Perhaps your broadband has slowed to a crawl, the phone line’s gone again or your bill is inexplicably high this month. Whatever it is you’re unhappy about you can exercise your right to complain and perhaps receive some form of compensation, or at least an apology.
For the best chance at getting a satisfactory response there are some steps to follow, so here’s what you need to do to successfully complain about home broadband, mobile broadband or telephone services.
Before you complain
Troubleshoot the problem
If it’s a technical problem you can try tackling it yourself first. Most operators will provide basic troubleshooting tips on their help pages, or you can consult other web sites, such as our own guides to troubleshooting broadband and mobile broadband. This alone may solve the issue, or at least narrow down a cause, and it can save time if you do need to call up as technical support will frequently ask you to perform similar steps.
When dealing with the provider keep a record of times and dates of calls, names, copies of correspondence, speed test records, bills and any other relevant details. If an issue is not dealt with to your satisfaction this will be very helpful should you have to escalate the complaint.
Is it a valid complaint?
Before pursuing a complaint you need to consider if it’s an issue that’s within the provider’s control, and that it is not a limitation or feature of the service you agreed to when joining.
Broadband speeds are a major point of contention between users and providers. But very often this is not something the ISP can do much about, and they are likely operating within the rules. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for assistance if it’s performing below expectations but keep in mind that speed can be impacted by many factors, and not all of them can be pinned on your service provider. For more information see how to complain about slow broadband below.
If your complaint relates to the likes of traffic management or blocked web sites you are unlikely to have much joy as such ‘features’ will be spelled out in the terms and conditions. Though if you feel they are particularly onerous and you weren’t made aware of this at the beginning of the contract you may still have a case.
Complaining about the cost of a service is unlikely to change things unless it’s significantly different to the broadband package you were initially sold. Though mis-selling and overcharging should be taken seriously, and you may have a right to cancel if there’s a mid-contract price rise.
How to complain about broadband
1. Speak to your provider
The first step is to get in touch with your provider’s customer service and make them aware of the issue. No escalation of a complaint will be taken seriously if you don’t do this.
All providers should have a complaints policy or procedure on their site which lists the ways in which you can contact them and how a complaint should be handled.
Typically you’ll have the option of emailing, calling or writing. If you’re having trouble finding the details call the regular customer service number and explain you want to make a complaint. Also request details of their complaints procedure to make sure you follow it correctly and reduce the chance of a grievance being dismissed on a technicality.
They should always attempt to resolve the complaint during initial contact. You may be given various options for rectifying the situation right there on the phone.
If this does not result in a satisfactory outcome it might be time to take it up the chain.
2. Escalate the complaint
If you feel the complaint hasn’t been taken seriously or satisfactorily resolved you can request an escalation to a more senior level.
The complaints procedure should provide more detail, but typically it’s as straightforward as explaining that you're not happy with what you've been told so far, and asking for the complaint to be escalated. What happens at this stage will depend on the ISPs complaint handling guidelines. Often it will be reviewed by a supervisor or manager in customer services who will decide whether it should be passed to a specific department or senior member of staff.
3. Accept the resolution or request a deadlock letter
By this stage the ISP should have explained their final position on your complaint. They may offer compensation, or simply provide more information about their decision.
If you’re not happy with the outcome you should write to request a deadlock letter. In some cases it may be sent without prompting.
A deadlock letter is a formal confirmation that both parties have been unable to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement.
Once you've exhausted the options with your provider it can be taken to the ombudsman, but in order to do so you will need to have a deadlock letter, or show that you have had no contact from the provider for at least eight weeks.
If at any stage you have had no response for eight weeks you can skip straight to complaining to the ombudsman.
4. Complain to the ombudsman
All companies offering services to individuals or small businesses of fewer than 10 employees must be members of an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. For phone, broadband and mobile providers this is either CISAS or Ombudsman Service: Communications.
To find out which of them your provider uses consult Ofcom’s list of ADR schemes.
Read the procedures carefully so you understand how to contact the ombudsman in accordance with their rules and are aware of any time limits which may apply.
The ombudsman will investigate your complaint and issue a response. If they side with you they will recommended a remedy such as an apology, financial compensation or a change to a provider’s procedures to prevent a repeat of the problem.
Private firms are not legally bound to follow the recommendation of the ombudsman, however it is unusual for them not to comply.
If the ombudsman’s ruling is not in your favour there is no right of appeal. If you do not accept this decision you would need to pursue legal action at your own expense.
Ofcom’s voluntary code of practice for broadband speeds was updated in 2015 to better handle the tricky issue of broadband speed complaints. It provides guidelines for ISPs when dealing with speed complaints, and can allow you to leave a contract early without penalty.
Before approaching the ISP you need to have an idea of what speed you should be getting as well as its current performance.
When you sign up for a broadband service the provider should supply an accurate speed estimate. Keep a record of this - if it was provided online take a screenshot, or request a printed or email confirmation.
If broadband speed falls far below this estimate then you have strong grounds to take it further. You can check with a tool like the Broadband Genie speed test. Run multiple tests over a period of several days or weeks to eliminate peak time slowdown, network outages and other temporary issues.
Providers who have signed up to the code have agreed to treat speed complaints as a technical support issue and to follow standard procedures to resolve them. They will run tests to confirm the speed, probably ask you to perform troubleshooting steps, and may send out an engineer if their diagnostics indicate a problem with the line.
If the speed does not improve following this you have the right to cancel your contract without charge. The ISP may offer an alternative resolution such as reduced pricing but you are not obligated to accept this.
This is great news for anyone suffering from a broadband service that is running far slower than advertised, but make sure to follow the process correctly to avoid any unexpected cancellation fees, and keep in mind that the code of practice is voluntary so not all providers will adhere to this process.