UK mobile networks look set to be forced to make it free to unlock phones at the end of customers' contracts, it was announced in The Budget.
Currently, each major network offers different options to consumers who want their phone unlocked, with most charging for the privilege. Unlocking a phone allows customers to switch networks as they please.
Following this week’s Budget, the government says that all mobile users should be able to have their handset unlocked at the end of their deal without paying.
While it is hoping to get networks to sign up voluntarily, the government has promised to pass laws to force networks to comply if an agreement can’t be reached.
O2 charges £15 for its pay as you go customers to unlock their devices at the end of a 12 month period. However, it also offers free unlocking to customers at any point on a pay monthly contract.
Vodafone is the worst culprit, charging £19.99 to unlock a phone, although it will do so after 30 days’ use for pay as you go. Vodafone pay monthly customers can unlock a phone for free if they’ve had it for more than a year, but will incur the same charge if they try and unlock before the first 12 months of their deal is up.
Virgin charges £15.32 for pay monthly and pay and you go devices to be unlocked. Three, however, sells its phones unlocked, making it easy for users to switch to a better deal whenever they want.
EE currently charges £8.99 to unlock its phones, but says it will change tack this summer.
“This summer we’ll be going a step further – our Pay Monthly customers will be able to request to unlock their phone for free at the end of their contract, and Pay as you Go customers can request to unlock their phone for free at any time,” a spokesperson told uSwitch.
uSwitch research estimates that as much as £48 million is being wasted each year by consumers unlocking phones.
The government’s move only applies to forcing companies to unlock phones at the end of a contract, meaning locked devices will still be a reality for those buying phones as part of a long term contract.
Find out more about how to unlock your phone with our phone unlocking guide.