New Ofcom cunning plan to ease mobile switching looks promising

UK regulator Ofcom has put forward a set of proposals which look like it actually might make leaving your mobile service provider a bit easier.

A pessimist might assume providers make leaving as difficult as possible in a last-gasp effort to keep customers, but of course we are not suggesting providers are being obstructive on purpose… That said, the new idea from Ofcom is as simple as sending a text message, as opposed to the hours spent on hold trying to figure out how to leave.

Customers would simply send a free text message to the provider they wish to leave, who would then receive a text back, which includes a unique code to pass on to their new provider who will arrange the switch within one working day. It seems like a good idea, and possibly too good to be true. Now we are just waiting for the army of telco operator lobbyists to somehow quash the idea with spin-laden announcements as to why it would ultimately be bad for us.

The responding text from the provider would contain a porting authorisation code or ‘PAC’, for those who want to keep their number, a cancellation code for those who don’t as well as any information relating to early termination charges, outstanding handset costs, or pay-as-you-go credit balances. These codes would be valid for 30 days, allowing for a cool-off period for the customer. It certainly sounds like an interesting idea.

“We want people and businesses to benefit from simpler, speedier mobile switching, making it easier for them to vote with their feet and take advantage of choice in the market,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director.

“Our ‘text-to-switch’ plans would give greater control to mobile customers about when and how they switch, and prevent losing providers from delaying and frustrating the switching process.”

Ofcom claims around 2.5 million people who changed mobile provider said they experienced at least one major problem when switching, this is roughly 38%, which is a high statistic. The top issues include  contacting their current provider (11%), cancelling their service (10%), or keeping their phone number (10%).

What isn’t detailed is the average amount of time people spend on the phone when trying to cancel a contract. This is probably mixed in with all three of the aforementioned challenges, but it would be interesting to see how long providers are willing to try and frustrate customers in the battle to keep them.

The consultation will be open until 30 June 2017, before Ofcom will publish the final decision in the autumn.

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