The “text to switch” service, introduced by Ofcom, will make it easier for users to change provider and shop around for better deals.
Sending one text message – avoiding having to phone call centres – will immediately generate a cancellation or PAC code, which is then valid for 30 days.
The new process is designed to be quick and easy, so customers could request their code while looking for a new deal – for example, while on the phone to a new provider or in store.
Ofcom introduced the service as part of its Fairness Framework – guidelines to help ensure telecoms and TV companies treat customers fairly. As part of the crackdown, it has launched a review to ensure clearer deals for people who pay for mobile services and handsets together, a review of broadband pricing practices and a new compensation scheme to provide money back for broadband and landline customers when things go wrong.
The mobile consultation is due to publish its final proposals in the coming weeks. New research showed nearly a third of mobile switchers find it difficult to cancel their previous service, making it the biggest obstacle to switching people face. Of the people who consider switching, but then choose not to, 45 per cent decide switching would be too time consuming and 39 per cent are put off by the hassle of needing to contact more than one provider.
Ofcom’s Scotland director Glenn Preston said: “Breaking up with your mobile provider has never been easier thanks to Ofcom’s new rules. You won’t need to have that awkward chat with your current provider to take advantage of the great deals available.”
Natalie Hitchins, head of home products and services at Which?, said: “Switching supplier should be a quick and easy process, with minimum disruption to the customer. But mobile customers are often put off by having to jump over hurdles to switch providers, even if they could get a better deal somewhere else.
“The introduction of text-to-switch is a step in the right direction and we welcome the ban on customers having to pay for old and new services at the same time. However, we are disappointed that the regulator hasn’t taken steps to ensure that customers’ new providers handle the switching process, as is the case in the energy market.”
A report by uSwitch found two in five people say they have experienced difficulties switching in the past. It has calculated that at least 15 per cent of all mobile users are out of contract, resulting in a total overspend of more than £325 million every year.
The switching website said that some customers have struggled to take their existing number to their new handset. Some have also found it hard to navigate websites, while others have simply got too frustrated with automated phone services and being placed on hold by call centres.
Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.com, said: “Too many mobile phone customers experience difficulties when changing to a different network. It should be networks’ best interests to make switching as easy as possible.”