/ Technology

Update: sales of network locked phones to be banned

Ofcom has announced that, from December 2021, mobile phone providers will no longer be able to sell phones locked to their network

27/10/2020: Network locked phones to be banned

Phones locked to specific networks are set to become a thing of the past when new rules take hold next year, banning providers from selling them.

This should make it easier for customers to switch networks, saving them time, money and effort.

Natalie Hitchins, Head of Home Products and Services at Which? said:

“We know that some customers who stay with the same provider for long periods of time are more likely to be overpaying than customers who switch, so this ban on selling locked handsets should make things easier for customers looking for a better deal.

If you think you might be out of contract, check your phone bills as you could potentially switch to a SIM-only deal and depending on the network you might find that you can already switch elsewhere and save money right away.”

Is your phone still locked to a network? Have you ever paid to have your phone unlocked in the past?

10/10/2016: Win! Mobile phone providers to unlock mobiles for free

Original author: Jack Madden

Over the weekend the government announced that it had finally brokered an agreement with UK mobile network providers to end unlocking fees for mobile phones – delivering a great win for our campaign to Unlock Better Mobile Deals.

This means that you can use a SIM card for any mobile network on your handset once the initial contract period is up. uSwitch estimate that this will collectively save mobile users over £48m per year.

Unlocking mobiles

Now when your mobile contract finishes, instead of having a restricted handset knocking around in your kitchen drawer, you ‘ll be able to easily keep your existing handset and move to another cheaper network, or even pass your old mobile onto a friend or family member.

This is all without the hassle or the cost of having to go and get it unlocked.

And for those of you who’d like to get a bit of cash out of your old handsets, there’s also evidence to suggest that having your phone unlocked also helps to increase the resale value of your old phone.

This is not only a big win for all mobile phone users, but also for our campaign supporters, nearly 80,000 of whom joined our call to an end unfair unlocking fees over the past two years. Over that time we slowly saw the debate shift in our favour, as individual operators promised to change their ways, and the government started to recognise there was a problem thanks to the persistence of our supporters.

Next steps

But the pursuit of improving the mobile market doesn’t stop there. This victory comes as the Digital Economy Bill continues its way through Parliament, in which it looks like it’s going to deliver yet more gains for mobile phone users.

We’re hoping to see the introduction of gaining provider-led switching, meaning that if you want to change mobile provider, you only need to contact the company you want to move to – avoiding that awkward conversation with your existing provider who’s trying to persuade you to stay.

The bill also has measures to improve mobile network coverage and data signals – something that our research with Opensignal shows also needs action and should also be welcome news for the likes of RichardM, who told us:

Where I live in mid Wales there is so little signal anywhere I go that having a smart phone would be a waste of money because I’d rarely get the chance to use it.

So, hopefully over the next few weeks and months we’re going to be seeing some great improvements for mobile phone users, with unlocked handsets, better signals, better data access and hassle-free switching.

Is the ability to get your mobile phone unlocked for free good news for you?


Good news indeed. I wonder why the companies were ever allowed to keep phones locked beyond the end of the contract period.

Will PAYG phones continue to be locked indefinitely?

We have no mobile signal at all in the mountains but my other half has an iPhone with O2, simply because we want to have a ‘phone with us when going out. So this is good news, because when the contract with O2 comes to an end I was wondering how we would go about transferring to PAYG .

joe goward says:
11 October 2016

it may now be free but I have been told it could take 28 days. that’s just not good enough.

At the moment my granddaughter has a phone locked to o2. As it was second hand when we bought it for her and she is with giffgaff will we be able to get it unlocked for free or is it only the original owner who can do this?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Steve says:
13 October 2016

on o2 it is free to unlock your device. You only pay if it is on pay as you go.

Giffgaff is run on the O2 network so a Giffgaff SIM will work on an O2 locked phone too

Kaus says:
12 October 2016

how will it work? Will it be automatic? or do people have to call the provider? Will they tell you a code to enter or will they remotely unlock it?

Jenn says:
12 October 2016

I live and travel in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and also in the Borders and northern England – mobile phone coverage, and we’re talking 2G here, is very patchy and often non-existent so I have phones on three networks: O2, EE and Vodafone. I’ve had a contract with the latter for years (others on PAYG) but the Vodafone signal has been getting progressively worse so told Vodafone in July would be cancelled contract when up in August – been a NIGHTMARE and can’t get my phone unlocked. Mobile firms should be clear about terminating contracts and how to unlock your phone.

And why can’t networks provide a basic PAYG for those like me who just want occasional text/calls – I may only use the PAYG phones a couple of times a month on average but the bundles Vodafone have on offer (which I don’t want) are more expensive than my previous contract and my new contract SIM only deal with a new provider. I’ve helped out stranded motorists for example who can’t even get an emergency 999 signal by having a choice of networks

Anon says:
13 October 2016

I’m with virgin mobile for 3 sim only contracts and one Sony Xperia m4 aqua handset contract. For one of my sim only, tomorrow I’m going to call customer service, cancel it as I’m not using it and its costing me money. One sim card from virgin, I gave it to my mum. I’m also an existing virgin media customer as I have phone line, 50mb broadband and TiVo box with Asian mela package.

What about payg phones that lock to the first sim inserted ?
Can they now be unlocked for free ?

Alan says:
13 October 2016

I have old mobile phones in my drawer at home which friends have given to me locked to different companies Will I be able to get those unlocked?

“The government has secured a deal to end unlocking fees for all mobile phones.” Well done Which? in helping achieve this.

I, too, would like to know how this affects payg phones.

I am long out of contract with Three mobile and wanted to change – getting the PAC number was done grudgingly but trying to get the unlock codes has been a nightmare. We have filled in online forms, telephoned numerous times and still after about three weeks we are waiting for the second unlock code. I managed to get one via webchat with them but they tell me that for the second one they have had to contact the manufacturer.
I can not believe a word they say and would never use them again.
Legislation is fine and I am happy that this has come through but if suppliers drag their feet what chance do individuals have.

I have amoto g on tesco pay as u go. Does this qualify

Michelle says:
31 October 2016

Has anyone got an unlock code for coda phone pay as you go?

I couldn’t find anywhere that would unlock my iphone 4 from Vodaphone except online where I paid £20 only to find that this was the deposit ‘finders fee’ and unless I paid an extra £50 within 24 hours, the code would not be sent
Came with trustmark reviews so looked legit but just another scam. Avoid!

Tony, do a chargeback via your credit card or debit card issuer. There’s no reason to suffer this loss if you paid by card.

Hong Kong has prohibited the unfair commercial practice of SIM-locking phones for well over 10 years, so why has it taken the UK so long to follow suit? I remember in 2009 when some UK residents were buying iPhones in Hong Kong because it was one of the few jurisdictions where one could buy non-SIM-locked iPhones from Apple. France followed suit shortly afterwards. Now it’s possible to buy a non-SIM-locked iPhone in most countries, including the UK.

Therefore I don’t understand why UK consumers still buy SIM-locked iPhones from mobile networks instead of from Apple. Buying from Apple avoids any dispute about liability if there’s a problem later on, because the retailer, hardware manufacturer and software supplier are all the same party. So for example if Apple supplies a dodgy iOS update, you can claim against Apple under Section 46 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and Apple then can’t blame the retailer or the hardware manufacturer, as they’re all the same party.