The Phone Co-op is one of the fastest growing telecoms suppliers in Britain and one of the most unique – yet many people may not have heard of it.
It differs from other phone providers in many ways but the main difference is that it is part of a co-operative – a member-owned company that is run for the benefit of its customers – as opposed to investors or shareholders being in charge.
Co-operatives have a keen focus on being ethical and sustainable with the Phone Co-op becoming the sole UK stockist of Fairphone, the world’s first ‘ethical smartphone’, in 2014 – devices designed and produced with minimal environmental impact.
In keeping with running an ethical firm, those who are members of the co-operative get a democratic voice in how the business is run, helping decide on different policies that could be put in place.
The Phone Co-op is part of the Midcountries Co-operative which is the largest in the country
Initially founded in 1998, the Phone Co-op licensed the Co-operative brand name in 2012 and joined the Midcounties Co-operative in June 2018 – the largest consumer co-operative in the country, which is also responsible for Co-op food, funeral care, travel, pharmacy, Post Office, childcare, flexible benefits and energy.
The group also used to have a stake in the Co-op bank but it sold its final holding in 2017 after the bank fell into financial trouble in 2013.
A spokesperson for the Phone Co-op said: ‘The Phone Co-op provides services to both businesses and residential customers, including mobile communications and broadband.
‘What the co-operative structure means, and has meant for 20 years now, is that we put caring for customers and our people at the heart of everything we do, working to build long-lasting relationships with our customers rather than focusing on quick sales and short-term profits.
‘We also prioritise the communities we operate in, and the environment, using our profits to invest in other co-operatives, community benefit societies or socially responsible projects, such as Southill Community Energy – a community-led solar farm in Oxfordshire – and the Towy Timber Co-operative, which makes garden furniture from UK-grown timber, using renewable energy.’
Since joining Midcounties Co-operative, which is a £1.9billion business with over 500 sites and 667,000 members, the Phone Co-op has been able to expand its reach and has now amassed around 20,000 residential customers and 2,500 business ones.
The Midcounties Co-operative is responsible is most well known for its food stores in the UK
It doesn’t have its own phone network, as it is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), however, whilst most MVNO’s use just the one network, the Phone Co-op allows users to choose how what network they want to use, for example, EE, O2 or Vodafone.
The Phone Co-op offers both mobile phone contracts and Sim-only deals with all contracts coming with unlimited texts and minutes with the choice of data plan from 1GB to 30GB.
Sim-only customers can either go on pay as you go or monthly contracts with the monthly deals offering customers unlimited texts and minutes as standard with then a choice of data plan which alters overall price.
Customers also choose a limit for their phone, allowing them to go over their contract by a certain amount, starting from £0 and ending at £50.
It doesn’t offer the cheapest mobile and broadband offers but they certainly aren’t the most expensive either and for those looking to choose ethically, it could be worth the extra price tag.
Anyone looking to join a co-operative can as membership is open to all but when joining, members must invest a minimum of a £1 which entitles them to a share in the business.
Members are also paid dividends with the amount paid determined by how much the member has spent with the co-operative during the year.
The dividends are paid out of the profits that are generated by the co-operative.
Giving members a voice is one of a series of principles, known as the Rochdale Principles, that co-operatives follow to give them their core values.
Another principle is ‘co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members’, putting an emphasis on maintaining local communities through ethical approaches.
Today, co-operatives are often set up with an intention to give back to their communities, whether by creating value in communities or sharing profits with community groups, and/or to ‘fix’ markets that aren’t perceived to be working in consumers’ interests.
Membership cards are given to members which allows them to collect points either by spending in stores or attending events. The points are then converted into vouchers twice a year.