back to article Sticking with one mobile provider gets you... Oh. Price rises, big exit fees, and lovely, lovely lock-in

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority has issued an urgent call for action against mobile providers that rip off loyal customers with high prices even once handsets are paid off. In an investigation published today, the watchdog said phone pushers aren't playing fair and should release customers from costly contracts once …

  1. Tom Kelsall

    Data Portability

    That data portability thing is a legal requirement under GDPR, so the potential €20M fine might be something of an incentive for telcos to act on it...

    1. Gordon 10

      Re: Data Portability

      Precisely what data do the Telcos have that needs to be portable, that isn't already collected either via the contract sign up process or the existing porting Process?

      The data portability clause of GDPR is a complete red herring in this case.

      1. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

        Re: Data Portability

        @Gordon 10

        You can imagine a use case where your current telco provides your consumption data to your new one so that they can offer you a relevant plan if you can't do the math by yourself.

        But generally agree with you, see my previous post.

    2. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

      Re: Data Portability

      Sure, but I'm not convinced this is the main obstable to switching mobile providers as the article suggests. Number portability could be a blocking point, although from personal experience I found it to work quite well (PAC number easy to obtain, switch scheduled within a few days, happens on the given date with minor loss of service), but YMMV.

  2. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble?


    I'm not sure I'm thrilled by this development. Essentially this was always a stupidity / laziness tax, paid by those who couldn't be arsed to keep an eye on their financial dealings and take appropriate action. Certainly I think most people on here were always aware this sort of thing went on and took appropriate action, be that by buying phones outright themselves and then taking SIM only plans or keeping a proper eye on their contracts and expiry dates. Now that companies will be forced to notify the lazy / stupid, they will inevitably pay less to these companies, which will mean prices go up across the board, penalising the people who diligently check their paper work and work to keep their outgoings low.

    1. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: Hmm...

      "Essentially this was always a stupidity / laziness tax, paid by those who couldn't be arsed to keep an eye on their financial dealings and take appropriate action."

      this doesn't make it right though. if companies didn't race to charge the most for the least service then we'd get better competition and better services. At the moment they are fighting hard to reduce service. I can't wait to see this same actiontaken against gas, electric, water, trains, council tax, income tax etc etc

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Hmm...

      So to summarise your position: "I'm ok, fuck everyone else".

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm...

      Oh dear.

      This isn't for me and you or most of the people that read the register. This is for people that may not be aware, pensioners for example and I for one don't mind paying a couple of quid extra per month for that. It's also not always because someone is lazy or stupid, they could be going through a personal tragedy for example or not have the time because they work 60 hours a week. That's the problem these days it's all me me me where if you take the time to think about it you realise things like this are needed and really the prices shouldn't go up because it's supposed to be competitive anyway.

      1. Gordon 10

        Re: Hmm...

        I disagree. I think it should be made clearer up front that people are signing a contract that will continue to drain their bank account long after the phone is paid for, but I don't think the supplier should necessarily be forced into anything more than flagging when that happens.

        We need to make people more savvy not mollycoddle them, then the suppliers will be forced to retain their customers better. This isn't life or death it's a phone. I feel more strongly on other products such as leccy or gas.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hmm...

          I feel more strongly on other products such as leccy or gas.

          Then you'll be delighted with the CMA's success in getting the regulator to implement a price cap from mid January, one that will make most energy suppliers structurally unprofitable (even most of the Big 6). You may have noticed a steady stream of small suppliers going bust, that's because they mostly enter the market with a strategy of capturing customers with unfeasibly low prices....and several have found that is indeed unfeasible. The planned merger of SSE and npower has fallen apart, apparently because they can't make a viable case to equity investors.

          Already the whiners are complaining that the price cap still isn't low enough because there are cheaper deals in the market, happily ignoring that most of those cheaper suppliers can't survive on those tariffs, and will need to raise them or go bust.

          Meanwhile, the morons of government look to the private sector to innovate and to create government's fabled "low carbon economy", overlooking the fact that they are actively trying to make energy investment returns so low that they're not worth pursuing. In both energy, telecoms, and the other markets that the CMA have boldly intervened in, we should expect all manner of unfortunate and unintended consequences.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hmm...

            look at me, playing the worlds smallest violin. paid for by the billions in profits made by those big energy companies.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Hmm...

