7 min read

How to cancel your mobile phone contract

Andre Spiteri
9 June 2017

Can you get out of a mobile contract without paying any fees? Do you get to keep your number? And how do you go about it?

If you've decided to cancel your phone contract early, you might be a bit unsure about where to start. It could cost you money, and you've also got to think about things such as moving across your phone number.

Here we look at what's involved in cancelling your phone contract.

Cancelling your mobile contract for free

You have a right to cancel your mobile contract free of charge, no questions asked, in one of the following situations:

  • during the first 14 days of your contract

  • if your network provider raises the monthly fee midway through

The cooling-off period (first 14 days)

If you’ve signed up for your contract online or on the phone, it’s subject to a cooling-off period under the Consumer Contracts Regulations. These regulations give you the right to cancel within 14 days without paying a penalty. The 14-day period starts running the day after you make the purchase.

Unfortunately, there’s no right to a cooling-off period if you’ve signed the contract in person. The only exception to this is if you’ve signed the contract at home during a door-to-door sales call.

The cost of your plan has gone up

Under Ofcom rules, your network provider must give you 30 days’ advance notice should they decide to increase the price of your contract. If you’re unhappy with the raise in price, you have a right to cancel free of charge within those 30 days.

You won’t be able to cancel your contract for free if the network told you the price would go up at the start of your contract. This usually applies in situations where you’ve been given a discounted rate for the first few months of the contract as an introductory offer.

Cancelling if you have bad service
As frustrating as it is, there’s no automatic legal right to cancel your contract if your coverage is bad or the service is otherwise unsatisfactory. With that being said, if your coverage is so bad your phone is unusable, it’s worth complaining to your network to see if they can offer a solution. Some network providers also have an “acceptable network guarantee” which may allow you to break the contract for free. Check your contract terms and conditions to find out.

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Cancelling your contract: the fees

If you’re not within the cooling-off period and your network provider hasn’t raised their rates, you may still be able to cancel your contract. The exact cancellation policy will vary from network to network, and you’ll usually need to pay a hefty penalty.

Early termination penalties are usually equal to the amount you’d pay had you stayed on for the remainder of your contract. So if you still have twelve months remaining on a £20 a month contract, for instance, you’ll need to pay a £240 penalty. This may make it impractical to cut your contract short, especially if you have a lot of time left on it.

Helpful hint
If your financial circumstances have changed and you’re struggling to keep up with your bills, it’s worth asking your network provider whether you can downgrade to a cheaper plan. Some providers may allow you to do this for free or for a minimal fee. This might work out much cheaper than cancelling your contract outright. It’s best not to just stop making your payments. Your network provider may engage the services of a debt collection agency to collect what you owe. This will show on your credit report and may negatively affect your credit score.

Typically, you’ll also need to give at least 30 days’ advance notice, either by phone or by email.

After you’ve cancelled your phone contract

Unlocking your phone

If you decide to cancel your contract and switch to a new phone network, your may need to unlock your phone if you want to keep using it.

If you bought your phone as part of your current contract, it will probably be locked. This means the phone will only work with SIMs belonging to that network and it won’t be able to detect a SIM belonging to a different network. (If you’re not sure if it’s locked you can try putting in a new SIM or ask your network’s customer service).

Most network providers offer phone unlocking services for a fee, usually in the range of £10 to £20. Depending on your network, the unlocking process can take as little as 72 hours or as much as 20 days.

Can you be charged for unlocking your phone?
Your network provider can’t charge you to unlock your phone if your contract has expired. Unfortunately, the rule doesn’t apply if you’re on pay as you go or if you terminate your contract early. This is another reason why it may be worth waiting out your contract instead of cancelling.

If your network provider is being difficult, you could try a third-party unlocker. Most high-street phone shops will do this for you. There are also companies you can find online. However, do be careful, as some of them can be unreliable.

Helpful hint
If you own an older handset, you may be able to unlock it for free. Check out Giffgaff’s Unlockapedia for information on where to find free unlock codes, how to use them and which devices they work with.

Keeping your current number

When you switch network provider, you have a right to keep your current number.

Carrying over - or porting - your number to your new network is easy. In order to do it, you simply need to obtain a porting authorisation code (PAC) - a nine-digit code that’s used to identify your mobile number - from your current network provider. A PAC is free; and it’s valid for 30 days.

Once you give the PAC to your new provider, they’ll take care of the switch and let you know when the process is complete. It usually takes about 24 hours.

In a nutshell:
  • You can cancel your contract early, free of charge if you’re within the cooling-off period or if your network provider raised their price.

  • Cancelling your contract at any other time can be expensive. You’ll usually have to pay the cost of the outstanding term in full.

  • If you decide to switch network provider after you cancel, make sure your phone is unlocked. Most network providers offer unlocking services in exchange for a fee.

  • You can keep your number when switching by obtaining a PAC from your old network provider and giving it to your new one. Getting a PAC is free

by Andre Spiteri

Andre is a former lawyer turned financial writer. Andre has written this article especially for ClearScore.

ClearScore exists to make your finances simple.
We offer a free service where you can handle everything to do with credit in one place. In your ClearScore account, you can see your credit score and the full details of your credit report. Your credit cards, mortgages, mobile phone contracts, loans, overdrafts and utilities all on the record. Our goal is to make ClearScore as simple, calm and straightforward as possible. Money is stressful enough.