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Can a network mess with your phone if you bought it SIM free?

Say you have a SIM free phone and a SIM only contract.
If you stop paying the SIM only contract (which I might do temporarily if they don't sort out my issues - long story!!), can they put a bar on the phone via the IMEI?

Most Useful Answer tapi  Aug. 16, 2014 at 14:06

but the question's about a sim free phone and a sim only contract - so presumably bought separately of each other - not 'gifted' with the contract? You wouldn't get a phone with a 'sim-only' contract ... it wouldn't be 'sim-only'

So in that case - technically yes of course (as said above) but legally no way as the phone has no relation to the network. The most they could do is cease providing the service to your sim.

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JanSt / MOD  Aug. 15, 2014 at 16:04

Technically, YES...
Legally? No idea to be hones...

poinsy  Aug. 15, 2014 at 17:32

Well, I guess they could technically, as mentioned above. You could put a GiffGaff SIM in it whilst the problem is being resolved.

I remember lord Winstanley (This Is Your Right) saying that whenever you are in a contract dispute, never cease to pay completely as you are clearly in breach of contract. Rather, you should pay an amount equal to the level of service you are receiving, however bad.

satchef1  Aug. 16, 2014 at 11:11

No, they can't.

Legally it's a bit grey anyway as any phone bundled with a contract is a gift. It doesn't belong to the network the moment you sign up, regardless of whether or not you actually pay.

JanSt / MOD  Aug. 16, 2014 at 11:22

Satchef, are you SURE?
In Germany and Ireland that is certainly not true.
The handsets belong to the network until you paid upp.
Even prepay handsets are not outright yours.
But I'd delightedly stand corrected.

tapi  Aug. 16, 2014 at 14:06

but the question's about a sim free phone and a sim only contract - so presumably bought separately of each other - not 'gifted' with the contract? You wouldn't get a phone with a 'sim-only' contract ... it wouldn't be 'sim-only'

So in that case - technically yes of course (as said above) but legally no way as the phone has no relation to the network. The most they could do is cease providing the service to your sim.

JanSt / MOD  Aug. 16, 2014 at 14:21

but the question's about a sim free phone and a sim only contract - so presumably bought separately of each other - not 'gifted' with the contract? You wouldn't get a phone with a 'sim-only' contract ... it wouldn't be 'sim-only'

So in that case - technically yes of course (as said above) but legally no way as the phone has no relation to the network. The most they could do is cease providing the service to your sim.


Yep. Would agree.

satchef1  Aug. 17, 2014 at 01:16

Jan, I am sure, yes. I believe it's a quirk of UK law - the networks essentially have three choices:

1. Loan you the equipment. The network retains ownership, but is responsible for ensuring you have a working handset with which to access their services. They are responsible for any repairs/replacements that don't fall under criminal damage or neglect. This is how most phone contracts worked in the 90's, and also how Virgin Media currently operate their cable service.

2. Gift you the phone. The phone is yours the moment you sign the contract. You are responsible for any repairs/replacements and the networks have no obligation to ensure you have a working device with which to access their services. They merely supply the service. This is also how Sky operate their services - you own the Sky Box the moment you sign the contract, but if it breaks it is up to you to sort it out.

3. Sell you the service SIM-free and the phone under a buy-now-pay-later agreement (see O2 Refresh, Giff Gaff). The phone isn't a gift - you are paying for it directly. As a result, the service agreement can be far shorter and a lot cheaper as the cost of the handset is being recouped separately.

satchef1  Aug. 17, 2014 at 01:22

I should have worded number 2 better. They don't have to 'gift' the phone to you. Often, only a discount is offered (i.e. the £xx upfront charge, which is essentially you buying the phone at a hefty discount).

JanSt / MOD  Aug. 17, 2014 at 12:51

Interesting... it seems others agree with satchef... http://kenstechtips.com/index.php/cancelling-your-mobile-phone-contract-early-termination-fees-alternatives

However: that legal quirk is rather significant, isn't it? Cause the flipside is the networks can still block your 'gifted' phone if you fail to pay the bill.... Seems like they really operate in kafka land?

satchef1  Aug. 17, 2014 at 17:21

Phones can only be blacklisted in the UK if lost or stolen, or at the request of the police or security services. No UK network is going to blacklist a handset just because you stopped paying your line rental. They'll just trash your credit rating, pursue you for the debt, disconnect your phone line, ban you from the network and refuse to issue an unlock code so you can go elsewhere (not a problem for most phones, but not every phone has cheap 3rd party unlock codes available).

I'm not actually sure what would happen if a network did try blacklisting a phone because of unpaid bills. I'm unaware of any precedent. I doubt the Police, a Judge or OFCOM would look too kindly on such action and I expect the whole incident would end badly for the network.

JanSt / MOD  Aug. 17, 2014 at 18:06

That is interesting.

loofer  Aug. 18, 2014 at 10:23

Jan, I am sure, yes. I believe it's a quirk of UK law - the networks essentially have three choices:



2. Gift you the phone. The phone is yours the moment you sign the contract. You are responsible for any repairs/replacements and the networks have no obligation to ensure you have a working device with which to access their services. They merely supply the service. This is also how Sky operate their services - you own the Sky Box the moment you sign the contract, but if it breaks it is up to you to sort it out.


So say they 'gift' you a handset at nil cost (apart from tariff cost) and you decide to cancel airtime within 7 days, why should you have to hand the phone back, technically it was a 'gift'!

Obviously a lot of people would be trying it on if it could be done. Just wondering why it works that way.

Also one of my bug bears has always been how they advertise a phone for fee...
Tariff 1
Say 500 mins/500 texts/1GB net
Supplied with Mid Range handset (no upfront cost)
say £20pm

Tariff 2
500 mins/500 texts/1GB net
Supplied with Premium Range handset (no upfront cost)
£35 p/m

You're getting the same airtime service in both deals but your actually paying more for the handset in the 2nd deal. They shouldn't be allowed to advertise it as 'Free'. The cost of handset is included and they need to highlight that or just replace 'Free' with 'Included'. It's certainly not free! Rant over

satchef1  Aug. 18, 2014 at 10:56

Let's say I buy a DVD on Amazon and it comes with a free Lego figure. I return the DVD under DSR. Can I keep the figure?

Same principle applies. DSR requires that you return all goods that form part of the transaction, doesn't matter what if some of them were free or not.

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