              So you don't have/want a private pension then? I do and I know that my pension fund is a substantial institutional investor and major shareholder in several large utility companies.

              That dividend paid out to shareholders from those profits - guess where most of it goes?

              There is no such thing as "fat cat shareholders".

      2. JetSetJim

        Re: Hmm...

        There is a more sensible solution, but the operators won't like it. All that has to be done is separate the effiectively-an-HP-agreement for a new shiny from the phone/data subscription, so that at the end of the HP aspect of the contract, the subscriber drops down onto the pre-agreed contract rate, rather than the current default of keeping the extra payment for the phone going in perpetuity. Mandate that the repayment of the phone subsidy portion of any contract for supply terminates after a fixed period of time. It still allows for the balloon payment if you leave before you've repaid (and then some) the phone subsidy, and makes it quite clear just where your money is going.


    4. John Lilburne

      Re: Hmm...

      Hmmm. Recently went through this sort of nonsense with 3 my wife wanted a PAK code becuase she had changed her phone which came with an EE sim. Phoning 3 to get one resulted in someone talking about different options with 3 and her saying I want a PAK code not your bullshit. Eventually she handed the phone to me, and the 3 person says "I can't talk to you, I have to talk to her". Me "She no longer wants to talk to you, she wants a PAK code nothing else, none of your scripted nonsense just a PAK code." Eventually a supervisor sorted it out, but it shouldn't have been that hard.

      1. Sir Alien

        Re: Hmm...

        This is the part where dignity comes in and you deal with the situation in a good manner. I had a similar issue with Three.

        Before I was thinking of leaving I was merely shopping around and found that I could get a better deal else where. To be honest, I didn't "want" to move provider because Three were actually pretty damn good but sadly they couldn't beat the competition and there is only so much being nice buys you.

        So days before I said I wanted to leave I told them up front that I was shopping around and that I could get a better deal with someone else. They told me what deals they could provide which just didn't quite match up

        So I ended the conversation, signed up with the new provider and then called them a few days later for a PAC code and contract termination. This is the point where they threw every possible deal at me, one that was even better (slightly) but at that point it was too late. I had already moved provider.

        What a provider should assume is that everyone will leave them. It is a matter of when rather than if. As such they need to do everything they can "before" the person leaves rather than after in my case.

        Anyway, after a few minutes conversation I bid the retention handler a farewell and said it might even be in the future that I return to Three.

        1. BebopWeBop

          Re: Hmm...

          A similar experience, but Three actually responded quite positively when I asked for the information - reducing the cost on a reasonable bill quite considerably. But I had to threaten to leave and I do know what my contract dates are.....

      2. Probie

        Re: Hmm...

        I had the same experience, but I was in store. In the end the manager of the store put in a complaint on my behalf.

        What perhaps galled me the most was that I was still taking out a new but reduced contract with 3 at the time. !!!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hmm...

        were you by any chance asking for a Pee-Ayy-Kay code rather than a Pee-Ayy-Cee?

    5. ZJ

      Re: Hmm...

      The current situation isn't just a 'lazy / stupid' tax, it is also a waste of people's time. I don't want to spend hours every year checking all my contracts and using comparison sites then switching (or threatening to) if I have to. If you added up all the hours wasted by everyone in the country I wouldn't be surprised if the cost outstripped the amount overpaid.

      All that effort for no overall economic gain.

  3. Rich 2 Silver badge

    And another thing.....

    The most unbelievable thing I encountered was when my contract with EE expired so I decided to stick with EE but change to a sim-only "deal"

    No problem they said. But you can't keep your number; a number that I had managed to hang on to for almost 10 years. There's a legal requirement that you can keep your number if you go elsewhere. But (I discovered) NOT if you change your deal with the same company. "Not possible" I kept being told. I'm sure it IS possible; they just couldn't be arsed to do it. The only advice the EE chap could offer was to move to a PAYG deal with someone else (allowing me to take my number) and then immediately move back. Absolutely f****** ridiculous!!

