You’ll normally need to undergo a credit check when taking out a mobile phone contract in the UK. Find out what this involves and discover alternative ‘no credit check’ deals.
If you’re taking out a Pay Monthly mobile phone contract or SIM-only deal in the UK, you’ll normally need to undergo and pass a credit check. The most stringent checks are on 24-month contracts, where you get a new handset included with your plan.
Because of the credit check requirement, it isn’t always possible for everyone to get a mobile phone contract. At a minimum, you need to be over 18 and need a UK credit history to be approved for a mobile phone contract. Beyond that, different mobile networks have their own internal credit criteria against which your application for a mobile phone contract will be judged.
In this article, we’ll explain the credit check process for when you take out a mobile phone contract in the UK. We’ll discuss the information you’ll likely be asked to provide and how to check your credit record for errors and mistakes. We’ll also discuss “no credit check” alternatives such as buying your handset SIM-free and getting a Pay As You Go bundle.
Mobile Phone Credit Checks
During the credit check process, your mobile network will contact a ‘credit reference agency’ to verify your identity and to determine your financial history. A decision will then be made on whether to offer you a contract based on their internal credit criteria.
Typically, in order to pass a credit check, you’ll need all of the following things:
- You’ll need to be over 18 to get a Pay Monthly contract.
- You’ll need some form of UK credit history or financial history.
- You’ll ideally need to be on the electoral roll at your address.
- You’ll need a good credit score. There isn’t a precisely defined ‘minimum credit score’: it depends on the mobile network, the handset you choose, the cost of your price plan, etc.
If you aren’t able to pass all of the above requirements, it’s also possible to use a mobile phone without the need for a credit check. In fact, these ‘no credit check’ deals often work out to be cheaper and much more flexible than a 24-month contract. Therefore, many people decide to bypass the hassle of a credit check entirely by choosing one of these alternative deals without a credit check.
Mobile Phone Contracts & Credit Checks
If you decide to apply for a mobile phone contract, you’ll need to undergo a credit check during the application process. The reason for this is because credit is being offered to you on a Pay Monthly contract.
To illustrate this, imagine you’re buying the latest iPhone on a 24-month contract. The full retail price for this would be £999 if you were to buy it upfront without credit. On a 24-month contract, the same handset is made available to you but with a much smaller upfront payment of £99 or less. In this scenario, your mobile network is providing finance to cover the cost of your handset. This is then being re-paid through your monthly bills (often with a hidden APR added somewhere in the process).
On SIM-only deals where there is no handset included, credit is still being offered as you’ll only pay your bill at the end of each month. However, in this case, the amount of credit offered is much lower as there are no expensive handsets involved the process (typically, it’s just the cost of your usage which is capped at some amount).
What You’ll Need To Provide
Before applying for a mobile phone contract, you should make sure you’re listed on the electoral register at your address. You should also check your credit record if you have any possible concerns.
When signing up for a new contract, you’ll normally be asked to provide:
- Your personal information (name, date of birth, marital status, etc)
- Your address (including previous addresses from the last 3 years)
- Your credit card or debit card details will sometimes be required (must be registered at the same address)
- Your bank account information might also be required (sometimes you’ll also be asked to provide additional information such as when you opened your account)
Depending on the results of this initial check, further questions may then be asked about your financial history (this is to help prevent ID theft). Alternatively, if you’re buying in-store, you may be asked to provide some physical proof of ID or address.
Checking Your Credit Record
If you’ve failed a credit check or if you’re simply just curious about your score, it can be worthwhile checking your credit report.
The UK has three credit reference agencies (CRAs for short): Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (previously known as CallCredit). The three credit reference agencies collate information about your previous dealings with financial service products (including bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, loans and utilities). They also collate information from the electoral register, county court judgements (CCJs) and bankruptcy records.
