How to get out of a phone contract

Will
Georgiadis
26 Mar 2019

Finding the right contract is a daunting task. It’s all too easy to end up on the wrong plan, with the wrong provider – and once you’ve been ensnared, it tends to feel like there’s no way out. So we decided to create a neat guide, to act as the machete to the proverbial thicket that is the mobile phone marketplace.

Patience is obviously the simplest solution to your problems. Certain issues – the kind that would make you want to switch providers – are unfortunately not legal grounds for ending a contract early.

If you’re experiencing bad signal, for example, you’re out of luck: a few mobile providers offer an “acceptable network guarantee” for customers with poor reception, but otherwise you’ll have to just hold out until your contract ends.

But you’re obviously not here to be told just to wait until that rubbish contract ends. Here are a few ways to extricate yourself from an unwanted phone contract without changing your name and moving to Peru.

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How to get out of a phone contract

1. Find out where you stand

It’s important to know how far through the contract you are; at what point your “cooling-off” period ends; and whether your tariff has changed since you bought the phone.

All mobile providers are required to allow the customer a 14-day "cooling-off" period immediately after purchase, and some offer an extra few days on top, so the beginning of your contract is the best time to look for a quick getaway.

In addition, all mobile providers are required by law to warn customers when a tariff price is changing. If no warning is given, or if the price change exceeds the rate of inflation set by the Government, then you’re entitled to cancel your contract (within 30 days of receiving the warning) without incurring any fees.

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What’s the catch?

Mobile providers often add a clause to their terms and conditions that exempts them from providing warning when they change tariff prices. You’ll also find that the rules won’t apply if you’ve been swayed by an introductory rate or special offer.

That 14-day “cooling-off” period won’t apply under certain circumstances, either: if you bought your phone in-store, rather than online, the period is inapplicable.

What if you’re mid-way through your contract?

It’s possible to cancel your contract at any point. The catch is that you’ll have to pay off the remaining costs, which can be very expensive; you may be able to switch mid-contract to a cheaper plan, but this is not a guaranteed solution. If you do find that your contract has become too expensive, switching to a cheaper plan is still a good way to either reduce overall costs, or to lower the price of cancelling your contract.

Some providers, like O2 and Virgin mobile, offer 'split' tariffs - O2 calls them 'Refresh' tariffs, and Virgin Mobile calls them 'Freestyle' tariffs, but they're the same thing in principle. By dividing the cost of a contract into two parts - the price of the handset, and the price of your data allowance - these networks have made it easier to switch phones at any point. All you need to do is pay off the handset half of your contract, and you're free to upgrade.

If your phone is the reason you want to cancel your contract, consider checking to see if you're on one of these tariffs. 

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2. Identify why you want to get out

You have to be unhappy with your current provider to want to end your contract before its time is up. But in some instances, your provider will be able to help.

This applies most strongly to cases where the phone itself isn’t functioning the way it should: if your phone is damaged, and it’s still covered by the warranty – and there will almost always be a warranty – then the best thing to do is to contact your provider and sort out a replacement or repair.

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3. Talk to your provider

If all else fails, you are within your rights to make a formal complaint. Your provider is required to make a record of every complaint they receive, and you can always elevate your complaint if you’re not happy with the response you get.

Talk to the Ombudsman responsible for your provider or, failing that, speak to Ofcom themselves, and you may find that you’ll be allowed to leave your contract without penalty.

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4. Hang on for another year

We’re due a sizeable change to the regulations that surround changing mobile provider. Under a proposed new system – slated for July 2019 – cancelling your contract will be as simple as sending a text to your provider. They’ll send a message back with outstanding fees and any other charges, and then you’ll be free.

You’ll be able to keep your old mobile number without any hassle, and the entire process should take no longer than 1 working day.

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How to get out of a phone contract: Network policies

The information above is general advice that can be applied to most providers. The rules will vary from network to network, however, so we thought we'd go the extra mile and explain how each company handles contract cancellations. Here's how to cancel your contract with all of the major mobile providers.

EE

You'll need to give a notice period of 30 days if you want to cancel your contract with EE. You will pay any outstanding charges - relevant for those cancelling mid-contract without reason - at the end of the 30-day notice period, or when your minimum contract term is up (whichever comes first).

Cancelling mid-contract will incur an 'Early Termination Charge,' which adds up to roughly 96% of the remaining cost of your contract. If you cancel at the end of your minimum contract term, you'll have to pay a 'Notice Period Charge' - in other words, an exit fee. If you purchased a contract online, you can fill out the cancellation form on this page

O2

Just like EE, cancelling your O2 contract before your minimum contract term ends will lead to an additional fee. Unlike EE, however, O2 offers the Refresh tariff, which allows customers to switch phones at any point and keep their data allowance unchanged; if you're on one of these Refresh tariffs, you have a little more flexibility when it comes to cancelling your contract.

You'll need to head to My O2 to check when your contract ends

Vodafone

Vodafone offers a 30-day guarantee within which time you are entitled to a full refund on the phone/contract (excluding out-of-plan fees such as exceeding data limits). Otherwise, the same principles apply here as they do to the other providers: cancelling early will incur a fee, and it will take 30 days for Vodafone to officially disconnect your number. You will be charged as normal until your number is disconnected. 

Three

Cancelling a contract with Three is essentially no different from any of the others here. The network requires a 30-day notice period, during which time you will be charged as normal, and will charge you the remaining amount for cancelling a contract before the minimum term ends.

The early exit fee is calculated at 97% of the remaining cost of your contract, unless you've upgraded with Three in the past, in which case that figure comes down to 90%. 

Virgin Mobile

Virgin also offers a tariff that splits your plan, in the same vein as the Refresh tariff from O2. This will give you a few options, when it comes to cancelling your contract; if you're dead set on leaving, however, then the same 30-day notice period and early cancellation fees apply.

You'll also need to call Virgin to cancel, using their 150 number from a Virgin Mobile SIM. 

BT Mobile

If you're a BT Mobile customer, you'll need to call BT: you can find the necessary numbers on this site. The usual rules regarding 30-day notice periods and early cancellation fees apply here too.

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