    In the end, I got a new number. Still really pissed off about it though.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And another thing.....

      I was with EE and switched from a contract to a SIM-only deal and they just let me keep my number. But then, I decided not to deal with any sales drones directly and just order it through their website.

      1. Not also known as SC

        Re: And another thing.....

        I ‘upgraded’ from a contract to a SIM only plan. Again kept my number but got a far better deal than I had (20GB v 2GB) before even factoring in the handset cost.

    2. ibmalone

      Re: And another thing.....

      I had that happen back when they were Orange, had finished my handset contract (probably for over a year), phoned up to change to one of their advertised SIM-only contracts. No, not possible I'm told.

      This is a number of years ago now, but the rest of the conversation proceeded along these lines: "Okay, can I cancel my contract then please?" "Ah, let me see." Silence for a while. "I've spoken to my supervisor, and as a goodwill gesture..."

      Not had to do that one since. Eventually upgraded and then took an effectively SIM-only deal when they were trying to migrate customers to EE. Currently on an upgrade through a third party, will see what happens when that contract ends (but I get the impression from using the site that they're a bit better about changing packages now, largely since they want to hook you on a bigger data allowance).

      With everything like this, it makes a big difference who you get on the other end of the line. With different companies I've had very helpful people and ... less helpful people. Sky is my least favourite as the interface seems designed to prevent you getting through to a human, even refusing to deal with you at all if there's an unpaid bill. (How do you dispute a bill then? Well, you give them the money first...)

      Edit: no idea what's going on with those line breaks, with luck it's just me seeing them.

      1. TimBiller

        Re: And another thing.....

        I moved from contract with 02 to contract with Orange, then to SIM-only with EE, then to SIM-only with EE Business. All on the same number since 1998.

        Both my wife and daughter have also been moved from Orange contract to SIM-only with EE - same number kept throughout.

        Someone at EE was screwing with you.

    3. John Lilburne

      Re: And another thing.....

      15 years ago I moved from an orange contract to an orange PAYGO. They sent just me the new SIM with the old number, replace and SIM carried on.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And another thing.....

      In the end, I got a new number. Still really pissed off about it though.

      And you wonder why they don't change to accommodate customers?

      Might be because too many customers will be shat on, and still keep paying them.

    5. Andre Carneiro

      Re: And another thing.....

      In the end you got a new number?

      Blimey, you must have been DESPERATE to stay with EE to go through that.

      Personally would have just cancelled my contract there and then on the principle of it...

    6. The Specialist

      Re: And another thing.....

      If I were you, I would have gotten the PAC code, move to another service provider (ege. Voda) PAYG porting my number, and await for BlackFriday / Xmas sales then get my PAC code and join EE again at a tarif of my liking.

      Oh, I just remembered, that's what I did :)

  4. Pen-y-gors

    I may be unusual

    But I haven't felt the need for one of these expensive £30+ / month contract deals for many years. Now, when I need a new phone (maybe every 3-5 years) I buy one. Last one cost £400.

    I get my Broadband from BT, so get £5/month discount on SIM-only mobile. So I'm paying £5/month for unlimited calls, unlimited texts and 1GB/month data - it was 500MB but it's gone up on renewal. With free access to BT WiFi as well, I've never even needed the full 500MB

    But horses for courses I suppose.

  5. Bloodbeastterror

    One word...


    1. Mongrel

      Re: One word...

      I've found Tesco Mobile to be very good as well.

      Sits on the O2 network, so great in London & South East and since last year (at least) they advertise the phones and bundles separately, it's still on a contract though, but the only issue I've had with them is their refusal to deliver a handset to a work address.

      So you pick your phone, pick your tariff, decide how long you want the contract to be and that's it. Once you've paid for the phone it reverts to the tariff price

      I've also been impressed by the fact I've never gotten upgrade nags or upsell from them, well once when I upgraded my data plan "Our records say you have phone X, would you like to look at the available handsets" and they took 'No thanks' for an answer and didn't try to sell me more data\minutes\texts.

      1. Bloodbeastterror

        Re: One word...

