A watchdog has called on mobile phone companies to unlock handsets for free after finding that charging customers can act as a barrier to switching.
Which? has launched a campaign to help consumers "unlock better mobile deals" after a survey revealed just four in 10 (40%) trust their provider to put them on the best deal for their usage at the end of their contract, and many think it is unfair that phones are locked to one provider.
Costs for unlocking phone handsets varied by provider, according to Which?:
- Virgin Mobile charges £15.32
- Tesco charges £20 within the first 12 months
- O2 charges £15 for pay-as-you-go users but those with a contract can have it done for free at any time
- Giffgaff and Three provide all devices unlocked.
Which? is calling on all mobile phone providers to offer this service for free at the end of a contract and at point of sale for pay-as-you-go phones.
The survey found 66% of consumers think it is unfair that phones are locked to the provider's network and 77% say it is frustrating that phones need to be unlocked to use them on a different network.
Eight in 10 (82%) think providers should unlock a phone for free when the contract comes to an end.
The poll also found that 12% of consumers were not confident when taking out their contract that it was the best tariff for them, and 42% thought there was probably a better value tariff for their usage than the one they were currently on.
Which? is calling on mobile phone companies to provide customers with their contract expiry date, one month's notice before their contract ends and details of all the available deals to best match their needs.
It also wants providers to sell pay-as-you-go handsets unlocked and automatically unlock contract phones for free at the end of the contract.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "Mobile phones are an essential part of daily life for many people and consumers shouldn't be locked into contracts that do not suit their usage.
"We want to send a message to mobile phone companies that they should help customers get a better deal by alerting people that their contracts are about to end and by unlocking handsets for free."