. People who are in debt can get into serious problems and be exploited.