Regulator proposes 'speedier, simpler switching' for mobile phone users
Mobile phone users will be able to switch providers more quickly and easily under plans to encourage increased competition in the market.
Regulator Ofcom has proposed two options to overhaul switching for the UK's 47 million mobile customers, saying it was "unacceptable" that users were missing out on better deals because they feared the "hassle" of moving or had had a difficult experience in the past.
Ofcom said its preferred option was a provider-led process, which would place responsibility for the switch - including the transfer of a customer's mobile phone number - entirely in the hands of their new company.
It would mean the customer would only need to deal with the company they were switching to, and is the process already used for broadband and landline users and in the energy sector.
Under the second option, customers would no longer have to speak to their existing provider to request their PAC - the code necessary to transfer their mobile telephone number - but could ask to receive it by text message or online.
Ofcom said either option would speed up and simplify the switching process for customers.
Both proposals would ensure a customer's old provider did not deactivate the SIM card until the new provider had activated the replacement.
New measures would also help customers manage notice periods and avoid "double paying", which can happen when old and new contracts overlap.
Ofcom said around 2.5 million people who changed mobile provider in the last 18 months, or 38%, reported experiencing at least one major problem during the process.
These included difficulties contacting their current provider (11%), cancelling their service (10%) or keeping their phone number (10%), while one in five (20%) temporarily lost service.
Approximately 5.9 million mobile users have never switched, or had not considered switching to a new provider in the last year, because of concerns about the current process, the study found.
Ofcom chief executive Sharon White said: "It is unacceptable for people to be missing out on better mobile deals because they fear the hassle of switching, or are put off having had a poor experience in the past.
"We want mobile customers to benefit from speedier, simpler switching, making it easier for them to vote with their feet and take advantage of choice in the market."
Ofcom is seeking views on the proposals until June 1 and will publish its final decision in the autumn.
Dan Howdle, telecoms spokesman at broadband advice site Cable.co.uk, said the "gaining provider-led" system was preferable, as it automated the process and would put an end to "long-winded phone calls to existing providers, to persons trained to prevent us from switching".
He said there had been a noticeable drop in reported switching problems for broadband customers since the system was introduced for them last year.
Mr Howdle said: "I'm elated that Ofcom is finally looking to expose the convoluted switching process for what it is - not merely a series of laborious administrative hoops but a set of sticking points designed to actively dissuade us from switching provider.
"Customers can save a lot of money by switching to the best new customer mobile deals. If Ofcom takes this action this coming autumn, UK consumers can look forward to shaving a significant amount from their annual outgoings, and with far less fuss."