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Ofcom plans to let consumers switch mobile providers by text

Monday, May 22nd 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Consumers will be able to switch between mobile phone providers by text message under new plans drawn up by Ofcom.

The regulator is proposing that customers send a free text to the provider they want to leave in order to obtain a unique code.

Customers will then need to pass on the code to their new provider, who will then arrange the switch.

The changes would mean people no longer having to speak to the provider they want to leave – a major cause of switching difficulties according to Ofcom’s research.

Ofcom said 38% of mobile customers have experienced at least one major problem when switching, such as having difficulties contacting their current provider (11%), cancelling their service (10%) or keeping their phone number (10%).

Providers would also be banned from charging for notice periods after the switch date, under the proposed rules, so customers would not have to pay for their new and old services at the same time.

This would save mobile phone customers around £10m each year, according to Ofcom.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director, said: “We want people and businesses to benefit from simpler, speedier mobile switching, making it easier for them to vote with their feet and take advantage of choice in the market.

“Our ‘text-to-switch’ plans would give greater control to mobile customers about when and how they switch, and prevent losing providers from delaying and frustrating the switching process.”

'Ease of switching'

Ofcom is suggesting that people text one of two numbers depending on whether they want to keep their mobile number.

They would then get either a cancellation code or a number transfer code (known as a PAC), as well as information about any early termination charges, outstanding handset costs or pay as you go credit balances.

In a statement, mobile provider Three said it was disappointed Ofcom had not proposed a move to a gaining provider-led switch service similar to that introduced for broadband customers.

A spokesperson said: “It is clear that having the gaining provider managing the switch will provide the greatest benefit to consumers and enable real ease of switching.

“Only under [a gaining provider-led process] can you ensure that the best deals are not kept for consumers who wish to leave their existing network.”

Ofcom said its text-to-switch idea would be cheaper to implement at £44m over 10 years compared to £87m for a gaining provider-led process.

A poll by Ofcom also found that people who had switched previously and kept their number would be more likely to request a PAC in future by text (78%) than through a gaining provider-led process (66%).

A consultation on Ofcom's proposals runs until 30 June 2017 at 5pm and a final decision on the future of mobile switching is expected by the autumn.

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