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Ofcom to make switching mobile operators easier

The often fraught process of switching mobile network operators will become easier for end-users as new Ofcom regulations come into force

Consumers looking to switch mobile network operators (MNOs) or mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) will no longer have to phone a contact centre and sit through a hard sales pitch in order to get their hands on the crucial porting authorisation code (PAC), as new measures come into force guaranteeing the right to switch via text message.

Research conducted by the UK’s telecoms and communications regulator, Ofcom, found that one-third of people found it difficult to switch MNO, and of those who considered switching but ended up not doing so, 45% thought it would be too time-consuming and 39% too much hassle to bother with.

“Breaking up with your mobile provider has never been easier thanks to Ofcom’s new rules,” said Ofcom’s Consumer Group director, Lindsey Fussell. “You won’t need to have that awkward chat with your current provider to take advantage of the great deals available.”

Users will now be able to text “PAC” to 65075 to receive the all-important switching code and keep their mobile number when moving provider. The provider must also now provide information on termination charges or outstanding credit balances at this point.

On receipt of the code, the new operator must arrange for the switch to be completed within one working day.

People who want to change their mobile number for any reason – such as personal safety – will also be able to switch via text, but must instead text “STAC” to 75075.

At the same time, Ofcom has also taken steps to make it easier for consumers to avoid paying money to both their old and new operators at the same time, a problem that is thought to affect about three in 10 customers who switch.

As of 1 July 2019, Ofcom has banned MNOs from charging for notice periods running after the switch date – as long as the customer has provided their new operator with their PAC or STAC. The regulator said this could save users a collective £10m a year.

Jonathan Lenton, communications ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, welcomed the introduction of new text-to-switch rules. “We know from the complaints we see that for too many people, switching mobile provider can be problematic and stressful,” he said.

“It should be easy for all consumers to shop around for the best mobile deal. The new text-to-switch rules will help towards that goal and should also help to increase switching rates.”

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Alex Tofts, analyst at communications service comparison site Broadband Genie, also welcomed the new measures, and suggested the effects of the changes could go beyond simply making the switching process less painful for customers.

“This could also encourage providers to offer better deals to their existing customers, which would be another boost for consumers,” he said. “For too long, their emphasis has been on poaching customers, rather than trying harder to keep the potentially loyal ones they already have.”

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at comparison sits uSwitch.com, said that the measures – which form part of a wider Ofcom drive to make things fairer for consumers – were overdue, but said it was “somewhat disappointing” that Ofcom had chosen to introduce them on a purely voluntary basis, rather than making them legally binding.

“These commitments could be helpful in balancing telecoms more in favour of the customer,” he said. “However, this will not be a quick fix. The regulator’s programme of customer engagement reforms needs to continue beyond the introduction of text-to-switch, and end-of-contract notifications next year, so we look forward to the detail of the upcoming handset reforms later this summer.”

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