MOBILE phone firms are to be banned from selling locked handsets.
Telecoms giants like BT, EE, Vodafone and Tesco Mobile all sell mobile phone handsets that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked.
Regulator Ofcom said that a third of phone users are put off switching by locked handsets.
Lindsey Fussell, from Ofcom, said: “Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating.
“By freeing mobile users from locked handsets, our plans would save people time, effort and money – and help them unlock a better deal.”
But mobile phone firms argue that the rules are in place to reduce fraud risks.
A spokesperson from EE said that it locks new smartphones to "protect customers and make it harder for criminals to commit fraud".
They added: We don’t charge our customers to unlock their phones at the end of contracts and automatically unlock wherever possible.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO UNLOCK A PHONE
IF you get a new smartphone costing hundreds of pounds you may have to wait or pay a fee to unlock it to use on other networks
- BT Mobile and EE – Pay monthly can unlock phones for free after 6 months. Apple phones are automatically unlocked after 18 months and Google phones after 721 days. It costs £8.99 to unlock otherwise.
- Tesco Mobile – Any time if customers request it. PAYG customers have to pay £10 if its within first 12 months, otherwise free.
- Vodafone – Pay monhtly customers can unlock for free after three months. PAYG customers can unlock for free 30 days.
"We’re already working to make it easier for customers to unlock their devices and switch providers."
A Vodafone spokesperson said: "We support any measure which will benefit customers, but need to ensure the continual protection of a customer’s device if it falls into the wrong hands.
"We are working through the details of Ofcom’s new proposals."
Tesco Mobile has also been contacted for a comment.
Ofcom today also announced new plans to make broadband switching easier.
At present, you can only switch automatically between BT, Sky and TalkTalk using Openreach's copper network.
But it wants to improve the process for moving to other networks – such as Virgin Media, CityFibre or Gigaclear.
Earlier this year, Ofcom announced new rules for mobile firms to move millions of out of contract customer to cheaper SIM only deals.
New rules which help customers switch mobile phone operators by sending just one text came into force in July.
How to cut your mobile bill
FIRSTLY, decide if you’re happy with your current deal and whether you want a new deal or handset – or both.
If you’re outside the minimum term of your contract then you can leave penalty free – and you might be able to find a cheaper deal elsewhere.
Pay-as-you-go deals are better for people who don’t regularly use their phone, while monthly contracts usually work out cheaper for those who do.
The best way to find a new deal is by checking comparison websites, such as MoneySupermarket and uSwitch.com, which compare tariffs and handset prices.
It’s also worth trying Billmonitor, it matches buyers to the best pay-monthly deal based on their previous three months of bills.
It only works if you’re a customer of EE, O2, Three, Vodafone or Tesco Mobile and you’ll need to log in with your online account details.
MobilePhoneChecker has a bill monitoring feature that recommends a tariff based on your monthly usage.
If you’re happy with your provider then it might be worth using your research to haggle a better deal.
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