Consumer champion Martyn James runs through everything you need to know if your relationship with your broadband or mobile provider has turned sour
It’s Valentine’s Day soon – but if you’re over hearts and flowers, fear not! I’ve got just the thing for people who are stuck in a relationship that’s gone a bit stale.
Every year, I like to encourage Mirror readers to ditch a rubbish relationship and start over. Or even run off with a nice partner who cares about you and listens to your concerns. Before you cancel me, I’m not talking about humans! I’m talking about those toxic relationships we all have with rubbish businesses that we just can’t seem to get out of.
This year though, two business sectors have been particularly poor partners and have taken us for granted for too long. Broadband and mobile phone providers. So here’s my guide to how relationships have soured… and what you can do about it.
Price hikes and poor service
The last few weeks have been a torrid time for energy providers. Firstly, the regulator Ofcom published its latest stats that covered which broadband providers were loved the least. I’m not going to comment on that, just have a look and let me know what you think…
Following that announcement, Which? revealed some all-new research that highlighted something I warned about in this column last year. The fact that telecoms companies are still planning to increase your premiums for broadband and mobile phone bills over inflation in April, despite the regulator saying this practice is going to be clamped down on.
The research shows that the proposed price hikes will be the equivalent of paying an extra 13 th month on your contract! So why don’t you just ditch your telecoms company and run off with a new supplier? Well there’s a hefty price for divorce. The research also lays out the cost of exit fees that telecoms firms charge for leaving your contract early. The highest ones topped £500! So how on earth do you ditch a toxic relationship? Here’s my guide.
“It’s not me, it’s you. You’ve changed”
It’s not just prices that change over the course of your relationship with your broadband or mobile phone contract. Your service provider may introduce changes that fundamentally change the agreement you signed up to. And if those changes make a big difference to the original contract you can ask to leave without a penalty.
For example, your broadband provider may have changed aspects of the deal that are vital – like broadband speeds. Or you may find that your TV package has significantly altered so the things you regularly watch have vanished or been watered down.
From a service perspective, you may find that your phone provider has become harder to contact or you’re not happy with their customer service. Another factor could be if you’ve just noticed your mobile phone provider has reintroduced data roaming charges for using your phone in Europe. This could have a big impact on you if you’re planning a holiday or two this year.
“You tricked me in to staying with you”
As I mentioned, when you enter in to a contract with a mobile phone or broadband provider, you’ll have to pay a fee for leaving early. Early termination fees are calculated in a range of ways, but most often by working out how long you have left on your contract then billing a fee for the remaining months. With most providers you’ll need to pay an additional charge too, though this will depend on the tariff you’re on and will vary quite a bit.
This makes it ridiculously complicated to know what you’ll pay to leave a deal early when you sign up. If you weren’t warned about these charges, or the contract isn’t clear, you can argue it was mis-sold. I’d encourage anyone who feels this is accurate to incorporate mis-selling in to a complaint and take it to the Communications Ombudsman (more on them later).
“We’re experiencing irreconcilable differences”
Sometimes the love just fades away and the relationship breaks down between you and your phone or broadband company. As with any relationship, it pays to be honest with yourself about where the blame lies. If a business has treated you badly and refuses to listen, spell out why you feel the relationship isn’t working and why you want to walk away. Make sure you list the things they’ve done wrong – and mention you’re going to the ombudsman.
A business should not take any action against you because you’ve made a complaint, but bear in mind if you owe them money for a handset, you’ll need to pay that off. A complaint doesn’t wipe out some of your obligations.
“You’re just not putting in the effort anymore”
The gulf between promises and reality can be wide in relationships. One of the easiest ways to dump your telecoms provider is by highlighting their faults. With mobile phone and broadband companies, you can monitor the service they provide easily.
All you need to do is download or use a few of the free apps or websites that monitor these services. You can find signal monitors for your phone that cover your local area. These can show if there’s a problem where you live that’s affecting your ability to use your phone. Similarly, there’s a wealth of broadband speed checkers online, often with the supplier themselves.
Take screenshots over a period of time after warning the firm you’re putting them on notice. This proof of a half-hearted commitment is your ticket to a new relationship!
“The distance is too much”
If you’ve moved to another part of the country, you might not have the signal you need from your phone provider or broadband may not be possible from the same provider. The fact of the matter is, if your service isn’t available or as good in your new home you shouldn’t have to pay an exit fee.
Astoundingly, some firms are still digging their heels in over this. Don’t take no for an answer. Be polite but firm and ask the business to waive charges if you can’t get the service – and take it further if they don’t listen. Where service is patchy, it’s a bit more complicated. If you’re mobile phone signal or broadband speed is now poor then tell the firm, take regular tests using those free apps that I mentioned and if you can back up your claims, insist they waive fees.
Don’t forget that you can make a complaint about most mobile phone or broadband problems to the Ombudsman. There are two ombudsman services confusingly and your service provider will tell you which one they are signed up to.
Ombudsman schemes are free and are plain English, accessible alternatives to the court. The ombudsman’s decision is ultimately binding on the firm (but not you). The largest of the services is the Communications Ombudsman. Alternatively you can contact CISAS.
- Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist