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How to cancel your broadband contract

By Dan Howdle | Tuesday, July 6th 2021

If you're reading this, chances are you're looking to exit your contract without paying exorbitant early exit fees. Can you do that? In most cases, no. However, there are some special circumstances such as your provider not delivering what's promised where you can. This guide reveals all.

And there are some other ways you can switch early with minimal financial impact too. For example, were you aware that some providers will actually pay off your early exit fees for you across the length of your new contract if you switch to them? Most people aren't but these schemes do exist, and with some popular providers too.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you've already run the course of your existing contract you're free to choose a new broadband deal, but what if you're not? Let's take a look at the ins and outs: When you can switch, when you can't, and what your rights are.

Some providers will pay your exit fees for you

Some providers, such as BT, Sky and Virgin Media will sometimes offer to pay your early exit fees from your existing provider if you switch to them. However, this is not some unlimited fund that will allow you to switch two months into your current contract and suffer no financial penalty. Rather, they will knock a bit off your bill each month up to a fixed limit, so the longer you stay with your new provider, the more you are able to offset your early exit fees from your previous one. If you're considering doing this, just remember the following four points:

  • The amount each provider is willing to pay to buy you out of your existing contract varies from one provider to the next. Check the small print and be sure you understand how it all works before making the jump
  • None of them will actually pay off your existing provider directly. Instead your provider will eke out money back across months or even years of your new contract. That means you will have to pay your early exit fees in full and slowly be reimbursed
  • You will have to forego any other offers. This is the real kicker on these schemes. If, for example, you want to jump to BT because of a large cashback offer, you can either take the cashback or take the reimbursement scheme. You will not be able to have both

That out of the way, this is definitely worth looking into as a way of offsetting the cost of leaving your current contract. Choose a broadband deal you like, then find out what the particulars are in terms of when you will be reimbursed, how, and over what period of time.

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If your broadband provider hikes its prices

This is very straightforward. If your provider raises its prices by even a single penny during the length of your initial contract, you have the right to leave within 30 days of notice of the price rise being received. No ifs, no buts, no charges.

If prices change, your provider is bound, by law, to send you a letter informing you of the change and offering you 30 days after its receipt to switch or stay. If you're in a contract and not happy with what you're getting, this is your get-out-of-jail-free card.

Broadband providers hike their prices often. Usually once or even twice a year. And while these rises may be small to the point they are meaningless to many financially speaking, they do offer a way for you to switch fre of charge. In a way, we should thank providers for this.

Because if you do take that opportunity, you'll be able to take early advantage of all those juicy new-customer deals. Cashback, super-low offer prices, free stuff and so on.

If you're not getting the broadband speed you pay for

If (for example) you were promised 63Mbps, say, and you're getting 8Mbps and you have given your provider ample opportunity to fix or address the problem, you can leave free of charge.

But, there is a catch. There is a difference between advertised speeds and promised speeds. When you sign up to a new broadband deal, you will be quoted the speeds your line is capable of receiving. This speed may differ substantially from the advertised average. The speed on your line may be more, and it may be less.

If you are quoted 3Mbps and you are getting 3Mbps, you cannot go back to your provider and tell them you are leaving because you are not getting the advertised speed. It's the quoted speed that matters. If on the other hand you were quoted 30Mbps on your package that was advertised at 38Mbps, but you're only getting 3Mbps and they can't fix it – this entitles you to leave free of charge.

Broadband cabinet

If you have a fault

If you have a fault and your provider has been unable to fix it, you are entitled to leave your contract and switch to another provider free of charge.

With any fault, though, ultimately there are only two outcomes. Either they can fix it, or they can't. In the meantime, don't forget that you may be entitled to compensation while you wait if your broadband is either ruinously slow or non-existent. Details of how to claim can usually be found in your contract. That won't help you get online (or help you to calm down), but it's something at least. From 1 April 2019, the Automatic Compensation Scheme by Ofcom means broadband and landline customers will get money back from their provider when things go wrong, without having to ask for it. Given the unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ofcom initially said that it would be legitimate for providers not to pay automatic compensation, however as of July 2020, all signatories were able to restart paying automatic compensation for at least some service issues. The pandemic continues to present challenges and there are unique circumstances in which it remains legitimate for providers not to pay automatic compensation. Check Ofcom’s websites for the latest updates and to check if your provider (or the provider you want to switch to) has signed up to the scheme.

