When you buy a broadband package - like one of our great value reward offers - you are signing a legally binding contract with the provider. But what happens if you have a dispute, you need to cancel, or the service fails to perform as you 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.
What are your broadband consumer rights?
As a broadband consumer you have numerous rights 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 work at the right speed.
- Your provider must register with an ADR (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 which govern your rights as a broadband consumer.
Communications Act 2003
The Communications Act 2003 tells providers that they must be signed up to an ADR. Then in the event you have a complaint that you cannot resolve, an ombudsman can step in.
Consumer Contracts Regulations
This important bit of law is what 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, but if you entered into your broadband contract before that date the Distance Selling Regulations still apply.
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 are able to prove that the service (including equipment, such as the Wi-Fi router) was not accurately described, or if it fails to perform as you expect.
Slow broadband: what are my rights?
Broadband speed is a big point of contention for consumers, but it’s also a difficult topic because the speed can be impacted by so many different factors and so providers have wiggle room when it comes to complaints about speed. However, you do have some legal backup if you’re unhappy.
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 will be able to take you through some troubleshooting steps to determine if there is an issue within their control, and attempt to fix it.
Broadband is advertised with an average speed, a figure which must be achieved by at least 50% of the provider’s users. That means there’s a good chance your connection will be slower than advertised. But you should also have been given an estimate of speed when you joined the ISP, which is a more accurate figure that the ISP believes should be achievable on your line.
As mentioned above, your broadband service must be of satisfactory quality, as described, and fit for purpose. This means that if your broadband speed is much slower than it should be, 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 experiencing 2Mbps.
But if your broadband speed is only slightly slower than you expected (for example, you are quoted 60Mbps but it achieves 55Mbps) then this will likely be considered acceptable.
Some providers have also signed up to the Ofcom code of practice for broadband speed. This is voluntary, but if you are with BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, or Virgin Media you are protected by this code. 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, prioritising certain activities and slowing down (throttling) others. Most commonly, it’s used to prevent file sharing consuming a large amount of bandwidth, but it may also be implemented during busy periods to keep things like Skype calls from experiencing too much buffering.
If it’s used, traffic management should always be mentioned in the provider’s terms and conditions. That means you’re not likely to get very far complaining about it, as you agreed to those terms when signing up. If you may be adversely affected by traffic management look for a “truly unlimited” provider which does not use such policies.
What can I do if I’m being overcharged?
You can claim a refund for any overpayment. But before you go to the ISP, check your emails and post to ensure you haven’t overlooked a price rise. Then 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 will need to pursue an official complaint.
What can I do if I feel I’ve been misled by advertising?
The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) exists to deal with misleading advertising, so if you feel misled you can submit a complaint online. The ASA and Ofcom have been quite tough on ISPs, especially when it comes to claims about speed, so 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 is not “as described” then you should first speak to the provider and explain your position. If it agrees, the ISP might offer some form of restitution, or give you the option to cancel for free. If you can’t come to an agreement then you might need to take your complaint to the ombudsman using the ADR scheme.
What can I do if my broadband is not working at all?
It’s normal for broadband faults to happen from time to time, and such service problems will be covered in your contract. But remember, your broadband must be “fit for purpose” and “of satisfactory quality”. That means that very frequent or lengthy connection issues may be cause for you to claim compensation or cancel for free.
Providers must fix problems in a reasonable time frame. If you experience a service interruption you should contact the provider right away, then wait for it to be resolved. If the fault goes on for some time you may be able to claim a reduction in the bill reflecting the downtime.
Some providers (BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Zen, and Virgin Media) have signed up to an automatic compensation scheme which will pay you if there is a delay in repairing broadband, a missed engineer appointment, or delay with the start of a new broadband service.
If you are left without broadband for four whole weeks (after it is 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 you’ll need to end the agreement ahead of time. You always have the right to cancel a broadband contract, but it will typically result in a charge if you’re still within the minimum contract period.
How much you’ll have to pay following a cancellation will vary. Some providers charge a reduced fee for the remaining months, others may charge the full amount plus extras, such as the cost of the wireless router. Make sure you get a complete tally of all costs before pulling the trigger.
There are some specific circumstances which 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 will also have additional protections if your ISP has agreed to Ofcom’s voluntary code of practice for broadband speeds. The code of practice means ISPs must provide the minimum speed quoted during the sign-up process, treat complaints about speed as a technical support issue and 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 are not obligated to accept this.
Cancelling due to price increases
If the cost of a package rises mid-contract you may have the right to cancel for free. ISPs must notify of increases 30 days in advance, giving you time to cancel and switch provider. 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 cannot 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 when you move home
Some ISPs may permit you to cancel the contract if you move home and they are unable to provide service at your new address. But it is at their discretion, and it’s possible you will need to pay the usual penalty. Speak to your provider to find out their policy on house moves and what the cost of cancellation may be. You may find it is cheaper to retain the contract and move it to the new property.
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 offer an extended cooling-off period.
Cancelling following a complaint
You may be given the opportunity to leave for free following a complaint about any aspect of the service, but this is at the provider’s discretion. Follow the ISP'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.
Broadband equipment: 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 if you’ve been with the same provider for a while this hardware may be outdated. And of course like anything else routers can sometimes fail ahead of their expected lifespan.
If your router is faulty or broken then the provider should supply you with a replacement. 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, sometimes retaining the free router as a modem. While it's not essential to do this it is a good way to get better quality hardware (benefiting from stronger Wi-Fi signal, for example) with more rigorous security.
What happens if the broadband contract holder has died?
In the unfortunate event someone close to you passes away you will 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.
If you’re in this situation, get in touch with the ISP as soon as possible and explain the circumstances. Providers should cancel a contract without charge, though if the broadband is still required you may also have the option of transferring the account holder without interrupting the connection.
Broadband contract joint accounts and shared homes
Broadband providers do not usually allow joint accounts. They may permit a named third party to have the authorisation to speak to customer services (with restrictions - this person would not be able to switch providers without permission, for instance) 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 is a problem. As well as being mindful of the financial obligations there are legal ramifications too; if someone uses the connection to share copyrighted material it’s the account holder who may receive a warning letter or be threatened with legal action.
ISPs will not get involved in disputes overpayments in shared homes. If you’ve got housemates withholding their portion of the bill the provider isn’t going to get involved, they just want to be paid. Think carefully about this responsibility before volunteering to be the account holder in your home. For more help on this topic read our guide to broadband in a shared 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 is best to do this first as it may be something they can resolve. You can phone, 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” - a recognition that neither side can agree. The provider may also send a deadlock letter without prompting.
- Complain to the ombudsman. Once you have received a deadlock letter - or if you have not 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.
To find out how to contact your ISP and make a complaint we have dedicated guides to all the providers listed on Broadband Genie: