New Ofcom rules also mean customers will not have to pay for their old and new services at the same time
Consumers will be able to switch mobile phone providers by sending a text message under reforms set out by the communications regulator.
Ofcom said the changes would come into effect in 18 months and make it quicker and easier for individuals and businesses to leave their mobile company.
Under the new rules, mobile providers will also be banned from charging for notice periods running after the switch date. This, the regulator said, would put an end to people paying for old and new services at the same time, saving UK mobile customers about £10m a year.
Around two in five mobile switchers – or 2.5 million people – experience at least one major problem when switching, according to Ofcom. It said one of the biggest hurdles in changing provider was customers having to speak to their provider and facing unwanted attempts to persuade them to stay.
Lindsey Fussell, consumer group director at Ofcom, said: “Too many people are put off by the hassle of switching mobile provider. Our changes will make it quicker and easier for mobile phone users to get a better deal.
“Customers will control how much contact they have with their current mobile provider, preventing companies from delaying and frustrating the switching process.”
Ofcom recognised that the reforms would require mobile operators to make changes to their systems and need coordination between companies.
The industry will have to set up the new short codes for consumers to text and be able to send instant automated responses to switching requests. Companies will also need new billing arrangements to end double payments during notice periods.
Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.com, said: “Our research from earlier this year found that while one in five thought text-to-switch would make them more likely to switch provider, more than double would have been encouraged to change under a gaining provider-led process, the alternative system that Ofcom decided against. While it’s disappointing Ofcom did not go further, this is still an improvement that will make it easier for more customers to get a better deal.”
News of the move came in the same week as calls to improve regional services. On Monday, Lord Adonis, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, wrote to Ofcom urging it to improve poor services across the country.
His comments came after Ofcom revealed total geographic 4G coverage, where a signal was accessible from all four mobile operators, was available across just 43% of the UK. For calls and text messaging, 30% of the UK does not receive a signal from all four operators.