Why does sending a text to a short code fail

Why can’t I text a 5 digit short code?

Sometimes when you try to send a text to shortcode, the text unexpectedly fails to send.

You get something that looks similar to this phone screen below

example of failed text to a short code
The message hasn’t been sent but there’s no explanation as to why.

What are 5 digit short codes?

Short codes are 5 digit numbers that organisations use as a simple and responsive way of allowing people to contact them by text.

The most common use is a response mechanic for advertising. You’ll have seen this many times before.

Here’s an example.

example text to short code

You’ve probably seen 5 digit short codes being used on TV, radio., poster and online.

They’re very common.

Short codes are also used for premium rate services. They’re used a great deal for TV voting systems or text to win competitions.

With premium rate short codes you are charged a set amount to vote or enter the competition.

The amount you are charged ranges from 25 pence up to £10.

7 reasons why sending texts to short codes sometimes fail?

There are a few reasons why a text might fail to send, let’s cover them starting with the most common.

1. Phone is on a pay as you go tariff and has zero credit

Whenever you text a short code, it costs one text at the network’s standard rate.

In the UK, that’s usually between 8 and 12 pence.

Sending texts to short codes is not included in any free text bundle that might be part of a customer contract, so it will always cost 1 text at the standard rate.

If a phone is on a pay as you go tariff and there is no airtime credit on the phone, then you won’t be able to send a text to any short code.

On most UK networks, users will receive error code 28 that indicates that the phone does not have sufficient credis to send the text.

This is by the most common reason that texts to short codes fail.

2. Phone is on a business tariff with additional charge blocker

Verified SMS

Many business phone contracts do not allow employees to text any premium rate service. They understandably don’t want employees to rack up huge bills on non-business services.

While short codes can be used for a premium rate service (which can cost up to £10 to use), almost all text response campaigns cost just 1 text at the standard rate.

Mobile network systems are unable to detect whether a shortcode is being used for a premium rate service or texts cost just one standard rate text.

The contracts ban the texting of all short codes even if they are standard rate.

3. Texting short code from outside the UK

Old nokia phone blue

You cannot text a UK 5 digit short code if you are outside the UK. They only work if your phone is directly connected to a UK network.

4. Texting from a non-UK number

Short codes do not operate on an international basis. They only work if you are texting from a UK phone.

Most countries have their own short codes but there’s no such thing as international short code that operate across territories. 

5. Optional account setting, restricting texting to 5 digit short codes

Most phone contracts will allow the customer to block sending texts to premium rate services. If this setting has been activated, all texts to short codes will be barred.

To resolve this issue it’s simply a case of rummaging about in the phone’s setting and enabling premium rate services.

6. The service you are texting is no longer active

restricted time zone

Most short code service only run for specific period. If you are entering a competition by text, it will have an expiry date.

If you enter after the closure of the competition, then you won’t be able to text the short code.

7. The keyword and shortcode have been identified as fraudulent and have been shut down

Premium rate SMS scamming isn’t nearly as common as it used to be. Thanks goodness. 

The scam works by inviting you to text a keyword to a short code. The user assumes they will be charged one text at their normal rate.

Only when their mobile phone bill arrives do they realise that they’ve been charged a premium rate text. This could be any amount between 25 pence and £5 in the UK.

Authorities have the ability to shut down and fine anyone operating a premium rate SMS scam. 

So if you find you can’t text a short code, you may have luckily just avoided a scam. 

Related articles

Why has my text not arrived on a phone. Find out the 13 most common reasons a text messages fails to send.

Asda rolled out RCS messaging to its customers. What is RCS and was it good plan?

Have you heard of Flash SMS? 


author avatar
Henry Cazalet Managing Director
Co-founder and Director of The SMS Works, a low cost and powerful SMS API for developers. About Henry