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How to get out of your mobile contract for free

By Mof Gimmers
Monday, February 19th 2018

If you've signed up for a mobile contract, chances are you're tied in with them for a couple of years. Occasionally, they'll throw you a bonus in the shape of some extra data to say thank you. However, if their service is bad, or the coverage is so spotty that you want to look elsewhere, what can you do?

There are scenarios where you can walk away from your contract without incurring any charges or penalties, but obviously, mobile contracts have got a lot of those bases covered, making the typical customer feel like they just have to stick it out until their contract is due to end.

We're here to help you to get out of a contract without coughing up your hard-earned money for no good reason. Each mobile provider has a retention team to try and keep you on their books, but don't worry about that – you need to get the best service and deal for you, and you don't owe them any loyalty if you want to go elsewhere.

There are different rules for SIMs and handset deals

Before we get into the meat of this guide, bear in mind that there's going to be different rules if you're on a SIM-only or if you're on a pay-monthly with a handset as part of the deal. Because if, like most people, you got your handset at the same time as your contract, then you'll be paying that off alongside your network access.

If you're leaving your contract and haven't paid the handset off, then your provider is going to factor that into your termination fees as well. However, if your phone is broken or malfunctioning, you can contact your provider, as most devices are under a standard warranty, so they may be able to fix it for free, if it is covered. If a faulty handset is the reason you want to leave your contract, then maybe getting them to replace or repair it is the cheaper option.

You can leave your contract early if...

You're still in the first 14 days – the 'cooling-off' period

There's a cooling-off period with mobile contracts within the first 14 days of you starting your contract. If you realise quite quickly that you're not getting what you've been promised, or simply seen another deal which suits you better, you're allowed to ditch your contract in this period.

This isn't some goodwill gesture either – this is a period that is protected under Consumer Contracts Regulations.

However, if you want to leave within this period (which starts 14 days after purchase), there is a small catch to watch out for. If you bought it in person, the cooling off period is not applicable. While that's annoying, if you're wanting maximum safeguards, just get your contract online or over the phone.

Prices going up unexpectedly

If your mobile provider puts your prices up, they have to give you 30 days notice thanks to rules brought in by Ofcom. If they fail to do so, your consumer rights permit you to cancel your contract without charge. Again, you'll have to check your terms and conditions because some providers have been sneaky and put it into your contract that they can raise prices whenever they deem appropriate.

That usually happens when there's an introductory rate or special offer to entice you into their service. Even if that's the case, you can always try your luck when making an enquiry about leaving. There's a lot to be said for just being a bit cheeky with a retention team, as they can be more flexible when faced with an actual customer.

Your contract has less than 30 days left

If you are in a position where you can wait, then 30 days before your contract is due to end you can get out of your contract without penalty.

You're on a PAYG contract

If you're using a pay-as-you-go deal, then the good news is that there's no contract to cancel in the first place. You can walk away from it whenever you feel like, and start up with a new provider.

You're getting bad service

Sadly, there's no automatic legal rights for those who have had terrible service. Whether it's a lack of coverage, billing errors, or whatever it is that has you hopping mad, there's not an automatic right if you want to ditch your provider. However, that's not to say you shouldn't contact them to see what they can do for you.

A number of network providers have something called an 'acceptable network guarantee', and if they agree that your service has been unacceptable, then you may be able to walk away from your contract without penalty.

How to complain

It is worth noting that your provider is legally obliged to make a note of any complaint you make. Ring your network and tell them you're making an official complaint and be sure to make a record of when you contacted them, as well as taking notes on what they tell you.

They'll then have to inform you if your complaint is upheld or not, and if you're unhappy with their findings, ask for a 'letter of deadlock', which will show that you've done your part in trying to resolve the problem. Which? has a good template for you to use in this instance.

If the provider fails to respond within 14 days, go to the ombudsman. You'll need to find out which ombudsman your company belongs to – there's Cisas and Ombudsman Services: Communications. The ombudsman will not ask you to attend any hearings or anything stressful like that, but rather, write to you with a resolution to the problem.

Depending on the outcome of the escalated complaint to the ombudsman, you may be able to leave your contract without incurring any fees. You can also make a separate complaint to Ofcom, the telecoms regulator in the UK. You can do that on their website, and they may have further useful advice for you.

Changes to these rules are already on the way

Soon, there will be a new way of switching which can be done by text. From Ofcom, this is going to be an automated system which should make the entire process much easier. There's big savings to be had from switching, and of course, potentially better service, if you're unhappy with your current network.

Many customers just stick with their providers, because the idea of changing seems like a hassle. The idea behind this is to remove that fuss. When the new system comes in, you'll send a free text message to your provider, telling them you want to leave. They'll reply with a unique code, as well as any other information you'll need, such as termination fees, outstanding handset costs, and whatever else they have in charges.

If you're happy with these, you would then give this code to your new network, and the idea is that you'll be able to switch within one working day. You should be able to keep your existing number too, which is always useful. However, you're going to have to wait – the provisional date for this service is July 2019.

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