        The thing about Giffgaff is that they have *no* contract. You buy a month's "goodybag" (I know, right...?) and if you don't like it you can change the next one to a more expensive or cheaper one, or even just cancel and not pay. I've been with them for over five years and the service has been flawless. It's the model that every consumer should be following so that these greedy scum firms don't have the possibility of defrauding their customers.

  6. cosine

    UK's SOP

    These days the standard operation procedure seems to screw the customer.

    UK is worse than other countries I have lived in; a left-over of Thatcherism?

  7. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Thumb Up

    While you're at it...

    Destroy the bloody ratchet. You know, their costs go up, the prices you pay go up, their costs go down....


  8. Number6

    I figured out the rip-off of contract phones many years ago, plus the fact that they were always locked to the provider and often had a bunch of customisations that were irritating. I have vague memories of having to switch provider to get a SIM-only deal and keep my number too. In the US it's now possible to have a phone on a payment plan (essentially what the contract phone was) except it has a specific end date and a provision that you're liable to cough up the balance if you change providers before you've paid for it. Even the concept of 'contract' is nebulous for service, T-Mobile USA lets you cancel at any time and I think other providers now offer a similar option.

  9. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Regulation failure

    While some people are at fault for not paying attention to their contract and checking the market, a lot of this sounds like the kind of sharp practice that the regulator should put an end to before it starts. But who is the regulator here? Ofcom. Nuff said.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Regulation failure

      "But who is the regulator here? Ofcom. Nuff said."

      The PROBLEM is that this kind of shit falls under the remit of the CMA - and Ofcom is not the CMA (or a competent market regulator), as much as they'd like to continue claiming fiefdom over the markets side of the telecommunications environment.

      The same problem applies in the ISP field. Sharp practices are a CMA/Trading standards issue, not an Ofcom one and Ofcom pretending it knows what it's doing is a good way of keeping the waters muddy.

      Ofcom need to stick to their fucking knitting (technical regulation and spectrum allocation)

      The CMA need to stick to THEIRS and tell Ofcom to stop interfering with the CMA's job.

      FWIW, the same problem happened in New Zealand, resulting in the same problems with an abusive monopoly ISP/phone provider and a cosy mobile market (for the operators).

      It was only when the Ministry of Commerce there (CMA equivalent) stepped in and said "enough of this shit, here's the numbers on the level of economic damage that's been done" that the phone company got broken up (The equivalent of Openreach and BT were turned into entirely separate companies with entirely separated ownerhip of lines and dialtone equipment and entirely separated boards of directors, offices, etc) and actual competition started taking place (both in dialtone/broadband and mobile provision)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    TLDR: it's the system that's at fault, it's not fit for purpose to be used by humanity as a whole, it only suits a certain subset of us, and also tends to reward rather than punish the less scrupulous.

    The thing is, some folk (in business, government and here) make the silly assumption that everyone is equally capable and comfortable dealing with financial stuff - and that simply is not true. Some folk by mindset are poorly equipped to deal with the kind of shennanigans that companies get up to with their customers, and I'm one of them.

    It's long been an annoyance to me that the world doesn't expect everyone to be an IT expert or a scientist, because it DOES expect everyone to be a salesperson and an accountant. But apparently the salespeople and accountants couldn't possibly get their heads around that techno-sciency stuff - everyone has their own strengths, after all! Which is a perfectly reasonable standpoint. But suggest for a moment that maybe not everyone is capable of being a salesperson or an accountant, and all one gets is, effectively, a sneerily delivered "suck it up sucker!" in response. Which is emphatically not a reasonable standpoint.

    Why should I have to expect to be a victim of unscrupulous companies? Why should companies being unscrupulous not have to expect to be severely punished for it? And why should salespeople and accountants not have to expect to be well-versed in science? Yes, I know - there's nothing in the economic system to enforce - or even encourage - ethical behaviour on the part of companies, quite the reverse. But therein is the fundamental flaw of the whole economic system.

    As for salespeople and accountants - well, it just so happens that the economic system we have favours their mindsets, rather than mine, it's not necessarily anything to do with intelligence nor of understanding the impact that finances have on ones life that separates them from me. It's mindset, and that's not something that can easily be changed much if at all.

