A major regulatory reform will allow users to switch to a new provider via text message, eliminating the need to contact the old provider
Mobile users are to be given a simpler way to switch operators using a single text message under a new plan announced by Ofcom on Tuesday – but the changes won’t take place until the summer of 2019.
Consumer advocates welcomed the changes, but said Ofcom could have gone farther and brought in an even simpler process of the kind used for broadband and landline switching since 2015.
Ofcom said its “easy-switch” process is aimed at removing obstacles people typically face today when trying to change operators, such as the difficulty of contacting their current provider or of coordinating the cancellation of an old contract with the start of a new one.
Mobile customers also waste around £10 million each year on paying for the end of an old service whose billing period continues after they already have a new provider, Ofcom said.
The changes will create two short codes for mobile users, which are to be the same for all providers – one for those who wish to retain their number with a new provider and the other for those who want a new number.
A user will be able to text one code or the other to their current provider and receive either a porting authorisation code (PAC), needed for porting the number to another network, or a cancellation code for those who don’t require their current number any longer.
Consumers are to receive the response immediately, with business accounts having a response within two working days. The short response time for consumers means they should be able to receive the code they need while looking for a new deal, for instance on the phone with a supplier or in a retail outlet.
The user can then simply provide the code to the new provider of their choice, which must arrange the switch with the old provider within one working day. The code will be valid for 30 days, Ofcom said.
The new procedure doesn’t invalidate obligations such as early termination charges, outstanding handset costs or pay-as-you-go credit balances, which must be included in the response text from the current operator.
But networks will be barred from charging users for a notice period, meaning users should no longer pay for old and new services at the same time.
“Our changes will make it quicker and easier for mobile phone users to get a better deal,” said Ofcom consumer group director Lindsey Fussell. “Customers will control how much contact they have with their current mobile provider, preventing companies from delaying and frustrating the switching process.”
‘Does not go far enough’
The 18-month delay in instituting the reforms gives operators the time they’ll need to make the necessary changes to their systems – setting up the short codes and automated response systems, making arrangements to coordinate switchovers with their competitors and making new billing arrangements to end notice-period double payments.
But uSwitch.com said its research indicated a switching process of the kind Ofcom has already instituted for broadband and landline changes – in which users simply contact the provider they want, the “gaining provider”, who then handles all the details of the switching procedure – would have been more effective.
The gaining provider-led process instituted in 2015 eliminates the need for users to obtain a code for the move to go ahead.
“Our own research from earlier this year found that while one in five thought text-to-switch would make them more likely to switch provider, more than double would have been encouraged to change under a gaining-provider led process, the alternative system that Ofcom decided against,” stated uSwitch head of regulation Richard Neudegg.
He added that Ofcom could do more to provide users with clearer information about mobile coverage and notification of when their contract period ends.
“While it’s disappointing Ofcom did not go further, this is still an improvement that will make it easier for more customers to get a better deal,” Neudegg stated.
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