In this guide, we’ll answer all the most common questions associated with mobile phone contracts, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting in to…
Mobile phone contracts can be a little daunting, especially if it’s your first time. You have to commit money and time. And that is scary. But there’s plenty more to mobile phone contracts than just picking a phone and a price you can live with.
And that’s why we created this post.
It is designed for people that are about to undertake their first mobile phone contract. It will explain how contracts work, what you can expect, how to get out of certain things, and what you cannot get out of.
By the end of this post, you’ll know everything you need to know about mobile phone contracts, what to look out for, and, most importantly, what to be aware of before you make a 24-month commitment…
What Are Mobile Phone Contracts?
A mobile phone contract is an agreement between you and a phone network. Contracts usually last anywhere from 12 to 36 months and include fixed amounts of data, call minutes, and text message allowance.
Once you’ve signed up for a mobile phone contract, and been approved, you will pay monthly fees for the duration of your contract – these monthly fees cover the cost of the phone, your mobile data, and your minutes and texts.
The more expensive your phone is, the higher your monthly fee. And if you want more data, that also increases your monthly fees. A £1000 iPhone, for instance, will have an upfront cost – anywhere from £200 to £500 – that you will have to pay before you receive the phone.
Cheaper phones, those that retail for less than £600, don’t tend to have upfront costs, so they’re cheaper to start with. Only very expensive, flagship phones come with upfront costs attached, so if you want lower monthly fees you’re better off going with an iPhone 11, for instance, over the iPhone 11 Pro.
What Documents Do I Need To Get A Mobile Phone Contract?
Unlike many contract-related things, with mobile phone contracts, most places will accept your credit or debit card as proof of identity. This means you will not need a passport or proof of address when signing up for a mobile contract.
The reason for this is that most mobile phone contracts are applied for and executed online. If you have to scan your passport and/or a proof of address it would slow the process down massively. For this reason, networks now only require your debit or credit card as proof of identity.
How Long Do Mobile Phone Contracts Last?
Mobile phone contracts vary in length. Longer contracts, like 36 months contracts tend to be cheaper than shorter-length contracts (12 or 24 months). Generally speaking, most major UK phone networks offer contracts on either a 12, 24, or 36-month basis.
Speaking personally, I would NEVER go for a 36-month contract; it’s just way too long. If you can accommodate the higher fees, the optimal length of a phone contract is 12 months. That way, you can get a new phone every 12 months.
For most people, 24 months will be the sweet spot. Most decent Android and iPhones will get 24-36 months’ worth of software updates, so if you’re on a two-year phone contract, you’re fully covered. Some networks, Sky Mobile, for one, will let your swap your phone mid-way through a contract as part of its Swap12 initiative.
Can I Cancel My Mobile Phone Contract?
Canceling your phone contract can be tricky. Most mobile phone networks tend to offer a “cooling off” period, usually 14 days, where you can cancel your contract for free. If you order your phone, but decide you either don’t like the phone or cannot afford it, and you’re inside the cooling-off period, you can cancel the contract without any charges.
If you’re outside the cooling-off period, even if it’s only by a couple of days, you will not be able to cancel the contract without incurring the wrath of the network. If you’re 3 months into your phone contract, for instance, and you try to cancel it, you will have to pay the remainder of the contract in full to get out of the contract – and that will be expensive.
The only time this changes is if your phone network increases its price. If this happens, you have grounds to cancel your phone contract without incurring any charges. This doesn’t happen often, however, so it pays to REALLY think about your contract before you commit to one. 24 months is a long time…
When Can I Switch Mobile Phone Contracts?
Again, if you’re inside the cooling-off period you’re 100% free to cancel your new phone contract and switch to another network or offer.
If you’re past the cooling-off period, say, three to four months into your contract, then you’ll either (A) have to wait until the end of your contract, or (B) pay the full charges associated with canceling your contract. And this will cost you A LOT of money.
Some networks, like Sky Mobile, will let you swap phones and augment your plan during your contract. But, again, this is rare – Sky Mobile is kind of a unique outlier in this regard. Most networks want you locked in for the long haul and they will do all they can to keep you in place and paying your monthly fees.
What Happens When My Mobile Contract Ends?
