Mobile firms to be banned from selling ‘locked’ handsets

Oct 27th '20

  • New rules to help customers put off from switching because their handset is locked
  • Customers to get better contract information before they sign up


Mobile phone companies will be banned from selling ‘locked’ handsets, under a range of new rules from Ofcom that will make switching even simpler.


Some companies – including BT/EE, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone – still sell mobile phones that cannot be used on other networks unless they are unlocked, a potentially complicated process which can also cost around £10. Ofcom research has found that more than a third (35%) of people who decided against switching said this put them off.[1]


Almost half of customers who try to unlock their device experience difficulties doing so. For example, they may experience a long delay before getting the code they need to unlock their device; the code might not work; or they could suffer a loss of service if they did not realise their device was locked before they tried to switch.


So following consultation, we have confirmed that mobile companies will be banned from selling locked phones – allowing people to move to a different network with their existing handset, hassle-free. The new rules will come in from December 2021.


Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s Connectivity Director, said: “We know that lots of people can be put off from switching because their handset is locked. … “So we’re banning mobile companies from selling locked phones, which will save people time, money and effort – and help them unlock better deals.


Further action to help customers

The ban on selling locked handsets is part of a broad package of measures Ofcom is introducing, most of which reflect new European rules. This includes making switching easier and helping ensure customers are treated fairly.[2]


Under the new measures announced today, people will also get a summary of the main terms of their contract in writing – before they sign up. This will include, for example, contract length and prices, and broadband providers will have to tell customers the minimum internet speeds they can expect.[3]


And Ofcom is making it easier to switch between broadband networks. At present, customers switching between providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk on Openreach’s copper network can simply contact their new provider, who will manage the switch from there.


But customers moving to a different broadband network – such as Virgin Media, CityFibre, Gigaclear or Hyperoptic – need to manage the switch themselves and coordinate with both their new and existing provider to avoid a gap between the old service ending and the new one starting.


Ofcom will shortly consult on more detailed proposals for a new simpler switching process for all broadband customers.


Source: Ofcom



  1. O2, Sky, Three and Virgin all choose to sell unlocked devices to their customers.
  2. Today’s new rules are part of our work to implement the new European Electronic Communications Code. This also includes rules that mean any customer who needs accessible formats because of their disabilities will be able to request communications in a format that meets their needs – such as in braille. These new accessible formats rules will come into force in December 2021. And we have confirmed changes to Ofcom’s accreditation scheme for price comparison tools, to make sure the information provided by these services is trustworthy, impartial and transparent – while still allowing them to innovate. The new accreditation scheme criteria will take effect from 30 April 2021.
  3. The new rules on better contract information will come into force in June 2022.