Which? calls on mobile providers to abolish unlocking fees

Mobile network providers are being urged to unlock all mobile devices once the contract has expired in order to allow consumers to benefit from better mobile deals.

Related: Exclusive: Worrying number of mobile users still believe that unlocking is illegal

Consumer watchdog Which? is working for a better deal for mobile customers and identified the fact that some providers charge over £20 to unlock phones as one of the main consumer gripes that can easily be adjusted to give a better deal.

“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,” stated Which? executive director Richard Lloyd.

Which? claims that just four in every 10 of the 2,100 people surveyed trusts a mobile phone company to give the best deal possible once the contract has expired and in addition to unlocking handsets for free the consumer champion wants all pay-as-you-go handsets to be unlocked from the get go.

Currently O2 doesn’t charge customers on a contract to unlock a device and only stamps a £15 fee on pay-as-you-go customers to unlock a handset. EE, meanwhile, levies a charge of £20.42 on all devices and will only unlock a device after six months, and Vodafone charges its customers £19.99 to unlock a device. Three, on the other hand, told the BBC that as of January all its devices are now sold unlocked and that anyone with an unlocked device can benefit from the same deal.

O2 defended the decision to charge pay-as-you-go customers as it helps to prevent fraudulent activity and denies the chance to benefit from box breaking – the practice that sees locked handsets bought, unlocked, and then sold at a profit to dealers overseas.

"Pay and Go handsets may be subsidised at point of sale and can be exploited for fraudulent purposes through box breaking. Our charge to unlock the phone covers the handset subsidy, the administrative costs of unlocking, but also acts as a deterrent for fraud activity," an O2 spokesperson told the BBC.