By Dan Howdle | Wednesday, April 15th 2020
Broadband, TV and mobile providers want to keep their customers for as long as possible. One potentially shady aspect of that desire has been failing to inform customers when their contract is up. In actual fact, until very recently, there has been no rule or law obligating companies to do that.
But that is all changing. The 'good old days' (as far as providers are concerned), where they could roll your contract onward without informing you that you have the option to switch, are over. Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, has now put in place a set of rules that ensure customers are informed when their contract is up.
In broadband alone, there are nearly nine million UK customers paying more than they have to, many simply because they do not know their contract is up. And mobile providers have been caught continuing to charge customers the hire-purchase amount for the handset they own long after they have paid off the handset. Let's take a look at how things are changing.
While it would be wrong to call providers 'evil', it's worth remembering they are not your friends, no matter how much their marketing makes it appear that way. Providers will always act within the bounds of law and regulation, however if there is wiggle room to, for example, omit information which might lead customers to switch away, then they will. That's where Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, comes in.
Up until 15 February 2020 providers of broadband, TV or mobile services were under no obligation to inform their customers when their contract was at an end, nor whether there is a cheaper tariff available that they might switch to. But broadband, TV and mobile, it appears, are set to go the way of energy, with providers compelled to ensure customers are getting the best deal.
An 'ECN' or 'end of contract notification' will be received via your chosen communications preference – usually via post or email. You will receive one 10-40 days before the end of your mobile, broadband or TV contract, provided your contract ends after the start of April 2020. When you receive and ECN, it will contain some or all of the following (it varies by provider).
So, an ECN informs you that your contract is over just before your contract period has indeed come to an end. In addition to ECNs the other new document you can expect to receive from your provider is an 'ABTN', or 'annual best tariff notification'. Unlike an ECN, you will receive one of these every 12 months once your contract has ended.
That's because quite a lot of us do just want to stay with our current provider and have no interest in switching. The problem is, though, that even if we choose not to switch there is a good chance that we're not going to be aware that we could be paying less. Take mobile deals for example. At the start of the contract a 30GB data limit may cost £40 per month, but two years later you may be able to get twice as much data or pay half as much. Things move on.
You won't get an ABTN during your contract period or at the end of your contract (when you'll get an ECN). Instead, you will get your first one 12 months after the end of your contract, provided you haven't switched tariff or provider. Here is the information an ABTN is likely to contain.
So why do we need these? Could be that you are someone who always keeps a close eye on your bills, your contracts and you're always ready to seek out a better deal or knowingly keep paying what you're paying. If that's you then this isn't really aimed at you. Spare a thought, though, for the very many of us who have a tendency to forget when our contract is up, or aren't aware there is a better deal. Because…
At the time of writing, during spring of 2020, very few people will have received an ECN and no one will have received an ABTN. But as more and more of us do receive both, there are going to be a great many who discover they have been paying far too much for far too long. So what's your recourse if that turns out to be you? And is there any chance of getting any of that money back?
Sadly, at this present time, the answer is going to be no. There is no way to get your money back. Ofcom's measures are designed to see to it that overcharging does not occur in future rather than to fix past mistakes. If your has been overcharging you, and if you can, we would advise switching and letting your provider know exactly why.
After 15 February 2020 you will receive notification somewhere between ten and 40 days prior to the last day of your existing contract.
The quickest and easiest way is to visit your provider's website and login to your online account. From there you will be able to view your account details, which should include the end date for your current contract. If that date has passed, you are no longer under contract and may switch. Alternatively, you can call your provider.
No. In some instances you may find you are still on the best deal available. If not, your provider must inform you if there is a better deal available that your contract terms allow you to switch to.
Sadly, no. There is currently no provision for customers who have been overcharged to receive reimbursement. These new regulations are designed instead to ensure that such overcharging does no reoccur.