How to switch your mobile phone contract

Last month, mobile phone provider O2 was forced to apologise to its customers after inadvertently sending their phone numbers to every website they’d visited via mobile internet.

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If this or anything else has put you off your mobile phone provider, you might want to up sticks and leave. But, how do you go about it?

Both the cost and process of switching will depend on whether you’re tied into a contract, you’re out of contract or you’re a Pay As You Go customer. Here we take a look at the different options and whether it’s actually possible to get out of your mobile deal...

If you are in a contract

Signing on the dotted line for a phone contract means entering into a legal agreement to pay a fixed monthly fee typically for 12, 18 or 24 months.

The problem is, during the course of the contract, cheaper deals and newer handsets may become available. This can leave you frustrated, particularly if you’re the sort of person who likes to have the latest handset.

You are free to leave your contract but this will involve a ‘buy out’, which basically means paying the remainder of the contract in one go. So if you pay £30 a month and you have 12 months left to run on your contract, you’ll need to pay £360 for your freedom.

If you want to switch contracts because you’re paying for more minutes, messages and data than you’re actually using, you may be able to negotiate with your provider to get yourself moved down to a more suitable tariff. Some providers don’t allow you to lower your tariff within the first six or 12 months, however. is a service created by Oxford mathematicians to help you work out whether you’re on the most suitable tariff based on your usage and is endorsed by industry regulator Ofcom.

If you want out of the contract simply because there’s a new handset you’d rather have than the one you’re stuck with for the next 18 or 24 months, you’ll still have to buy out. This can be expensive, but of course if you’ve managed to downgrade your tariff it will be cheaper.

You can get cash in exchange for your old phone from one of the many mobile phone recycling companies. You send your phone off and an assessment is made on how much it is worth based on the model and its condition. You then get an offer for the phone which you can accept or decline, followed by a cheque or bank transfer if you accept.

If another provider is offering a better deal, ask if yours can match it

If you are no longer in a contract

Once you have reached the end of your contract and are out the other side, you’ll be in a much better position to negotiate, because the provider will want to keep your business.

Do your homework first by researching the best tariffs on the market at MoneySupermarket’s mobile phone comparison service. You can then use that information to bargain with your provider.

If another provider is offering a better deal, ask if yours can match it – or if it is willing to throw in you any other extras or free gifts to keep you. Remember that while another tariff may appear cheaper, you should check that the new tariff offers the same text, call and data allowances.

If you have a SIM-only deal

If you just have a SIM card from your mobile provider which you use in your own phone, switching will depend on how long that SIM-only tariff lasts.

Some SIM-only deals are available as rolling one-month contracts, which means you just need to give 30 days’ notice if you want to cancel the contract.

On the other hand, some SIM-only tariffs last for 12 months, putting you in the same boat as those on a contract – so if you want out you’ll have to buy out.

SIM-only deals tend to be cheaper as you’re not paying for the added cost of the handset, so buying out will be cheaper than it would in a conventional contract.

If you are on PAYG

Pay As You Go customers will find it easiest and cheapest to switch providers because they’re not tied into any contracts.

Better still, keeping up with the latest handsets is easier because you’ll get more for recycling your handset if it’s still relatively new. You can then use the money to offset the cost of the new phone.

Hanging onto your old number

You don’t want to have to be sending out a new phone number to everyone in your contacts book after switching to a new provider, so you might want to take your old number with you.

To do this you’ll need to ask your provider for a PAC (Porting Authorisation Code) number, which – by law – it must send to you within two hours of the request. Mobile phone companies are, however, allowed to charge for the code, but don’t always do so.

You then take the code, which is valid for 30 days, to the new provider which will set up your new tariff using the old phone number.

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