When you buy a broadband package, you’re signing a legally binding contract with the internet service provider (ISP). But what happens if you have a dispute, you need to cancel, or the service fails to perform as expected?
In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about your rights as a broadband consumer, and how to use those rights to solve problems when you have a dispute.
Broadband Consumer Rights: The Key Points
What are your broadband consumer rights?
You have numerous rights as a broadband consumer which help to protect you:
- Goods and services must be fit for purpose, of satisfactory quality, and as described. For broadband, that means the connection should work, and it should work at a suitable speed.
- Your provider must register with an ADR or Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme to mediate disputes.
- The contract should be fair.
- You and the provider must comply with the terms of the contract.
Key legislation for broadband consumers
There are several important pieces of legislation that govern your rights as a broadband consumer.
Communications Act 2003
The Communications Act 2003 tells providers that they must be signed up for an ADR. In the event you have a complaint that you can’t resolve, an ombudsman can step in.
Consumer Contracts Regulations
This important bit of law gives you rights when you make an online purchase, including broadband. For example, it gives you a minimum 14-day cooling-off period to cancel.
This replaces the Distance Selling Regulations for any contract after 13 June 2014.
Consumer Rights Act 2015
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 any goods or services must be:
- Fit for purpose
- As described
- Of satisfactory quality
What this means for broadband is that you may be able to get a refund or compensation if you’re able to prove that the service wasn’t accurately described. That includes the equipment, such as the Wi-Fi router, or if your broadband fails to perform as you expect.
What are my rights if my broadband speed is too slow?
Broadband speed is a common cause for complaint, but it’s an issue where you might not get much help from the law. So many different factors can affect speeds, and that gives providers plenty of wiggle room when it comes to complaints. However, if you’re really unhappy, you do have some legal backup.
To begin with, if you have a problem with your broadband speed, your first point of contact should be your provider’s technical support department. They’ll be able to take you through troubleshooting steps and carry out speed tests and line checks to determine if there is an issue within their control, and attempt to fix it. If they don’t, that’s when you have a right to complain.
Broadband is advertised with an ‘average speed’. That means there’s a chance your connection will be slower than advertised. But you’ll have been given an estimate of speed when you joined the internet service provider (ISP). This is a more accurate figure that the ISP believes should be achievable on your landline, and it gives you a good idea of what speeds you should be getting at your own address.
Your broadband service must be of satisfactory quality, work as described, and be fit for purpose. This means that if your broadband speed is much slower than expected, you may be able to claim compensation or cancel the contract without penalty.
This would be the case if, for example, you had been quoted a speed of 25Mbps but were only receiving 2Mbps.
But if your broadband speed is only slightly slower than you expected – for example, you’re quoted 60Mbps, but it achieves 55Mbps – then this is generally acceptable.
Some providers have also signed up to the Ofcom code of practice for broadband speed. These include:
If you’re signed up to any of these providers, you’re protected by this. It says that you must be given accurate estimates when joining, and you must have a minimum guaranteed speed with a right to leave without penalty if the provider is unable to deliver it.
Traffic management and broadband throttling
Some providers use traffic management policies to control the flow of data over their network. They prioritise certain activities and slow down or throttle others. Most commonly, it’s used to prevent file sharing from consuming too much of your bandwidth. But it may also be implemented during busy periods to keep Skype calls and other communication from experiencing too much buffering.
If it’s used, traffic management should always be mentioned in the provider’s terms and conditions, so make sure you check all the small print in your contract. That means you’re not likely to get very far complaining about it, as you agreed to those terms when signing up. If you think traffic management will cause you problems, you should look for a “truly unlimited” provider which doesn’t use such policies instead.
What can I do if I’m being overcharged by my broadband provider?
You can claim a refund for any overpayment. You just need to contact customer services and explain that you think you’re paying too much. If it’s still not resolved to your satisfaction after this, you’ll need to pursue an official complaint.
But before you go to the ISP, check your emails and any post to ensure you haven’t overlooked a price rise.
