Finally, I can bring you some good news! The Government has just announced that the big nine broadband and mobile phone service providers have agreed to some immediate changes to support people struggling with their bills.
The measures include allowing penalty-free transfers to new service providers for people unable to pay their current contracts, affordable payment plans if cash is tight and an obligation on the firms to promote cheaper deals.
I’ve been calling for these changes for many years, so I’m pleased to see that the proposals below are happening immediately. The devil is in the detail, of course, but here are the highlights.
What’s been announced?
The Government got together with pretty much all of the mobile and broadband businesses and agreed that changes needed to happen urgently. The new commitments they’ve made, which take effect immediately, say the businesses will:
- Support people who tell them that they are struggling financially and commit to helping them with their bills, including coming up with manageable payment plans.
- Make sure that broadband and mobile services remain connected.
- Allowing people to transfer to other service providers without charges or penalties.
- Prioritise customers who might be more vulnerable to ensure they stay connected and promote the cheapest deals to those on benefits or have mentioned financial difficulties.
There are also new rules from regulator OFCOM which came in recently too about making contracts clearer.
You will now be given a one page summary sheet explaining the ‘key facts’ about your mobile or broadband contract before you sign up, which will cover fees, mid-contract changes and other important information you need to know.
The businesses must now explain in plain English about how inflation impacts your bill mid-contract. This is because broadband and mobile firms have been announcing hefty increases in the cost of contracts mid-term that were much higher than inflation. Of course, with inflation at a 40 year high this is more important than ever.
The rules will also clarify and simplify the existing OFCOM requirements covering minimum speed of service, contract terms and more.
Why does this matter?
Broadband customers in particular often complain about poor service, uncontactable firms and rocketing bills. Worst of all, exit fees can be jaw-dropping if you leave a contract early. I’ve previously warned in this column and on television about exit fees that can approach £300!
It’s always been hard to summarise these costs as they are calculated using opaque methods which are also dependant on how far in to your contract you are. Disappointingly, some businesses took a rather militant attitude to these changes, insisting that people paid even when they moved to places where the service wasn’t available.
What if I don’t qualify for help?
The new rules are for people in financial difficulties, but as we are yet to hear how businesses are defining that, there’s the potential for inconsistency of approach if that definition isn’t clear, which is a concern (I’m on to this with the Government).
However, even if you don’t qualify for a reduction in fees under the new rules for leaving mobile or broadband providers early, you might still be able to do so. Have a think if these problems affect you – they might get you out of the contract for free too.
- If the service has changed fundamentally, like withdrawing perks or making significant changes, you can ask to walk away and have the exit fees dropped.
- If you’ve moved to another part of the country where the services is unavailable you should not be penalised.
- If your signal or service is poor, take regular broadband and mobile speed tests using one of the many free apps there are out there and you’ll be able to prove the service isn’t doing what you were promised.
Don’t forget you can take your complaint to the Ombudsman if you are unhappy and it’s free to do so!
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.