/ Technology

Mobile unlocking – is your network holding you hostage?

A mobile phone being unlocked with a key

You’ve come to the end of your contract and want to move to a new deal on a different network. All you need to do is give your provider a call to request your PAC code and you’re ready to go, or is it not so simple?

When you complete your mobile phone contract and want to change provider, you have to ask for your porting authorisation code (otherwise known as a PAC code) to take your existing phone number with you.

If you want to use the same handset, you may have to make an explicit request and pay for an unlocking code, as many handsets are locked to the original network.

The unlocking process

The cost of unlocking your phone can be between £15 and £20, but on some networks where you’ve had your handset for a while it may be free. Some Which? members have been in touch to complain about these unexpected charges and feel they are a deliberate barrier put in place by the networks to put people off leaving.

The information provided online by the providers on handset unlocking is patchy at best. From the comments we have received it seems that although providers will speedily provide you with a PAC code, they are unlikely to offer the unlocking service unless you specifically ask for it. This not only seems a little unhelpful, but also makes the switching process take longer.

We have also received complaints about how long it takes to get a handset unlocked once you have managed to make the request. One customer reports waiting almost three months for an unlock code from Orange, and others have been left tied to their old provider for up to two months following their initial request. Is this essentially a hostage situation?

What does Ofcom have to say?

Ofcom takes a firm stance on the provision of PAC codes, stating that they should be provided immediately over the phone or within a maximum of two hours by text. However, when it comes to mobile unlocking there are currently no specifications surrounding the process or the fees providers can charge – although Ofcom has said this is an issue it’s currently considering.

Are you happy to trade off having access to any network on your phone if it means that you can walk out of the store with a flashy handset? Perhaps you would rather pay more to have more flexibility?

What have been your experiences when moving between providers and what do you think needs to change when it comes to mobile unlocking?


I have recently upraded my contract with orange, I am trying to get my old handset unlocked I had with them but they are refusing because that phone is no longer under contract? I had this phone on a 2 year contract at £35 a month and upgraded when they prompted me t . Now I think because I completely my contract they should unlock my phone, of which I’m happy to pay the £20 but they are refusing to do so.

Is this against the law? They told me I could use my old phone even when I had upgraded but that isn’t the case as they put me on an EE plan not and orange plan.. Who can I contact to escalate further?

Luke, I am having a similar problem with EE. They are stalling and stalling on giving me an unlock code for my iPhone that is out of contract.

The customer service is disgraceful and on top of that the phone service is none existent!

Phone companies are the new power companies, they have you over a barrel.

[This comment has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Nick says:
24 January 2015

iPhone unlocking.
My contract with Orange came to an end in March 2014. I continued to use my iPhone 4s on a sim only contract. I now have an iPhone 6 that is not locked to any provider. However, I contacted Orange to get them to unlock the iPhone 4S on 21 December 2014. I was promised it would be done within 5 days. Fat chance. I have since phoned them 5 times, I have had rude customer service and promises it will be unlocked within 24, 48 and 72 hours. Has it been done, no. it is about time OFCOM got of its backside and sorted this restrictive practise. I have no faith in Orange and once my 12 month sim only contract is up I will move to Vodaphone. Oh and by the way EE and Everything Everywhere should be renamed to NN, Nothing Nowhere.

shirley says:
24 January 2015

Jon. i had this too. fill in the unlock your mobile link on their website. i got an email back on how to unlock it using itunes. no cost and it worked perfectly. i got this information after months of useless calls and emails for assistance.

Mark says:
5 March 2015

Shirley, I have the same issue and have gone on EE’s website and filled in their form but they state they will charge £20.42 which they add to your monthly bill.

Not happy at all.

Sally Poulton says:
17 March 2015

I used an online firm. It was only £3.99 to unlock my S5.

