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Cancelling your phone contract early

When you take out a mobile phone contract, you could be locked into a 24-month minimum term with a network provider. But what can you do if the plan you’re on no longer works for you? Here’s how to get out of a phone contract early and what costs you’re likely to face.

When you take out a mobile phone contract, you could be locked into a 24-month minimum term with a network provider. But what can you do if the plan you’re on no longer works for you? Here’s how to get out of a phone contract early and what costs you’re likely to face.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Consumer expert on utilities and money
Last Updated
16 JANUARY 2024
6 min read
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Can you cancel your phone contract early?

Yes, but there’s a good chance you’ll have to pay an early cancellation fee if you terminate your phone contract early.

There are only a handful of situations when you can cancel your mobile contract free of charge:

  • You’re in the first 14 days of your contract. If you’ve signed up to a contract online or over the phone, you automatically have a 14-day ‘cooling off period’ when you can cancel without paying a penalty. (Some shops will provide a 14-day guarantee, too, for an instore purchase.)
  • Your network provider raises its prices. Under Ofcom rules, your provider must give you at least 30 days’ notice if it decides to put up the price of your phone plan. If you’re unhappy with this, you have the right to cancel free of charge. What you won’t be able to do is cancel for free if your provider told you at the start of the contract that the price would go up – i.e. an introductory offer that expires after a set period.
  • Your contract ends within 30 days. If your phone contract is due to end within the next month, you can cancel without any penalty.

If you’re on a pay-as-you-go contract, you’re free to walk away at any time because you’re not tied into any agreement.

Reasons for cancelling your mobile phone contract

There are many reasons why you might want to switch to a new mobile phone deal. For instance:

  • You want to upgrade your phone handset to a newer model
  • You’ve found a better deal elsewhere
  • The price of your tariff has increased midway through your contract
  • Your phone signal keeps cutting out or your network coverage is poor
  • You’re unhappy with the level of customer service you’re receiving

But before making any hasty decisions to cancel your existing contract, look at your options first. 

If you want to upgrade your phone

Check whether your network provider lets you upgrade before your contract ends. Some providers also let you take out two separate contracts – one for your handset and the other for your airtime plan covering calls, texts and data.

Alternatively, you could buy a SIM-free and unlocked handset. Then you can simply put your existing SIM card into your new phone – you won’t need to get a new contract or pay an exit fee. Bear in mind, though, that buying a handset outright can be expensive. 

If you’re unhappy with your network coverage

Get in touch with your provider to find out if there are any maintenance works or network upgrades that could be causing issues. Your provider may be able to reassure you that the issues are only temporary, or offer you a discount.

If your monthly phone bills are too high 

Contact your provider to discuss what you can do to cut costs. You may be able to switch to a lower monthly tariff and avoid any cancellation costs. If you just cancel your contract without paying, the network is likely to pass on your contact details to a debt collection agency, which could affect your credit rating. 

What fees are there for cancelling a contract? 

If you want to get out of your mobile phone contract early, you’ll usually have to pay an early termination charge or ‘buy out’ your contract. How much you pay almost always depends on how far into the contract you are. For example, if you signed up to a 24-month contract at a cost of £20 a month and wanted to cancel in the sixth month, you might have to pay off the remaining 18 months of the contract. That final bill would be £360, although you might get a slight discount on this.

It might be that you’re better off staying with your provider until the end of the agreement.

If you’re not sure whether you’re still in contract and would have to pay early termination fees, you can find out by texting INFO to 85075. 

How to cancel your mobile phone contract

If you decide you still want to cancel your contract early, here’s how to do it:

  • Contact your mobile phone provider to tell them you want to cancel your contract. You can either call or send a free text, or email them. 
  • If you’re still within contract, you’ll need to pay any exit fees or buy-out the remainder of your contract, before you can leave. If you’re out of contract, you can switch provider whenever you like. 
  • If you want to switch to a different network provider but keep your existing handset, you may need to get your phone unlocked (although Ofcom banned mobile phone companies from selling locked phones from December 2021). Your current network provider may charge you for this and it can take up to 30 days.

How to find the best mobile phone deal

Our comparison service could help you find the right phone with the right package for your needs. Pay-monthly contract deals could be a good option if you’re a frequent phone user and want to upgrade your handset every couple of years or so.

If you don’t want to get locked into another lengthy contract, you could think about a SIM-only deal on a rolling month-to-month plan. You simply place the card in your existing handset or a new phone you’ve bought outright.

Frequently asked questions

Can I keep my mobile number when I switch?

Yes, you should be able to hang on to your current phone number when you switch mobile provider.

To keep your existing mobile number, you just need to text PAC to 65075 and ask for a porting authorisation code (PAC code). Your current provider should respond by text message within one minute. You then give this code to your new provider, so they can take care of the switch for you and let you know when the process is complete. The switch shouldn’t take any longer than one working day.

If you want a new phone number and need to cancel your old one, you’ll need a service termination authorisation code (STAC code). This is available for free, and your new network should cancel your old number within one working day.

What if I change my mind after switching?

If you signed up for your new mobile phone contract over the phone or online, you automatically have a 14-day cooling off period under the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

During this time, you’re allowed to cancel without paying a penalty if you decide that your new service doesn’t live up to expectations, you see a better deal elsewhere or you’ve simply changed your mind. 

You don’t have to give a reason for cancelling, and any money owed to you should be refunded. If you signed the contract in person, you’re not guaranteed a cooling-off period. 

Can I return a mobile phone if I don’t like it?

If you buy your device in a high street store, you don’t automatically have any mobile phone cancellation rights unless there’s a fault with the handset.

However, some mobile phone stores will let you return your device up to 30 days after you bought it, so read the shop’s returns policy carefully before you buy.

If you buy a new handset online, over the phone or by mail order, you have the right to cancel up to 14 days from the day you receive the phone. You then have a further 14 days to actually send the goods back, and the retailer should give you a refund.

What happens when a phone contract ends?

Don’t worry, your mobile service won’t just suddenly switch off.

When your contract ends, you'll have several options, including moving to a SIM-only plan, upgrading your handset with a new deal, or cancelling your contract. If you do nothing, you’ll just carry on with the same provider and tariff.

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Sajni Shah - Consumer expert on utilities and money

Sajni is passionate about building products, allowing Compare the Market to help you make great financial decisions. She keeps track of the latest trends and evolving markets to find new ways to help you save money.

Learn more about Sajni