The following table shows a list of major mobile networks and the credit reference agency used by each one (note, this is only indicative as it can change at any time).
|Mobile Network||Credit Reference Agencies Used||Source|
|BT Mobile||Equifax||BT Help Centre|
|EE||Experian, Equifax and TransUnion||EE Community Forums|
|iD Mobile||Experian and Equifax||iD Mobile Help|
|Sky Mobile||Equifax||Sky Mobile Help Pages|
|Tesco Mobile||Experian||Tesco Mobile Terms & Conditions|
|Three||Experian, Equifax and TransUnion||Three Help Article|
|Virgin Mobile||Equifax||Equifax Website|
Each of the three credit reference agencies provides an online service for you to check your credit record with them. If you have time, you can check your credit record with all three providers. However, if you’re short of time, you can use the table above to prioritise which ones to check.
- Experian: Credit Record
Experian is the UK’s largest credit reference agency. You can get a free statutory report with all of your credit record information, or you can pay for their CreditExpert service (£14.99/month, with a 30-day free trial for new users). If you decide to sign up for the CreditExpert service, you should cancel the service within the first 30 days if you don’t want to pay the ongoing monthly fee (call them on 0800 561 0083 to cancel).
- Equifax: ClearScore
Equifax is the second largest credit reference agency. Their Clearscore service gives you free access to your Equifax credit record, but is only updated once per month. The company aims to make money by promoting financial service products (e.g. credit cards) that are matched to your credit score.
- TransUnion (previously CallCredit): Noddle
Finally, TransUnion (previously CallCredit) is the UK’s newest credit reference agency (it isn’t used by as many companies as Experian and Equifax). They provide free online access to your credit score through the Noddle service. The company aims to make money by promoting financial service products matched to your credit score.
For more information, see the MoneySavingExpert guide to checking your credit report.
Mobile Phone With No Credit Check
Over the past few years, it has become increasingly easy to get a mobile phone deal with no credit check. This is perfect if you’re under 18, if you’re new to the UK or if you don’t want to undergo a credit check. In fact, many people now prefer these ‘no credit check’ deals as they can give you even better value and more flexibility than a 24-month contract.
The first step is buying your new mobile phone without taking a new contract. Alternatively, you can skip this step if you already have an unlocked handset that you’re happy to use.
To get a new mobile phone without taking a contract, you should buy your new handset on a SIM-free basis. A SIM-free handset is unlocked for use on any mobile network, and doesn’t require you to undergo a credit check. You’ll pay the full retail price of the handset upfront, but you’ll usually save money in the long-run as well as having lots of extra flexibility.
The upfront price of a SIM-free handset varies substantially. You can get a good mid-range smartphone like the Moto G for around £150 unlocked. It offers fantastic specifications and very good value for money. Something like the latest iPhone will however cost you a lot more (around £999 for the iPhone XS, or even more for an iPhone XS Max).
Pay As You Go SIM Card
Once you have a SIM-free handset, you can take advantage of a great value Pay As You Go deal. There’s no need to undergo a credit check for these – simply order a free SIM card and slot it inside your phone to get going. You can top-up your account manually to add money to it, or you can use ‘automatic top-up’ to save a bit of time going forward. The great thing about choosing a Pay As You Go deal is you’re never tied in to your mobile network and you have complete control over spending on your account (there are no unexpected bills as your balance can never drop below zero).
The following table shows what you’re able to get from various Pay As You Go mobile networks for £10/month:
At present, we’d recommend giffgaff as the best value ‘no credit check’ network. giffgaff’s £10 goodybag gives you unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 3GB of data with high-speed 4G coverage from the O2 network. Once you’ve been a customer for 3 months, giffgaff will also boost your data allowance to 4GB per month.
Order giffgaff SIM Card (Free) →
giffgaff’s £10 goodybag comes with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 3GB of internet (coverage from O2)
When a SIM-free handset is combined with a SIM-only deal, you can use your mobile phone with no credit check and with lots of flexibility. The effective ‘total cost of ownership’ is also often lower than a 24-month contract. For instance, using a £150 handset on a £10/month price plan would cost you a total of £390 over 24 months (equivalent to paying £16.25/month a 24-month contract).
For more information about credit scores, we recommend having a look at this guide from MoneySavingExpert. If you’d like to use a mobile phone without undergoing a credit check, we recommend buying your handset SIM-free and getting a Pay As You Go deal.