[This comment has been slightly tweaked to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Peter Farrell says:
10 February 2015

Tried to get my PAC and and orange wants £20.42 to give it to me – I am on PAYG and the call costs with orange are a lot higher than many others – but I will buy another phone rather than be held to “ransom” Orange should give loyal customers a better charge deal then maybe customers would not consider moving…………

Hi all, we have convinced EE (including Orange and T-Mobile) to reduce it’s unlocking fees from £20.42 to £8.99. However, this won’t be in place until Spring this year: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/mobile-phone-deals/EE-cuts-mobile-unlocking-fee/

Sheogorath says:
1 June 2015

Too little far too late, Patrick. Especially if phones are Pay As You Go, which are entirely paid for up front.

Rachel says:
8 March 2015

^^^^ Typical I’ve just contacted them today to unlock my daughters phone.
Officially its spring now!

Denise Callard says:
17 March 2015

I spent ages trying to get my sons phone unlocked, i even tried to have a go online using a you tube video, i just thought it may be useful to other people to know that i got it done. The phone is a Samsung S4 and they charged me £3.99, hope this helps.

Chris_G says:
1 April 2015

I was over two yrs out of contract and on a sim only monthly contract. I asked for and received a PAC code but no mention was made by either my old network provider or the new one I was moving to about whether or not the phone might need unlocking. The new BT service let me move and hey presto the sim wouldn’t work. Been without a phone service for 4 days and now stuck in limbo. They’re all in it together either making it difficult to change or not telling you want you need to do in case it puts you off moving. Charlatans the lot of them.

zun says:
9 April 2015

Hi. wondered if anyone can help me.
I purchased my iphone through o2. i had it unlocked from o2 but never actually put my o2 sim into the phone. the first sim i used in the phone talkmobile.

i ended my talkmobile contract and took out a new contract with o2. i had assumed that the iphone was unlocked, as i oringinally had it unlocked from o2.
but I have now discovered it’s locked to talkmobile as it was the first sim i put in my phone. i’ve been told that iphones automatically lock to the network of the first sim put into the phone. I was not aware iphones do this.

talkmobile are refusing to unlock it for me as i did not purchase it from them. They advised me to speak to apple. but apple have said its only the network carrier who can unlock it for me.
so now my iphone is locked to talkmobile who refuse to unlock it as it was not purchased from them!
it’s been a nightmare. anyone know how i can get around this? my new contract is now with o2, which has meant i cannot use it my iphone. basically i cannot use my iphone unless i take out another contract with talkmobile!

Hi, exactly the same thing has happened to me. Bought an IPhone 6’s from CPW. And was changing from O2 to EE. I used my 02 sim until my number would be transferred. Not knowing that inserting the O2 sim would lock my phone to them.
Now I’m left paying an EE contract that I’m unable to use in my phone. And paying an O2 pay as you go sim as this is the network I’m locked to.
I have spent hours on the phone, drove hundreds of miles and O2, Apple, OR EE are unable to help. And Car Phone Warehouse just do not want to know, although a simple label on the iPhone box to tell you ther’re phones lock to the first sim could of prevented this whole sorry mess.

nan says:
15 April 2015

I had a contract with Orange since 2004 and I have been upgrading.When I decided to leave them I asked for a PAC code( so as to continue with the same no)They sent me so I manage to transfer my no to 3
Now when it comes to unblocking, I was asked to pay £20 and unblocking code was sent in about 2wks. The unblocking code did not work,I tried many times to report this through Orange customer service and I would be left with holding and listening to their music
As it is my handset Experia z is stil locked
I have decided to buy another phone.
I feel this is unfair, as I did not hesitate to pay £20 unlocking fee. Let alone that I’ve been their client for 10years

sarah says:
7 May 2015

My dad got a huge bill off virgin but he wasnt aware of the high cost ringing austruaila and they charge him for receiving calls as well so he refuses to pay the bill for now. It is motorla moto sim free phone, with virgin. Can he used the phone with another network and how does he do it? X

Nik says:
14 July 2015

bought phone from O2, bought O2 pay as you go som from O2, changed to talktalk but O2 now want £15 to unlock my phone. This is blackmail. I will never use O2 again. How can this be legal?