Annoyingly, there is no specified length of time you have to put up with poor or non-existent service to qualify you to leave the contract and switch to another provider. Ofcom itself says only that the problems should have persisted for 'some time' before you get to walk away for free. Not very helpful.

The other problem with walking away comes if the intention is to get a better service from a different provider. For example, if there is a fault on your line which will involve digging up roads to fix and that's what's taking the time, switching providers is unlikely to solve your problem. This is because all UK providers (bar Virgin Media) use the same network: Openreach. If you switch from BT to Sky, for example, Sky will still have all the same problems because it operates on the same network.

There is a solution for some of you. If you're on any other provider other than Virgin Media, switching to Virgin Media, if you can get it, will fix your problems. You'll be on a totally different network with a totally different physical line. Likewise, if you're with Virgin Media and the service is bad enough for long enough that you're able to walk away, switching broadband to any other provider will hopefully achieve the same goal.

If your home is a long way from the nearest switching cabinet

It takes about 800 metres of cabling between you and your nearest green Openreach cabinet before the speed you can get starts to drop off. But drop off it does. Off a cliff. Without getting too technical this has to do with frequencies and electrical resistances – all you really need to know is it sucks being a long way from the cabinet.

But how do you know? You could walk the streets until you find it and estimate the distance, but that's still not going to tell you the length of subterranean wiring between it and where you live. Instead, phone your existing provider and ask them straight what the maximum speed is you can actually get. It will be able to give you a good ballpark figure.

If the maximum speed you can get is a mere fraction of the one advertised, and as long as your provider did not warn you in advance, you can leave your contract. Because that's the operative word here: contract. It is also your provider's obligation to you to deliver the service it has promised you.

Automatic fault compensation

As of 2019, automatic compensation became mandatory. If you have a fault and it is not fixed quick-smart, your provider will have to start paying you compensation. For a delayed repair following complete service loss, this is £8 per day. For a missed appointment (the engineer failed to show) it is £25 per missed appointment. For new customers who experience delays getting set up, it's £5 per day including the missed start date. It may not sound like a lot, but it's better than nothing, which is what we had before.

You may wish to consider 4G or 5G mobile broadband for your home

Fixed-line broadband isn't all there is these days. Provider such as Three Broadband and EE are offering home broadband solutions delivered by mobile network. It's a great solution if you live somewhere with awful broadband and no end in sight. 4G customers can expect to get around 20Mbps and if you're lucky enough to live somewhere where 5G is available, 100Mbps to 300Mbps is not beyond reach.

If you're no longer in your contract period

If you've served out your time with your existing provider, you're free to switch to a new broadband deal. Our broadband comparison tools round up almost every deal in the UK and is updated daily. Make use of it to find the deal that suits you.

A final word about complaints

If you want to complain to your provider about your service, especially with a view to leaving your contract early, it's important to know how your provider is law-bound to deal with any complaint you make. The first step is to tell your provider you are making an official complaint. It will note down all the details, so it's a good idea to keep some kind of record of what your problems are and how they have been dealt with thus far.

Your provider must then make a ruling as to whether your complaint is upheld or not. If not, depending on how angry and/or digitally destitute you are, you can still take the matter further via an alternative dispute resolution service, or ADR. In telecoms, the two you need to know about are the Ombudsman Services: Communications, and CICAS. Your broadband provider is required to be a member of at least one of these, so your choice will come down to which that is.

If you're feeling socially spirited, we also recommend you make a second, separate complaint to Ofcom. Ofcom – the UK telecoms regulator – uses complaints from the public to measure satisfaction levels among customers of providers as well as to formulate new rules that may prevent other people finding themselves in similar situations to the one you're in in future.

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