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How to get out of your mobile contract for free

By Mof Gimmers | Tuesday, March 21st 2023

When you sign up for a mobile contract, generally you are tied in for 18 to 24 months – or sometimes even longer. However, if the service is bad, or the coverage is so unreliable that you want to look elsewhere, can you get out early?

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 period ends.

We're here to help you to get out of a contract without coughing up your hard-earned money for no good reason. Every mobile provider has a retentions team that will try to 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 details of this guide, bear in mind that there are different rules depending on whether you're on a SIM-only deal or you're on a pay monthly package with a handset. 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 want to leave your contract and haven't yet paid off the handset, 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.

Increasingly, providers are recognising that customers want flexibility to leave or change their contract, and so offer contracts that are split into two halves: your device contract, and your airtime contract. Some providers allow you to pay off your device contract early and change your airtime plan as often as you like.

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You can leave your contract early if...

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

All mobile contracts purchased online come with a 14-day cooling off period. If you realise quite quickly that you're not getting what you've been promised, or you’ve simply seen a better deal elsewhere, you're allowed to leave your contract within the first two weeks.

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

However, if you decide you want to leave within this period (which starts 14 days after purchase), bear in mind that 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. Be aware that this does not apply to the annual price rise in line with the Retail Price Index that occurs each April.

Sneaky price rises usually happen when providers have offered an introductory rate or special deal 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 retentions 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 or one-month contract

If you're using a pay-as-you-go deal, or if you’re on a 30-day contract, then the good news is that there's nothing 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 however that your provider is legally obliged to make a note of any complaint you make. Call 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 response, you should send 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 then fails to respond to your deadlock letter within 14 days, you can take your complaint to go the ombudsman. You can find out which ombudsman your company belongs to by checking on its website – 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.

Switch mobile provider easily

In June 2029 Ofcom made it easier for customers to switch mobile network by introducing the text-to-switch method. Instead of having to phone your existing provider and go through the tedium of the retentions department trying to convince you to stay, you can now simply text PAC 65075 to request a PAC code. This is short for Porting Authorisation Code, a combination of letters and numbers that will tell your new provider that you are leaving your existing provider, and that you want to keep your phone number.

Once you have found a new deal you want, sign up, then request your PAC code. You should then give the code to your new provider and they will port over your old number for you. The whole process should only take a day or so. If you aren’t bothered about keeping your old phone number, you should text STAC to 65075 instead. This will let your provider know you are leaving but that you don’t need to keep your number.

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