Dan Howdle | Updated May 15th, 2022

How to switch your broadband provider

Switching broadband providers is much easier than most people assume. Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, has put in place rules that make switching broadband almost as frictionless as switching your electricity provider. The tricky bit is choosing a new broadband deal that’s suited to you.

Woman on laptop

Below you’ll find a step by step guide to switching broadband – and if you’re moving house, there’s a guide for that, too.

Check if you're still in contract

First of all, you'll need to know if you're still in your contract period. Legislation was introduced a few years ago obliging broadband providers to notify customers when their contract is about to expire – so if yours is, then you should have heard from them. If not, then think back to how long you've been with your current provider – contract lengths are never longer than 24 months, so if you haven't switched provider for a few years, you're almost certainly out of contract by now. If you're not sure, you can always contact them to check.

Out of contract? Then potentially, that's really good news. You're quite likely paying more than you need to and could save money by switching. Prices almost always go up once the contract expires – sometimes significantly – and the providers offer really great deals to tempt customers away from their rivals. Head this way for a guide on what happens at the end of your broadband contract.

If, however, you’re still in current contract, there'll quite likely be a fee for leaving early. This is usually the entire sum of the remaining monthly payments on your contract. However, there are a few exceptions to this. For example, you may be in a 'cooling off period', which means you can cancel at any time, free of charge. Or if your monthly fee has increased, then your provider must inform you of this and you have the right to cancel your contract with 30 days. Again, no fee. Finally, if the service has been persistently poor, you may have the right to cancel and walk away. But this is something you'll need to negotiate and ultimately you may have to contact the Communications Ombudsman, who should be able to help resolve any dispute.

What can I get in my area?

If, like a lot of people recently, you find the speed of your broadband just isn't good enough anymore, then switching provider can offer you the most cost-effective way to up your broadband game. Your current provider may well let you move up to the next level, but it's unlikely to be as cheap as moving to a similar speed deal with a new provider. And, if you're lucky enough to live in one of the six million or so homes which can access next generation full fibre (or FTTP as it's often called), then you may have to switch provider to get it anyway as not all providers offer full fibre.

Then of course, there's Virgin Media, which has its own fibre optic network and is available to around 55% of UK homes. It's the UK's fastest widely available broadband, and pretty much anyone who can access it is able to achieve speeds of over 1.100Mbps, which a few years ago was simply unheard of.

Allow at least 10Mbps for every household member who regularly uses the internet, but up that to 20Mbps for any person who regularly plays video games or who streams movies and TV shows in 4K resolution. The total should give you a rough idea of the internet speed you might need, but for a more in-depth guide to broadband speeds, take a look at this guide.

As we say, not all broadband packages are available everywhere, but if you type in your postcode below we can check what’s available at your address – it’s quite safe, we don’t store this information.

Check your area

Choose your package

Think carefully before choosing a broadband deal on its own. There are often deals that will provide you with a subscription TV service at a discounted or even negligible additional cost, which could work out a lot cheaper than paying for TV separately. Some companies also offer bundles with discounted mobile SIMs, which again could work out cheaper than paying for a phone separately.

Note that if you’re switching broadband providers, you will almost certainly have to change your landline provider at the same time, although there are exceptions. However, you will be able to keep your existing phone number if you switch.

Compare discounts, vouchers and other offers

In a crowded telecoms marketplace, broadband providers are falling over themselves to offer the best enticements to sign up. These range from ultra-cheap monthly payments to gift vouchers (anything from £25 to £275) or free gifts such as a smart speaker, TV or games console.

Things such as gifts should be the next most important factor after you’ve decided on speed, budget and the services you want. Head this way to see what free gifts are currently being offered.

Contact your existing broadband provider

A couple of years ago, Ofcom changed the rules so that in most cases you don’t have to call your existing provider to tell them you’re leaving, as long as your old provider and your new provider are both using the Openreach network. So that's all ADSL, FTTC and FTTP services.

However, Virgin Media uses a completely separate network, so if you're switching to them, you will need to inform your current provider. And, likewise, if you're switching from Virgin Media to another company, the arrangements won't be taken care of automatically – you'll have to let Virgin Media know. Don't worry, we're put together a guide on switching from or to Virgin Media, which should help clarify things.

Wait for your installation date

Now that you’ve chosen a deal you’re happy with, all you need to do is wait for the installation to take place. Typically, this will mean an engineer visit on the day of the switch, which is often around two weeks after the date you signed up. Usually, you won’t be without a connection for anything more than a few hours at most, and often the process is totally seamless.

Over the last few years, most broadband providers have had to delay engineer visits owing to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, engineers are again conducting home installations, but with the obvious health and safety precautions in place. Often though, self-installation is an option. It's usually self-explanatory, but if in doubt, check out our guide on how to set up your Wi-Fi router.

Need help choosing the best deal? Call us on
0800 977 5727

Our experts are available from 9am-6pm Monday to Saturday

Frequently asked questions

Will I be without broadband during the switch?

No. Or at least, not for very long. Unless there is some kind of fault (and this is rare), the most you will be without broadband will be for an hour or two. More commonly the process is totally seamless. Occasionally there can be a 'bed-in' period, but if that's the case things should settle down after a week or so.

When can I switch to a new broadband supplier?

Two options: either when your current contract runs out, or when there are few enough months that you don’t mind paying a small amount in exit fees – or if your exit fees will be covered by your new provider. You can also switch at any time in your contract with no exit fees if your provider fails to deliver the service it promises. See Ofcom or the Communications Ombudsman for more details.

Can I keep my existing phone number?

Yes. But only if you want to. Increasingly people are opting out of a landline altogether and, while that didn't used to be an option, the next generation FTTP networks means it's now completely optional. However, if you would like to keep a landline (and it does give you some reassurance in case of emergencies, if nothing else) you you'll be switching landline provider along with your broadband. You can usually request a new number if that's preferred.

How long does it take to switch?

The whole process will take you around 10-15 minutes to compare and find the deal you want, followed by a wait of a couple of weeks for installation and maybe an hour at home while the engineer does the work, depending on who you switch from and to.

Who is the best broadband provider?

Shell Energy Broadband is the cheapest, Plusnet has won the most awards for its customer service. Virgin Media is by magnitudes the fastest, and Sky offers the best subscription TV to bundle in with your broadband. There is no overall ‘best’ as it depends entirely on what is most important to you.

Can I keep my email address if I switch?

TalkTalk will allow you to keep it for a year, then delete it. For Virgin Media, you get to keep it for 90 days. Plusnet will let you keep it, but you will have to continue paying the provider a small amount to do so, while BT and Sky let you keep your email address indefinitely whether you switch or not, as long as you use it occasionally.

Are there any hidden costs or exit charges I should be aware of?

Only early exit fees if you’re leaving before the end of your contract.

What if my new broadband service is slow, broken or otherwise terrible?

If you sign up to a new provider and the service you’re getting is not what was advertised (you’re getting a fraction of the speed), and you’ve given your new provider ample opportunity to fix it with no joy, you can leave free of charge – although, as we mention above, this may take some negotiation. You can also leave for free if your provider raises its prices – when it does so, you’ll have a 30-day window either to jump ship or stay put.

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