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Ofcom to investigate broadband providers 'systematically making it difficult' for customers to switch

Wednesday, June 10th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Ofcom has launched an investigation into the difficulties consumers face when trying to get out of broadband and phone contracts.

The communications watchdog announced it has started what it calls a ‘monitoring and enforcement programme’ to look at the cancellation and termination arrangements of providers offering landline, mobile, broadband and subscription TV services.

The probe will look at the impact these arrangements have on consumers’ abilities to exit their contract “quickly, conveniently and without error”.

Tales of customers being stung by hidden charges when they try to cancel their broadband or mobile contracts or switch providers regularly hit the headlines, with calls for more transparency.

Announcing its monitoring and enforcement programme, Ofcom said it receives a large number of complaints about the difficulties experienced by consumers trying to exit their contract, suggesting that providers are “systematically making it difficult”.

“We consider that this allegation is extremely serious, and, if sustained, may result in significant consumer harm within the market for UK communications goods and services,” it said.

The six-month programme will look at areas including customer service concerns such as long call centre waiting times when trying to cancel a service; difficulties in securing mobile PACs; billing continuing after a contract has ended; and problems unlocking handsets after a contract is over.

A PAC (Porting Authorisation Code) is the code you need when you want to transfer your mobile number across networks, known as 'number porting'.

'Contract issues'

Ofcom could launch separate investigations into named providers and could also take enforcement action if it believes a provider is breaking the rules regarding cancellation and termination arrangements, it said.

In March, Cable.co.uk reported that contract issues made up nearly a fifth of complaints to the communications ombudsman about broadband and mobile phone providers.

Ombudsman Services, which also covers the energy, property and copyright licensing industries, handled 19,288 communications complaints in 2014 – a 20% increase on 2013.

The most common complaints related to service (28%), contract issues (18%) and customer service (17%).

Disputed charges, including broadband and download charges, call charges, engineers’ charges and data roaming, accounted for 15% of the communications complaints handled in 2014.

Ombudsman Services is one of two alternative dispute resolution schemes in the UK that deal with telecoms service providers, along with the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme.

All communications providers must belong to one of these schemes.

Ofcom looks at how issues affect UK consumers as a whole, but does not investigate individual complaints.

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