What can I do if I feel I’ve been misled by advertising?
The Advertising Standards Authority, or ASA, exists to deal with misleading advertising. You can submit a complaint online if you feel you’ve been misled.
The ASA and Ofcom have been quite tough on ISPs in the past, especially when it comes to claims about speed. As a result, broadband advertising is now a lot more honest than it used to be.
If you feel you were mis-sold and believe your broadband package isn’t “as described” then you should first speak to the provider and explain your position. If it agrees, then the ISP might offer some form of restitution. But if you can’t come to an agreement, you might need to take your complaint to the ombudsman using the ADR scheme.
What can I do if my broadband isn't working at all?
It’s normal for broadband faults to occur occasionally, these kinds of service problems will be covered in your contract.
But your broadband must be “fit for purpose” and “of satisfactory quality”. That means very frequent or lengthy connection issues mean that you can be a reason to claim compensation or cancel for free.
Providers must fix problems within a reasonable time frame. If you experience a service interruption, then you should contact the provider right away. If the fault goes on for some time, then you may be able to claim a reduction in the bill reflecting the downtime.
Some providers have signed up to an automatic compensation scheme that’ll pay you if there is a delay in installing (£5.83 for each day of delay) or repairing your broadband (£9.33 per day) or a missed engineer appointment (£29.15 per missed appointment).
If you’re left without broadband for four whole weeks after it’s activated, then you have the right to end the contract without penalty.
What are my rights for cancelling broadband?
With broadband contracts running as long as 24 months, there’s a chance your circumstances may change and that you’ll need to end the agreement ahead of time.
You always have the right to cancel a broadband contract, but it’ll typically result in a charge if you’re still within the minimum contract period. These are sometimes referred to as ‘early termination fees’.
How much you’ll have to pay if you leave early will vary. Some providers charge a reduced fee for the remaining months, but others may charge the full amount plus extras, such as the cost of the wireless router. Just make sure that you get a complete tally of all costs before cancelling.
However, there are some specific circumstances that may allow you to cancel for free.
Cancelling because of slow broadband
As explained above, if your broadband speed is much lower than expected and the provider is unable to fix it, you may have grounds for a penalty-free cancellation.
You’ll also have additional protections if your ISP has agreed to Ofcom’s voluntary code of practice for broadband speeds.
The code of practice means providers must provide the minimum speed quoted during the sign-up process. Complaints about speed should be treated as a technical support issue, and they must do what they can to rectify them.
If your speed falls below the quoted minimum and the ISP fails to fix it, you may be able to leave without penalty. Providers can also offer to switch you to a cheaper package, but you don’t have to accept this if you’d rather switch.
Cancelling broadband due to price increases
You may have the right to cancel for free if the cost of a package rises mid-contract, but as this is becoming more common, many providers have added a clause excluding this right.
ISPs must notify you of price increases 30 days in advance, giving you time to cancel and switch providers.
Note that this is only for unexpected price rises. If you’re on a broadband contract which has been discounted for an introductory period, you can’t cancel for free when it reverts to full price.
Providers are also allowed to raise prices in line with inflation, though if the increase exceeds this, you can exercise your right to cancel.
Cancelling broadband when you move home
Some providers may allow you to cancel the contract if you move home and they’re unable to provide service at your new address. But this is at their discretion, and it’s possible you may need to pay the usual penalty.
You should speak to your provider to find out their policy on house moves and what the cost of cancellation may be. You may find that it’s cheaper to retain the contract and move it to the new property.
Broadband cooling-off period
Under Consumer Contracts Regulations, you have a right to cancel a broadband contract for free within a minimum 14-day cooling-off period. This period begins the day after you sign up for the service, and you must cancel in writing to take advantage of it.
While providers must offer 14 days at minimum, some do also offer an extended cooling-off period.
Cancelling your broadband after a complaint
You may be given the opportunity to leave for free following a complaint about any aspect of your broadband service, but this is at the provider’s discretion.
