End of contract and annual best tariff notifications
By Dan Howdle | Tuesday, July 6th 2021
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.
What is an end of contract notification (ECN)?
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 an ECN, it will contain some or all of the following (it varies by provider).
- What you're currently paying – An ECN will first show what your current monthly bill is
- End date of your contract – It will arrive 10-40 days before the end of your contract, and will display the date of the final day of your contract
- Post-contract pricing – If the price of your services is set to change at the end of your contract – this is very common – the new price will be clearly shown
- Best alternatives from the same provider – If the provider is able to provide alternatives, they will be shown on your ECN
- Details of all your current services – The ECN will show all the services you are currently signed up to under your contract
- How to terminate/cancel your contract – The ECN will provide details of how you should go about cancelling or switching away to another provider
- Any fees you will incur from cancelling/switching – This should always be zero, but if there are any hidden cancellation costs post-contract they will be listed in the ECN most of the time
What is an annual best tariff notification (ABTN)?
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.
- What you're currently paying – An ABTN will remind you how much you are paying on your current contract
- A reminder that you are free to switch – The text of an ABTN has to contain a reminder that you are no longer in your contract and are free to switch to another provider or tariff
- Notice period – The current notice period for cancellation or switching. This is usually 14-30 days even when you are out of your current contract
- Details of all your current services – The ABTN will show all of the services you are currently signed up to
- Details of the provider's best tariff – The entire point of this document really. Your provider must show you the best possible price for the services you currently get, or the most economical alternative option they can switch you to
Benefits of an end of contract notification or annual best tariff notification
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…
- 8.8 million broadband customers are paying too much – Recent studies show nearly nine million of us are paying too much for our broadband. The new rules will mean that not only are you notified when your contract is up so you know when you can switch, but also that your provider will have to offer you a lower tariff if one is available
- At contract end you are free to switch – Whether broadband, TV or mobile contract, once the time's up you're free to go elsewhere. Switching to another provider often means taking advantage of new customer sign-up deals, many of which include cashback, vouchers or free gifts. If you don't switch, you miss out on these
- 12-24 months is a long time and people forget – Notification of contract end is important because 1-2 years is a long time to be tied into a contract with a provider, and the data shows that time after time we forget to switch and save when we can
What to do if your provider has been overcharging you
Back in spring of 2020, very few people had received an ECN and no one had 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 provider has been overcharging you, we would advise switching (if you can) and letting your provider know exactly why.
Frequently asked questions
When will I receive notification of the end of my broadband, TV or mobile contract?
You will receive notification somewhere between ten and 40 days prior to the last day of your existing contract.
How do I find out if I'm still in my broadband, mobile or TV contract period?
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.
Does my current broadband, TV or mobile provider have to offer me a better deal at the end of my contract?
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.
Can I claim money back if I discover my provider has been overcharging me?
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 not reoccur.