Virgin Media to home movers: You’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t
The explanation for how this works from Virgin Media’s own website reads thus: “If you decide to end part or all of your services with Virgin Media during a minimum period, then we’ll usually charge you an Early Disconnection Fee instead of the remaining payments for your minimum period for each service.”
In essence, this isn’t entirely dissimilar to the policies of other providers. If you cancel before the agreed end of your contract, you pay the rest of the contract regardless. Providers tend to see customer contracts a bit like loans – they’re connecting you up for a minimum of a year and letting you pay in instalments. If you quit early, you still bought the product.
This in itself may seem unfair to some, but realistically providers need some way to ensure that the investment they make in you as a customer – connecting you up, bolting a dish to your house, giving you equipment (router, set-top box and so on) – is properly compensated for. You can’t expect something for nothing after all.
Where Virgin Media diverges from that pack, however is with this little nugget: “An Early Disconnection Fee is also charged when you move to another address during a minimum period, and don’t continue with Virgin Media services for any reason. This includes if we’re unable to provide our services at your new address.”
Virgin Media wants its exit charges, no matter what
Hold the phone. Did that just say what I think it said? Yes. Yes it did. If you move house and Virgin Media isn’t available at your new address, Virgin Media expects you to pay the remainder of your contract regardless. This is the equivalent of turning up at your holiday destination to find your hotel overbooked, only to be told by the concierge that you must pay for the whole week anyway.
Because whether you can get Virgin Media at your new address is not up to you – it’s up to Virgin Media. The onus should on them for continuity of service, not for you, their customer, to compensate them for the inadequacies of their rollout. But wait, it gets better (worse)…
“If you move to another address and continue with Virgin Media services, we waive any Early Disconnection Fee that would be charged for your fixed term contract minimum period, and you’ll begin a new minimum period at your new address.”
Hold the phone (again, sorry, but it's the only telecoms idiom). What this means is, if Virgin Media services ARE available at your new address, not only will you have to continue with them (fairly fair enough) or pay the remainder of the contract to leave it, but you’ll also have to sign a brand new contract, tying you in for another whole year.
Let’s look at a hypothetical. Say you signed up to Virgin Media in January of this year. At the time you had no idea that you would be moving from where you are, but a new job means you’ve had to relocate. Your new house doesn’t have Virgin Media available. This means that, despite it being entirely Virgin Media’s fault that it is unavailable, you’ll be paying the remainder. If you were paying £45 per month, say, for your services at your old address, you’d have to pay Virgin Media. That’ll be £225 thank you very much.
Ofcom is all over this right now
Doesn’t seem very fair, does it? And the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, is currently investigating whether these fees are fair, and whether or not they comply with the Consumer Rights Act. It has received – unsurprisingly – a fair number of complaints on the issue.
Specifically, Ofcom will be looking at general condition GC9.3, meant to “Ensure that the conditions which apply if you terminate your contract don’t disincentivise you from changing to a new provider, e.g. through excessive early termination charges.”
Don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like an open and shut case.
I myself am a Virgin Media customer, and though very happy with the service I receive, I believe its stance on contracts and home movers to be grossly unfair. Rumour has it that if you find yourself in this situation and kick up a big enough stink (such as threatening to complain to Ofcom), Virgin Media might relent and waive this draconian fee. There are no guarantees at this stage, however.
Ofcom will announce the results from its inquiry later this year.
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