Since the 15th of February 2020 providers of home broadband, mobile phone, landline phone, and pay TV services are required to notify customers when they’re out of contract, and tell them about the best deals currently available.
But what exactly are these out of contract alerts? What will they look like, and how will it impact your broadband service? This guide will tell you everything you need to know.
What are the end of contract alerts?
Out of contract alerts - officially known as Annual Best Tariff Notifications (ABTNs) - are a system for notifying customers of broadband, mobile, phone, and pay TV services that they are no longer in their minimum contract period, and making them aware of the cost of the service.
The alerts have several key aims:
- To let people know when they are out of contract and free to switch providers.
- To ensure that customers are aware of the cost of a service once the initial contract term has ended.
- To notify customers of the current best price for their package.
Why is this happening?
This rule has come about because of a complaint by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Citizens Advice which highlighted how loyal customers can often end up paying significantly more than new subscribers, who are offered discounted pricing to tempt them into signing up.
This “loyalty penalty” meant many people were paying a lot more for services if they stayed with the same provider for a long time.
According to Citizens Advice, loyal consumers were losing out on more than £1.2bn per year because they were being charged more for staying with the same provider and not switching or negotiating their services.
Research by Ofcom in 2019 highlights why this change is necessary. It found:
- More than 20 million customers are outside their initial contract period.
- Those who have phone and broadband pay on average 20% more when out of contract.
- Bundling TV, phone, and broadband can cost an average 26% more when out of contract.
- 14% of customers don’t know whether they’re still in contract.
- 12% think they are in contract, but don’t know when it ends.
Ofcom estimates that existing customers can save an average of £8-9 per month by asking their ISP for a better deal, while switching broadband could save an average of £10 per month.
What will an end of contract notification look like?
While the exact wording of an alert will vary between providers, they should all contain the following information:
- Contract end date.
- The cost of the service before the contract end date.
- Any changes to the service after the contract ends.
- The cost of the service after the contract end date.
- The minimum notice you must give to cancel the service.
- The best deals currently offered by the provider, including those available to new customers.
Out of contract notifications can be sent via text message, email, or letter. The image below shows an example of a text alert.
When will we receive out of contract notifications?
Alerts will typically be sent 10-40 days prior to the expiration of a contract.
Providers are not required to notify customers with rolling monthly (aka “no contract”) agreements each month, but must still send a notification once a year.
I’ve been told my broadband is out of contract - how can I get a better deal?
If you’ve received a notification from your broadband provider that your contract has ended then you’ve got several options about how to proceed.
If you’re otherwise happy with the service, contact your ISP for a new deal. Providers will now have to offer the same prices to existing customers as they do to new subscribers. Though keep in mind that you will have to sign up to a new contract so you’ll be locked in again for another 12, 18, or 24 months.
But before you do that, take the time to see what else is out there. Switching broadband is very easy, so if another ISP can offer a better price, package, or speed (ideally all three!) then you’ve got nothing to lose by moving to another service.
To get started with a switch, begin with a postcode search to check availability in your area. You can do that right here by entering your postcode below:
Broadband Genie postcode checkerWhy do we need your postcode?
Why do we need your postcode?
Use our comparison table to check out deals in your location; tweak the filters and table sorting to narrow down the choices and quickly locate your ideal package. Then you simply click through to the provider and follow the registration process.
Switching to a new provider typically takes around 14 working days, and if all goes well there will simply be a short period of downtime as the providers swap over.
The above is just a brief overview of what’s involved; read our guide to switching broadband for a more detailed breakdown of the process, including the differences between Openreach (BT) lines and Virgin Media broadband.
Whatever you do, don’t just ignore the notice. Even if your previous package wasn’t discounted and the price hasn’t automatically increased, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to save money, and it’s always worth comparing the latest offers to see what else is out there.
How to find your contract end dates
If you’ve not yet received a contract expiry notice you can still find out the end date at any time by speaking to the provider, or by checking the details of your account. Some ISPs provide this information online, or it might just require a quick phone call.
Follow the links below for step by step guides to finding the contract end date for several popular providers:
- How to find the contract end date for BT broadband
- How to find the contact end date for EE broadband
- How to find the contract end date for Sky broadband
- How to find the contract end date for TalkTalk broadband
- How to find the contract end date for Virgin Media broadband
Frequently Asked Questions about end of contract alerts
- Which providers have the highest out of contract prices?
Of the major ISPs, BT, Sky, and Virgin Media are often the most expensive. These providers are at the more premium end of the market but frequently offer competitive deals to attract new subscribers, which can mean the cost is much higher when the deal ends. Also, many customers will have TV alongside broadband, which can significantly increase the price.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid them, but you will want to keep an eye out for those contract alerts and don’t be shy about negotiating a better price - or switching - when your deal has ended.
- Which providers have the cheapest out of contract prices?
Budget ISPs Origin Broadband and Direct Save Telecom offer cheap prices as standard and don’t automatically increase costs at the end of a contract. That doesn’t mean they can’t raise prices in future, but as you’re not signing on with a cheap discount price it won’t suddenly leap in cost when a deal ends.
- My provider has a price guarantee - will it still raise prices at the end of my contract?
Price promises or price guarantees are becoming a more common feature of home broadband deals, and they’re well worth looking out for as they mean that the ISP is committing to not raising the cost of your service in the middle of a contract. But this is only a guarantee for the term of that contract, so prices might still increase when the contract ends.
- Will I automatically be switched to a cheap deal at the end of a contract?
The alerts are only intended to make you aware that your contract is ending, and notify you about the cost going forward. The ISP does not have to switch you to a cheaper deal, and if you don’t do anything in response to the alert your current broadband service will continue at the out-of-contract price given in the notice. If you want to change to a cheaper tariff or cancel the service, contact your provider as soon as possible.
- What can I do if I’ve been overcharged?
If you feel you’ve been overcharged then get in touch with the provider as soon as possible. It may be necessary to submit an official complaint; for further help read our guide to complaining about broadband and guide to your broadband consumer rights.
- I’ve opted out of communications from my provider, do these alerts break GDPR rules?
Ofcom has consulted the ICO and confirmed that the example out-of-contract notifications are classed as service messages and do not violate GDPR regulations. However, if the notices were to contain “significant promotional material” they could stray into the territory of direct marketing, which could result in penalties.
If you have a concern about any material you have received from your ISP or any other company, contact the ICO.
- Do ABTNs apply to business broadband?
Business broadband subscribers will also receive end of contract notifications. Like those sent to home users, they will be told about the current best price for their service.