The UK’s three biggest mobile operators are failing to offer their customers satisfactory service despite often costing more than smaller rivals, a watchdog has found.
Vodafone was rated the worst network in the country in the Which? mobile satisfaction survey after managing only one-star ratings for customer service, value for money and technical support.
One in five Vodafone customers (18%) reported poor customer service, including complaints handling and the way their queries were dealt with, while 13% said the firm’s technical support was poor and 19% rated it as poor value for money.
EE, the UK’s largest mobile network, also continues to rank among the worst providers, with 13% of its customers rating it as poor value for money, and just a quarter (27%) giving it a good or excellent rating for technical support.
Some 10% of O2 customers said the company provided poor value for money.
Three achieved the highest customer score among the “big four” networks for the fourth year running, despite receiving average scores in most categories.
However, 80% of Three customers rated their provider as good or excellent value for money.
Of the 13 providers included in the survey, customers mostly rated smaller “virtual networks” – those that lease spectrum from the main operators – more highly, with Which? finding that they were usually cheaper for both Sim-only and certain contract deals.
Sim-only deals were on average 31% – or more than £3 a month – more expensive with one of the big four providers than with one of the smaller virtual networks.
The combined average monthly contract price for an iPhone XS was 18% or £10 more expensive with Vodafone, O2, EE and Three.
Which? singled out giffgaff as a provider popular with its customers, with 80% paying less than £10 for their sim-only contract and 95% rating the firm as good or excellent on value for money.
From July, all mobile customers will be able to switch provider by text message and firms will be banned from charging for notice-periods running after the switch date, a practice that is currently costing those caught paying for old and new services at the same time around £10 million in total each year.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said: “If you think you are paying too much or are not getting the level of service you expect from your provider you should shop around for a better deal – you might find you save yourself some money and probably a lot of grief too.”
Vodafone said: “We are sorry that Which? members aren’t as happy as they could be with our service and are working hard to understand the issue and what more we can do.”
Which? surveyed 6,135 members in February.
What you can do if your mobile provider is not up to scratch
If you've signed a contract of say 18 months or two years, the chances of being able to leave early without paying a hefty sum are slim - even if the service you've been getting is rubbish.
However, there is some wriggle room. Rules by regulator Ofcom state that customers can leave mobile, landline or broadband contracts penalty-free if a provider ups prices mid-contract and the rise is of 'material detriment', for example a rise that's bigger than the RPI rate.
If your mobile phone provider has warned you about rises in its terms and conditions and they are in line with RPI, you won’t be able to leave if you’re still locked into a contract.
If you do want to leave early, you'll have to pay an exit fee.
Once your contract is up, though, you can leave penalty-free - and you can put your provider on 30 days' notice that you intend to quit to give you the best chance to shop around.
Also, remember, you have a 14-day 'cooling off' period if you entered into your mobile phone contract over the phone or online where you can change your mind and cancel the contract (under the Consumer Contracts Regulations).
Want to keep your number - here's how
Many people are concerned about leaving a mobile phone provider as they may lose their number - with all the hassle of updating contacts that brings.
But you can easily keep your current number. You need to ask your existing mobile provider for a Porting Authorisation Code (PAC).
You give this code to the new provider to make the switch - most companies require a month’s notice.
Sim-only deals are usually far cheaper than contracts. So, provided you're happy with your handset, get a Sim-only deal is a great option.