    And just as I may feel frustrated that some who deny the problems of climate change and ecological collapse, or who seem to just try to ignore it in the hope that it'll magically just go away just aren't really trying hard enough or aren't willing to understand, so I know that some seem to think that I'm just not trying hard enough (not true - I've had nervous breakdowns over trying to get my head around the insanities - to me - of finances) or are stupid because I can't handle stuff well that they deal with on a daily basis (just as they can;t get their head around stuff that I deal with on a daily basis, funnily enough).

    Just as some folk can only get their heads around the most basic science, so some folk can only get their heads around the most basic financial stuff. Expecting the latter to play with stocks and shares and keep an eagle eye on contracts is just as daft as expecting the former to set up good science labs.

  11. Real Ale is Best

    What I'd like...

    Is better coverage.

    I've been with Orange, then EE all my working life, as the coverage had been pretty good, and I'm just uncertain about anybody else.

    I guess I'd never believe the coverage maps provided by operators, so there is no effective way of assessing the competition without the hassle and expense of another phone and sim, then the hassle of moving.

    Puts me off far more than cost. :-/

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: What I'd like...

      "Is better coverage."

      There are a few sim-only deals operated out of the Isle of Man and Jersey which work across multiple carriers. For obvious reasons these tend to work far better than any carrier-specific deals.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am quite happy with my provider of several years (Three). I am a low use/spend customer but have an exceptionally cheap SIM only deal (that isn't advertised on the provider's website). I guess the reason they gave me this deal (I didn't ask for it) is because some of my foreign colleagues regularly call my mobile number from France or Belgium, for meetings that often run on for several hours.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    i transferred from EE to giffgaff farely easily. the PAC code was forthcoming (but not without a "did you know we can offer you xyz" conversation. the transfer was done within a couple of days.

    unfortunately it happened on the day 02 had their mass outage so i couldnt work it if ee had messed up, or giffgaff, or if it was just one those things when transferring from one network to another. i didnt have data the whole day nor the next.

    ...and then i realised i had data on the mobile switched off.

    so long story short, check yo'self before u wreck yo'self.

  14. g7rpo

    Mine has been getting cheaper year by year

    I had a hell of a time with Vodafone a couple of years ago, triple billed me 3 months in a row and had to get my bank to get the money back via DD guarantee.

    Eventually went to 3 on a monthly sim only, 20 gig, u/l calls and texts for 25 quid

    At renewal went to 20 quid

    latest renewal 30 gig u/l callls and texts was 18 quid with full tethering

  15. Stu_The_Jock

    Fleeced for a phone ? No ta.

    Norway's had a split pricing system for the 12 years I've lived here (although I never use it as I generally don't change phone and contract at the same time, just because it'snot always suitable or convenient for me)

    Sign up for new phone and pick a contract. XXX kroner/month for the contract for calls and data, plus XXkr/m for (generally) 2 years for the phone.

    After the phone is paid off, you drop to the basic monthly fees.

    As for the loyal customer penalty, that'll be when they call me up a month or so before the contract lock in is due to expire and offer me (generally) either a 15% discount on my monthly bill, or a free data upgrade for the same price. Agree to 12 months and we'll talk again next year. That agreement covers both my mobile, my son's and our 2 tablets on a data only shared plan.

  16. JaitcH

    Westerner Cell Handset Users Are Getting Ripped Off Big Time

    I live in what is described as a 'developing country' with a human population of 90-million souls and 120-million registered (working) cell handsets. There are 3 government-owned cell carriers and 4 private enterprise entities.

    The law separates carrier service from handset supply - carriers may sell handsets but MUST provide services to any handset user on the SAME BASIS.

    The coverage in the UK is abysmal - given that we have coverage in the most extreme that are far more challenging than this in the UK. (Fibre coverage in the UK is a joke, too)

    As a result our cell facilities are way greater than those on Western carriers. We have near 99% 3G coverage and 4G service is available to the majority of users. Compare those numbers with Canada (or the UK).

    A $50 SIM in Canada sells for $10 including a $10 usage credit. A typical rate of extortion for Canada.

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