Porting Your Mobile Phone Number In The UK

by Jim Brown

A lot of people are put off from transferring to a different mobile phone network because of all the trouble of getting a new phone number and telling everybody, then worrying if you have missed anyone important. However, all UK mobile phone networks are legally obliged to let you take your number with you when you move to a different network. The British way of porting your mobile number isn't difficult, involving two phone calls and waiting around a week. Not as good as the Aussie system that takes one phone call and a two hour wait, but it's well worth the effort. You can keep your number but take advantage of cheaper costs from a different mobile provider. 

To tell the truth, I didn't think it would be worth bothering with number porting, thinking it would be too much hassle, but it turned out to be completely painless. The old network were helpful and friendly, even though I was leaving them. Not having to tell people a new number is a huge bonus. There's no excuse to stay stuck with a high-priced network when you can go to a cheaper one with minimal trouble.

Here is how it works. You call your old network to ask for your Porting Authorisation Code, then you call your new network and give it to them. A week later, your number is magically transferred to your new phone. It doesn't cost a penny, and nobody can stop you doing it.

Let's look at the process in more detail.

Step 1: Get your PAC

To port your phone number, you will need to call your current provider's customer service line and ask for your Porting Authorisation Code (PAC). They then have 2 working days to either give you your PAC or give a reason for refusing to do so. The only reasons this is likely to happen are either that you are still locked into a contract, or your number has been disconnected.

The network will usually give you your PAC for free, provided that you have fulfilled any contract commitments. The big networks don't charge, but smaller companies might ask for a small fee. Depending on the network, you may be given your PAC over the phone, sent it by text message, or sent it through the mail. (When I obtained a PAC from Virgin Mobile, they sent a text with the PAC within a few hours, then a confirmation letter arrived a couple of days later.)

The PAC consists of 3 letters and 6 numbers, something like ABC123456. It is specific to your phone number, so you can't just use the same one your friend got to save the bother of phoning customer services!

If you are on Pay As You Go (PAYG for short), you can leave any time and take your number with you. Bear in mind that if you have an old PAYG phone that you haven't used for over 6 months, the number may have been disconnected and you won't be able to port it

If you are changing networks by putting a new SIM card in your old phone, remember that a PAYG phone handset will be locked to the original network and will refuse to accept a SIM from another network (networks subsidise new PAYG handsets and don't want people taking advantage of that). If you want to stick a new SIM card from a different network into the same phone, you may have to pay for the SIM lock to be removed. (This isn't a physical lock, it's a software lock that is removed by typing a special code into the handset or by connecting it to a computer. Also known as Mobile Phone Unlocking, costs £15 from T-Mobile, is free from Virgin Mobile if you have topped up at least £30 with them, and costs around £10 from independent mobile phone shops and dodgy geezers down the pub.) Contract phones are usually not SIM locked because you are in a legally binding contract and they have your bank details so you can't take the cheap phone and run off. If you're getting a new phone on the new network, then you don't need to worry about SIM locks at all.

If you are locked into a mobile phone contract you must either wait until the mandatory contract period is over (probably 12 or 18 months since you signed up) or buy yourself out of the contract (which may be very expensive). Remember that if your number has been disconnected, it cannot be ported, and if you have allowed your contract to lapse the number will have been disconnected. Make sure your number is still active if you want to port it. This means that the two contracts will have to overlap to some extent, and you will be paying both networks during this time. Also note that if you are on a contract, the customer service team may offer you a cut-price deal to cancel the transfer and stay with them. Of course, I would never suggest obtaining a PAC to use as a bargaining chip at contract renewal time!

Your PAC must be used within 30 days before it expires. If you haven't used the PAC before then, you will have to ask for a new one.

You do not have to use the PAC, so don't worry, you're not locking yourself into anything at this stage.

On the next page, taking your PAC to your new network.