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Your broadband consumer rights

By Claire Nottage | Friday, October 9th 2020

Your broadband contract is a legal agreement binding you and your provider together for the agreed duration, usually 18 months. The deal is that you pay the fees and they provide the service. So what are your rights as a consumer when something goes wrong?

Whether you are not getting the broadband speed you are paying for or your equipment is faulty, your broadband provider is potentially breaking their side of the contract if they do not take action to remedy the problem within a reasonable period. In this guide we look at some of the issues that can crop up, and what your rights are as a consumer.

Your rights as a broadband consumer

In addition to the standard Consumer Contracts Regulations, which give you the right to cancel or return any online purchase within 14 days without penalty, there are several other laws that protect your rights as a consumer when it comes to broadband that are useful to know in case you have an issue with your service.

  • Goods and services a must be fit for purpose, of satisfactory quality and as described according to the Consumer Rights Act 2015. In other words, your router should work, your broadband connection should be live, and you should be receiving the speed you expect
  • The contract with your provider should be fair
  • Both you and your provider must comply by the terms of the contract. This means you pay for the agreed period and your provider supplies the equipment and level of service agreed
  • You have the right to cancel your contract at any point, although in some situations you will be charged a fee
  • Your provider must be registered with an ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Scheme according to the Communications Act 2003, who you can turn to for help if your complaint is not being resolved by your provider

How to complain about your service

If you have a problem that arises after the standard 14-day cooling-off period, your first action should always be to get in touch with your provider. In most cases, there will be a free number to call, so even if you have to wait to speak to someone, you won’t be charged. Alternatively, you can use online chat via the provider’s website if it is available, send an email, or write a letter if that’s your preference. For a faster response, try getting in touch on your provider’s Twitter or Facebook page.

If your broadband is too slow

There can be a number of reasons as to why your broadband speed is not up to scratch. Before you do anything, run a speed test on a device that is connected to your router by a cable, as connecting by wifi results in a slower speed. This will enable you to find out exactly what speed you are currently receiving.

Broadband providers advertise the average speed customers can expect from a specific package, not the actual speed. Most providers, including BT, Sky, Virgin Media, EE, Plusnet and TalkTalk, are signed up to Ofcom’s Voluntary Code of Practice, which requires them to tell you what speed you should expect to receive at your property before you sign up. However, if it is simply the case that the broadband speed you chose is inadequate for your household’s needs, then your supplier is not responsible for your dissatisfaction.

Before contacting your provider to complain, make sure your router is in an optimal position in your home. This should ideally be close to where you spend most of your time, not blocked behind any furniture or close to anything that can cause interference such as a fish tank or fairy lights.

Once you’ve done this, report the problem to your provider and ask that they check the line. It may be a problem they can fix remotely or by a visit from an engineer. If you find that the problem is not fixed within a reasonable time frame and you are still not getting the speed agreed when you signed up, then can ask for compensation or to cancel your service without penalty.

If your broadband connection is not working

If your broadband service has dropped out completely – or stops intermittently – you should ask your provider to investigate this immediately. In many cases, your provider will offer compensation if you are without a service for a couple of days or more. If you are without a broadband connection for four weeks, you are entitled to leave your contract without penalty.

If you are being overcharged

If you think that you are being overcharged, carefully check what your contract says regarding fees; it could be that you have made phone calls out of your calls package – to premium numbers for example – or exceeded your usage limit if you have a data allowance. If neither of these issues apply, then get in touch with your provider’s customer services and explain that you are paying too much and would like a refund. If no refund is forthcoming, you should make a formal complaint.

If your provider raised its prices mid-contract, then it should have given you notice of this, giving you the chance to cancel your contract and leave without penalty. If it did not give you notice, then you have grounds for complaint.

If your equipment is faulty

If you suspect that your router or other technical equipment is not functioning properly, contact your provider and ask for a replacement or for it to be repaired. If your provider does not fix the issue within reasonable time, then you have grounds to complain.

How to contact an ADR Scheme

If you have issued a complaint through your provider’s formal complaint process and it has still not been resolved after eight weeks, then you should request a deadlock letter from your provider. This is formal acknowledgment that a resolution cannot be reached and you can take things to the Alternative Resolution Dispute (ADR) Scheme.

All providers are obliged to use either CISAS or Ombudsmen Services: Communications. You can find out which scheme your provider uses by looking on their website or contacting Ofcom. The ADR will act as an independent mediator between you and your provider in order to achieve a resolution.

How to cancel your broadband

If you decide that you have had enough and want to leave your current broadband provider, you will need to check where you are in your contract period. If your initial 18-month contract has passed, then you are free to leave without penalty at any point. If, however, you are still mid-contract, you are likely to be charged termination fees unless you can prove you are not receiving the service you are paying for, or that the provider has made insufficient effort at resolving your problem.

If you are out of your initial contract period, you simply need to contact your provider and inform it of your intention to leave. We advise that you shop around for a new deal before you make the leap however, so that you are not left without a service. Be aware that some providers charge a small exit fee to any customer that chooses to leave – whatever point they are at in their contract.

When to expect compensation

In certain circumstances, your provider may offer compensation payments. If there is a delay in starting your new broadband service, or in fixing a problem, or even if an engineer has missed an appointment, you can receive automatic compensation. Several providers, including BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Zen and Virgin Media, have signed up to an automatic compensation scheme, which will automatically make payments to customers in these circumstances.

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Frequently asked questions

Can I cancel my broadband when I move house?

Yes, but if you are in the middle of a contract, you will be charged termination fees. If you take your broadband service with you, be aware that some providers demand that you start a new contract at your new address.

Can I cancel a broadband service on behalf of someone who has passed away?

Yes, and in most cases you should not be charged for terminating a contract in the case of a death, even if the initial contract period has not expired. You may be given the option to transfer the contract to another name.

Can I cancel broadband in a shared house?

Regardless of the accommodation set-up, a broadband contract always has to be in a single name, so if you are the account holder, you are entitled to cancel the service, subject to the usual terms and conditions, although you may not be popular with your house mates.

How long is the cooling off period?

All broadband providers are obliged to allow 14 days from the point of ordering for a customer to change their mind and cancel their order without any penalty fees.

Can I leave if my provider rises its prices?

If this price rise occurs while you are mid-contract, then you are permitted to leave without penalty if you wish. If the price rise occurs at the end of your contract, then you can leave at any time without being charged.

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