I hate my broadband company. There, I said it. I really hate the poor helplines, terrible complaint responses and rubbish service. However, I work from home for much of the time and a lot of my TV and radio interviews take place from my living room – as does the Mirror’s Facebook Live events! I was so worried about being without WIFI if something went wrong that I stalled voting with my feet and moving to another broadband provider.

Well, I could kick myself, as I’ve halved my broadband and TV package to £40. The fact remains that most of the people whose deals have ended will be paying increasing payments for staying loyal, when the savings we could be making can make a major dent in our budgets during the cost-of-living crisis. By switching, I’ve saved £540 a year – which is twice the amount I’d have saved if I followed every single piece of energy saving advice that’s out there (around £250 to £300 on average if you turn everything off or use things less).

Of course, many people are stuck with expensive contracts that charge huge exit fees. But there are ways to tackle that.

In this column, I’ll cover the all-new options available to people in receipt of benefits – and what you can do if you’re just trapped in a rubbish contract.

Social tariffs and better broadband deals

The cost-of-living crisis focused the Government’s attention not just on energy, but on other sectors that provide essential services. The broadband and communications big brands were duly summoned to a meeting and an agreement was thrashed out to help the people struggling the most escape their contracts without penalties and save some cash. The new deals are known as ‘social tariffs’.

Like any quickly agreed plans, there are a few quirks and gaps – and it’s not law, or a new regulation, meaning not every business is signed up. There’s quite a bit of variance on what benefits qualify you for the deal too. But overall, most people should be able to move contracts to a cheaper one without penalty.

According to regulator Ofcom, over 8 million people are potentially struggling to pay their broadband bills. What’s astounding though, is the vast majority of people don’t know about social tariffs, with 97% of people who are potentially entitled to use them are not currently on the better deals.

You can apply to switch to social tariffs online or on the phone, but be warned. It’s not always easy to find the information online. I’d type ‘social tariff’ and the name of the firm in to a search drive to save you lots of frustrating clicking around websites. Some broadband providers are using different terms too, confusingly, like ‘essential’ or ‘basic’ broadband. As a starting point, contact your broadband provider and ask them about the social tariff deals they have available, then see if you can find anything better online. Prices range from around £10 to £20 a month, so it really is worth it. If you need faster broadband speeds for work or keeping in touch with your family and friends, then this is usually possible for a little more too.

To give you an example of the speeds you might need to look for, 10-15Mbps – megabits per second – should be enough for individuals. You need up to 5Mbps for most streaming sites, for example superfast fibre speeds tend to be over 30Mbps. Though these speeds are averages – as you’ll be aware, the actual speed you get will vary.

You should be able to leave your existing deal mid-contract without having to pay an exit fee. In addition, set up costs should be minimal, there will be no mid-contract price rise and you should be able to leave without a fee too.

Most social tariffs are available to people who receive Universal Credit, but some include other benefits too.

What about people who don’t get benefits?

Millions of people who don’t qualify for benefits may still be struggling financially. Just like with energy, the broadband providers should be factoring in your circumstances if you are struggling to pay a bill. Here’s Ofcom’s guide: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/costs-and-billing/disputing-a-bill

Start by making a list of your incomings and outgoings as you’ll need this when speaking to the business. Make sure you tell the business that you need help with paying a bill. They should look at your circumstances and offer you a plan tailored to your needs. This might involve transferring you to a cheaper deal, coming up with a payment plan to give you a bit of breathing space and helping you cut parts of your existing deal that you don’t need.

If you don’t qualify for any support with your current deal and you are mid-contract, you’ll need to get a bit crafty. You are usually stuck with exit fees – which can be outrageously high. But if the business isn’t meeting its side of the contract, you might be able to leave early without charge, or at least renegotiate.

If the business has changed the way it operates, withdrawn services or introduced significant changes, you can ask to walk away and have the exit fees dropped. Make a complaint stating why explain why the contract has changed for the worse. This is especially useful if the price goes up mid-contract and you can’t afford it. Remember you can go to a free ombudsman service if you’re unhappy. The same goes for poor service and the failure to address problems with the service.

Where service is patchy, it’s a bit more complicated. If your broadband speed is poor, then tell the firm, take regular signal tests using one of the many free apps there are out there. That way you can demonstrate that there’s a problem the firm should let you go without charging you. If the business is not providing the average speeds, it promised you, it’s possible to break the contract early.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James


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