Tinkertots says:
15 July 2015

I have an old iphone 4 and iphone 5 after buying a new iphone 6 and moving from Orange to EE. Does this mean my old phones are locked or unlocked

Beware the lock-you-in-for-life mobile phone groupings such as Talkmobile-Carphonewarehouse-IPhone.
Beware also that such companies seem to have got themselves into unbelievable technical tangles and do not actually seem to have the will or expertise to unlock IPhones.
Having had a Talkmobile monthly contract arranged via Carphonewarehouse (CPW) since March 2013, when I bought an IPhone in March 2015 at CPW the IPhone was immediately locked to Talkmobile.
When visiting CPW in December 2015 to change service to ID-Mobile CPW sold me the new sim contract but were unable to unlock the IPhone, and Talkmobile say that CPW must deal with the problem. CPW repeat that only Talkmobile can unlock, but Talkmobile say that only CPW can deal with the issue.
Apple confirm that they cannot unlock an IPhone locked to Talkmobile.
Any advice or assistance much appreciated, but if the IPhone cannot be unlocked then £563.99 of IPhone now remains unworkable. This so-called smart-phone begins to look remarkably dumb!

I was without my B.T.landkine and broadband for several weeks over Christmas and when talking to B.T. About this and complaining about how much Ihad spent topping up my mobile with O2 pay as you go.B.T.offered me a good deal for my landline ,broadband and mobile.Iwas told to get a P.A.C.code fromO2 and B.T.would send me anew S.I.M.The S.I.M.card arrived but Iwas unable to do anything with it as my landline was down again.I had no credit on my mobile as I was changing network and so “lent a quid”from o2.When landkine was fixed I tried to insert new sim but it showed as “invalid”.TO cut avert long story short.O2 allowed B.T. to take my mob.numbef,Ihad a very nice text from o2 saying sorry to see me go and in a few hours they would port out my mob.number to B.T.Ihad emailfrom B.T.saying they haddone this but their sim still showed as”invalid”.I spoke to B.T. Who told me that my phone was locked yet I bought the phone 2yrs ago!and I have had the same sim with o2 for 15yrs! But as B.T. now have my number o2 want me to pay £15 to unlock my phone and they will send me anew sim with anew number which I will have to top up with £15 before they will unlock my phone.I feel I am being held to ransom.Why did no-one mention this?Why didn’t o2 mention this when I rang to ask them how I could repay the £1(lend us a quid)andactually waived the charge as gesture of goodwill knowing full well that I would not be able to use my mobile anyway!The good news is that I have just tried B.T. Sim in my very old mobile and it works!

I was assured by 02 that my phone was not locked.
they sent me a PAC code, and I thought it would be straight forward to use a BT mobile network sim card, I had to wait 2 days for BT to set up the new sim, and PAC
they sent me an email to say my phone was ok to use,
when I tried to make a call I got a message “No network”
for the next 24 hours I was talking to customer services advisors from 02 and BT.
each blaming each other,
It transpired that I was lied to by 02 when I originally asked them if my phone was locked into a contract. “I was pay and go”
My phone is now locked and my original phone number has been deleted forever,
as my old 02 sim is now useless,
To rub salt into the wound BT have charged me £13,45 for a phone I cannot use,
I am a 78year old man on a fixed income and I am disgusted at what these companies are getting away with

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I am experiencing al this nonsense right now and feel it is nothing short of extortion not to mention a totally corrupt way of working. The powers that be should be policing this/ it is after all 2016. No company should be able to hold any individual to ransom.

Conor b says:
5 June 2016

I recently bought a phone from someone (from one private citizen to another) and now I have to pay a company, EE, I’ve never had any kind of interaction with money to use a phone that is legally mine… I have no idea how this is still legal.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Conor, other phone unlocking services might also be able to help you…

The “giffgaff unlockapedia” might contain some helpful info for your case.

Also, if the seller did not warn you the phone was locked to EE, you may have a case for a refund.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Yes – exactly.

(PS, as unlocked phones are currently available at prices of £10 and upwards from most big supermarkets, I can understand how annoying it must be for anyone who accidentally buys a locked one.)