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Consumers should be able to switch provider of any service within seven days, says government

The UK government has asked for evidence about services for which consumers find it time-consuming or difficult to switch provider, as part of plans to introduce seven-day switching as standard.

Existing switching processes can take anything from between four and eight weeks for mortgage providers, to seven days for current accounts and one business day to switch mobile phone provider, the government said.

The government has asked for examples of how long it takes for people to switch providers across various markets, including energy, broadband, mobile phones and banking services. Businesses that already offer seven-day switching or faster have also been asked for information about the impact this has had on their businesses.

"I want to give consumers more power over switching providers for the services they rely on to make sure they are getting the best deals," said Sajid Javid, the business secretary.

"At the moment, the time it takes to switch depends on which service you are switching. I want to hear what consumers and businesses think of making switching quicker and more consistent across all markets," he said.

The call for evidence will close on 23 June, at which point the government will review the experiences of consumers across the various services and develop proposals for consultation. As part of this process, it will have to consider the cost barriers and processes in place which could make reducing the switching period for certain services more difficult. For example, in the case of mortgages lenders must conduct various affordability checks before they can make an offer.

New rules could be in place "as soon as next year", the government said in its announcement.

The government is also seeking views on a range of other consumer-friendly proposals as part of the same consultation exercise. These include the potential introduction of a new requirement that customers be able to cancel online contracts that they signed up for online, and whether more can be done to improve consumer advice, advocacy, dispute resolution and complaints-handling processes.

Certain products and services already provide seven-day switching services as standard, with the banking industry's voluntary Current Account Switching Service (CASS) being one of the best-known examples. The government, energy industry and market regulator Ofgem are also working to deliver 'reliable next day switching' by 2018.

The new Digital Economy Bill, which was recently introduced to parliament following its announcement in the Queen's Speech earlier this month, will simplify the broadband switching process by allowing customers to deal only with their new provider rather than having to contact their previous provider in order to cancel a contract. Consumers would also be able to check broadband and mobile phone network coverage at particular addresses online, and would automatically be compensated by their telecommunications provider in the event of failures.

The government has also announced an "agreement" with the biggest mobile phone providers, which will enable consumers to 'unlock' their phone for free once they reach the end of their contract. Currently, handset owners spend an estimated £48 million each year unlocking phones that are registered to a particular mobile network, the government said.

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