When your contract ends, you have a few options with respect to what you can do next. They are as follows:
- Do Nothing – If you choose to do nothing, your contract’s monthly fees will just continue as before. You’ll have the same monthly allowance for data, calls, and texts, and your phone will work as normal. This approach isn’t advisable, however, as you’ll miss out on some unique opportunities which we’ll cover below…
- Get A New Phone – If you’ve been with a network for two years or more, it will want to keep your business. This means it will have some tasty, exclusive offers for you. When your current phone contract ends, you can easily negotiate a new phone, with a new phone, and if you’re pushy you can probably get an expensive phone like a new iPhone and get the network to wave the upfront cost.
- Switch Networks – If you don’t like your current mobile network, for whatever reason, now’s the time to switch networks. Once your contract ends, you’ll need to find a new mobile phone contract and apply for it. Once you’ve done this, and you’re approved, you’ll need to get your PAC code from your old phone network in order to move your number over to your new contract. Don’t worry, this is super easy – the network does most of the heavy-lifting (and it usually only takes a day or two).
- Move To SIM Only – If you like your phone, but you want a cheaper monthly contract, switching to a SIM-only plan is one of the easiest ways to do this. You know own the phone, thanks to your 24 monthly payments, so it is yours to do with as you please. With SIM-only plans, you can get 30-day rolling plans or 12-month plans. My personal favorite is Three’s Unlimited plan – it’s cheap and it kicks ass.
What Happens If I Lose My Phone Under Contract?
If you lose your phone while under contract, you might find yourself in hot water. If you do not have insurance for the phone, you will have to buy a brand new phone and continue with your contract. Losing your phone does not void your contract; you’ll still have to pay the monthly fees for your contract even if you don’t have a phone.
This is why it is ALWAYS important to insure your phone; it doesn’t cost much money and is 100% worth it because losing your phone is all too easy. If you don’t have insurance, and you lose your phone, the network will send you a new SIM card, but you will be responsible for sourcing a new phone.
My advice? If you get a phone on contract, get yourself some insurance.
How Can I Reduce My Mobile Phone Contract?
Once you’re signed up to a phone contract, it is more or less impossible to alter the details of the contract once you’re outside the cooling-off period. If you opted for a 24-month contract for £50 a month, you will have to pay £50 a month for 24 months. Only at the contract’s conclusion will you be able to change things.
Phone networks are notoriously inflexible when it comes to reducing fees and contract lengths. This is how they make money, so they ensure they’re covered from every potential legal vantage point to keep you in place and paying your monthly fees. The ONLY way around this is if you’re in your cooling off period or the network increases the price of your contract.
Can You Get A Mobile Phone Contract With Bad Credit?
If you have a bad credit score or no credit score at all, you will struggle to get approved for a phone contract. The more expensive the phone, the more likely you will not be approved if you have a poor credit rating.
If you’ve owned a credit card and maintained it appropriately for years, or you’ve bought and paid for something on store credit, you should have a solid enough credit rating to get a phone contract.
If you do not have a good credit rating, you’re basically stuck with PAYG phones or SIM-only deals, whereby you purchase and bring your own phone. For this reason, before applying for a phone contract, you will need to check your credit rating first.
Also, DO NOT use “no credit check” phone contract companies. You’ll find plenty of these types of businesses operating online and, like payday loan companies, they’re just bottom-feeding sharks that pay on the skint and ignorant. Do not be one of these people.
How Old Do You Have To Be To Get A Phone Contract?
You have to be 18 years old to get a phone contract in the UK.
Do You Need To Have A Job To Get A Phone Contract?
Technically speaking, you can get a phone contract if you’re unemployed. So long as your credit check goes through, the phone network will approve you for the contract. Where things get a little dicier, however, is when it comes to paying the actual contract…
If you’re unemployed, finding £50 to £60 a month for your phone might be tricky – and missed payments mean charges from your network. Once these charges add up, you could be looking at a big ol’ pile of fees that you will have to pay on top of your monthly fee commitment.
If you don’t have a job, but your flush with cash, then, obviously, applying for and running a phone on contract is no problem. The only time you’ll run into trouble is if you cannot afford the monthly fees. If this happens, you’ll get hit with charges, late payment bills, and, if things get really bad, potentially a CCJ. Moral of the story? Make sure you can afford a phone contract before committing to one!
Now you know what to expect from your contract, check out all the latest deals for 2020’s top Android phones and iPhones – we pull in thousands of deals for each phone, so you’re always getting the best deal possible.
Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.