When taking out a mobile phone contract in the UK, you’ll normally need to undergo a credit check. Find out what this involves and discover alternative “no credit check” deals.
In the UK, you’ll normally need to undergo a credit check when applying for a Pay Monthly mobile phone contract. This includes both on 24-month contracts and on SIM-only deals, with the most stringent credit checks being on 24-month contracts with a new handset.
Because of the credit check requirement, it won’t always be possible for everyone to get a mobile phone contract. At minimum, you’ll need to be over 18 and you’ll need a UK credit history to get a mobile phone contract. Beyond that, each mobile network will 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 getting a mobile phone contract in the UK. We’ll discuss the information you’ll likely be asked to provide and also how to check your credit record for errors and mistakes. Finally, we’ll 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 for your mobile phone contract:
- You’ll need to be over 18 to get a Pay Monthly contract.
- You’ll need some form of UK credit or financial history.
- You should ideally be on the electoral roll at your address.
- You’ll need a good credit score (requirements may differ depending on your mobile network, handset and tariff).
If you’re not able to get a mobile phone contract, it’s possible to use a mobile phone without the need for a credit check (and often, this can end up even cheaper than a 24-month contract).
The Credit Check
When you 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 offered on a Pay Monthly contract.
For instance, imagine buying the latest iPhone on a 24-month contract. At the time of writing, the 32GB iPhone 7 has a full retail price of £599 unlocked. On a Pay Monthly contract, it’s normally available for an upfront payment of £99 or less. In this scenario, your mobile network essentially provides financing for the handset and then makes back the cost of the handset through 24 monthly repayments (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 only pay at the end of each month. However, the amount of credit offered will often be much lower as there are no expensive handsets involved the process (typically, it will just be the cost of your airtime which is normally capped at some amount).
What You’ll Need To Provide
Before applying for a mobile phone contract, you should make sure you’re 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 will sometimes be required (must be registered at the same address)
- Your bank account information might also be required (sometimes you’ll be asked to provide additional info about when you opened the account)
Depending on the results of the 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 present some proof of ID or address.
Checking Your Credit Record
If you’ve failed a credit check or if you’re simply just curious, it can be worthwhile checking your credit report.
The UK has three credit reference agencies (CRAs for short): Experian, Equifax and 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 and record information from 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 CallCredit||EE Community Forums|
|Tesco Mobile||Experian, Equifax and CallCredit||Tesco Mobile Terms & Conditions|
|Three||Experian||Three Help Article|
|Virgin Mobile||Equifax||Equifax Website|
Each of the three credit reference agencies provide an online service for you to check your credit record with them. If you have time, you can check your credit record on all three providers. However, if you’re short of time, you can use the table above to prioritise which ones to check.
- Experian: CreditExpert
Experian is the UK’s largest credit reference agency. Their CreditExpert service costs £14.99/month, with a 30-day free trial for new users. It gives you online access to your Experian credit record with optional e-mail alerts when something changes on your report. 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 or 0344 481 0800).
- 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.
- CallCredit: Noddle
Finally, CallCredit is the UK’s smallest credit reference agency (it isn’t used by as many companies as Experian and Equifax). CallCredit provides 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 Without Credit Check
Many people prefer not to get a mobile phone contract, or are unable to get one due to the credit check requirements. Fortunately, this doesn’t rule out being able to get good value for money on your mobile phone (indeed, some of the “no credit check” alternatives are even better value than getting a 24-month contract).
When you buy a SIM-free handset, there’s no need to undergo a credit check. This is because you’re paying the full retail price of the handset upfront. The advantage is you’ll get an unlocked handset that will work on any mobile network and you also won’t be tied in to any lengthy contracts. You can also side-step the hidden APRs found in a 24-month contract, often saving you money overall.
The upfront price of a SIM-free handset can vary substantially. You can get a good mid-range smartphone like the Moto G for about £150 unlocked. Meanwhile, something like a high-end iPhone 7 is likely to cost you about £600 unlocked.
Pay As You Go Deal
Once you have a SIM-free handset, you can take advantage of a great value Pay As You Go deal. Once again, there’s no need for a credit check – you can just order a free SIM card and slot it in your phone to get going. You’ll top-up your account to add money to it and there’s no chance of an unexpected bill as your balance can never go 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 recommend ASDA Mobile as our best-value “no credit check” tariff. For just £10/month, you’ll get 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB of mobile internet. You’ll also get 2G, 3G and 4G coverage from the EE network (you can check the coverage in your area here).
Order ASDA Mobile SIM Card (Free) →
ASDA Mobile’s £10 bundle comes with 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB internet (coverage from EE)
For more information about credit scores, we recommend having a look at this guide from MoneySavingExpert. If you either don’t want a contract or are not able to get one, we recommend buying your handset SIM-free and getting a Pay As You Go deal.