Follow your provider's complaints procedure and escalate to the ombudsman if necessary. And be sure to get written confirmation of the early cancellation or any other compensation that’s offered.
For more information, read our guide to cancelling broadband.
What can I do if my Wi-Fi router is no good?
A free Wi-Fi router is a standard part of most broadband deals, but this hardware may be outdated if you’ve been with the same provider for a while. And like anything else, routers can sometimes fail ahead of their expected lifespan.
The provider should supply a replacement if the router breaks. Call tech support, and be prepared to run through some troubleshooting steps first.
What if your router is just old, and you want an upgrade? Speak to the provider. These devices are a minor cost in the grand scheme of things and many ISPs will be willing to supply new hardware for free, or at least at a subsidised price.
Some ISPs do allow you to use your own hardware. A newer router can benefit from a stronger Wi-Fi signal, for example, and with more rigorous security too. But you’re going to have to fund this yourself, and if you encounter technical issues, the provider is unlikely to be able to offer much in the way of support.
What happens if the broadband contract holder has died?
In the unfortunate event someone close to you passes away, you’ll need to ensure all service contracts are cancelled to avoid ongoing costs.
Thankfully, this should be a fairly straightforward and stress-free process when it comes to broadband.
Get in touch with the provider as soon as possible and explain the circumstances. You should have no problem cancellation a contract without charge. You may also have the option of transferring the account holder without interrupting the connection if broadband is still required.
We have more information on this in our guide: ‘How to cancel broadband if you’re bereaved or terminally ill’.
Broadband contract joint accounts and shared homes
Broadband providers don’t usually allow joint accounts. They may allow a named third party to have the authorisation to speak to customer services, with restrictions (power of attorney). This person wouldn’t be able to switch providers without permission, for example. But there will only be one account holder.
This means that one person is responsible for all bill payments and extra fees, and will be the point of contact if there’s a problem. As well as being mindful of the financial obligations, there are legal considerations too. If someone uses the connection to share copyrighted material, it’s the account holder who could receive a warning letter or be threatened with legal action.
Broadband providers won’t get involved in disputes over payment in shared homes. Think carefully about this responsibility before volunteering to be the account holder in your home.
How to complain about broadband
If the time has come to complain about your provider, there are some simple steps to follow:
- Speak to customer services. In general, it’s best to do this first, as it may be something they can resolve. You can make a phone call, or try contacting them via social media.
- Submit a written complaint. Either write or email the provider and clearly and politely outline your complaint, including suggestions for how you would like it resolved.
- Escalate your complaint. If your previous communication doesn’t resolve the problem you can try writing again and asking for it to be escalated to more senior personnel.
- Receive or request a deadlock letter. If you cannot come to an agreement with the provider, then you can ask for a “deadlock letter”. This is a recognition that neither side can agree on a resolution. The provider may also send a deadlock letter without prompting.
- Complain to the ombudsman. Once you’ve received a deadlock letter, or if you haven’t heard from the provider for at least eight weeks, then you can take the complaint to the Ombudsman. All providers must use either CISAS or Ombudsman Services: Communications; check the Ofcom list of ADR schemes to find out which you need.
For more guidance, visit: ‘Making broadband complaints: How to complain about your home internet’.
As a customer, it’s important to understand your rights. Broadband is a necessity in modern life, but it can wind up being expensive if there’s a problem. Your provider’s customer service department should do its best to solve your problems, and if not, your options should be clearly communicated.
When signing up for your contract, always make sure to read the fine print. That’ll inform you if you’re going to be dealing with traffic management policies and anything else that may affect your speeds. You’ll also get an idea how much you’d be charged if you needed to cut out of the contract early.
If your provider hasn’t been helpful, and you think you aren’t getting what you were promised, you should get in contact with the ombudsmen. Make sure you only do this after trying to talk the issue through with your provider first. If you’ve received a deadlock letter, or they’ve ignored you for eight weeks, that’s the time to do so. The scheme can then help you further.
Fortunately, most providers will help you out the best they can, and going to the ombudsman is not something many of us will have to worry about.
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