back to article BT accused of 'sharp practice' on rolling contracts

TalkTalk has sparked a row with BT by accusing it of "sharp practice" over its contract renewals policy, which aims to tie customers in for an extra year or even 18 months. It's about a year since BT adopted a rolling contract policy. If subscribers coming to the end of their initial term do not notify BT they want to leave, …


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  1. Warren

    It's not difficult

    They sent me a letter at the point it was time to cancel if I wanted to. The letter spelt everything out. I've got no love for BT but everyone has contracts you have to cancel if you don't want them any more these days. Talktalk wanted to charge people for leaving when their service didn't work (ie [i]they[/i] were in breach of contract) I seem to remember.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    if it was really a "better deal" ...

    .. then there'd be no need for a tie in, would there?

  3. dervheid

    Yet another example...

    of the voracious appetite for cash BT has developed, along with a 'we can do no wrong' attitude.


  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    "considerable benefit of free evening calls"

    Whoopee frikkin' doo! Doesn't pretty much nearly every one of their competitors offer this nowadays?!

    Myself I'd laugh at a phone contract that DIDN'T include at least these...!

  5. Steve

    Ofcom! Like they will do anything!!!

    BT won't listen to Ofcom unless they are forced to, I'm stuck in this rolling deal, I've set myself a reminder to opt out since I don't believe BT will send me a letter!

    What makes me distrust them, well I was not notified of the auto-renewal until I received a letter from BT post-ordering / pre-installation saying that if I was not happy with the deal I could cancel the whole order.

    BT use dirty tricks, but I still prefer them to Virgin Media...

  6. Anonymous Coward

    It's hardly the end of the world

    BT are arguably my least favourite company in the world and my general experience is of total incompetence. I recently rang them to accept their offer of free weekend & evening calls in return for being tied in for a year (because surprise, surprise, the website meant to offer the service would not work). The lady I spoke to went to quite tedious lengths (think 5 minutes) to make sure that I understood the nature of the contract. Anyone coming off that call not understand the nature of the 12 month tie-in would either be non-english speaking or have special needs. The fact is that the cancellation charge on the package I went in, which I would guess is the most popular is £2 or so a month. Big whoop. I could decide to cancel the day after signing up and it would cost me £24.

    If there's one company I hold in similar contempt to BT, it's CPW. I live in the Manchester area where they operate call centres for Broadband. Various people I know have worked for them and have all talked about a culture where quite literally the target was to get the customer off the phone RATHER than sorting out their problems of which, I gather, there are many.

    Don't they have a £50 disconnection charge which they don't exactly shout from the rooftops as well? Pot, Kettle....?

  7. Anonymous Coward


    "Ofcom does have some concerns" What a powerful comment.

    You have to do something (by dint of) if I recall (IANL) so I'm not sure a rolling contract is enforceable. However, Of Com should come down hard on anyone who does this. Insurance companies offer automatic renewal; you can terminate an insurance policy and you get a refund of the remaining term (less an admin fee).

    This is a simple move to thwart competition. If people were moved onto monthly rolling contracts this would be a different matter - 12 or 18 months is ludicrous.

    But OfCom won't do a thing about it. How much did they pay themselves last year ?

  8. James

    My Bet

    My bet is OFCOM will do NOTHING again, then if pushed it will launch a REVIEW, which after a year will start that things are exactly as they complaint said, but they will still do NOTHING.

    Wonder how much hospitality BT spends on OFCOM.,

    Now that would be an interesting freedom of information request to OFCOM..

  9. Cris Page

    Quality is the best retainer

    My Isp - 30 days notice - no lock in - has been like that from day 1. The best way for companies to keep customers is to provide a good quality service and be open about throttling FUP etc. 12 and 18 month contracts are an abuse as long as the law makes it easy for ISPs to supply a degraded service while custmers have minimal recourse.

    Once again the regulator is slow to act, and does little to protect the consumer from these abusive companies.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It never used to be like this

    What happened to the old way of doing things. ie - sign up for a minimum time of (say) 3 months and then everyone assuming the arrangement will continue until you give a months notice.

    Are you saying that at the end of the initial 12/18 months, you have to sign up for ANOTHER 12/18 months - ie - it doesn't just roll over to a one month notice period?

    If this is the case, then that's out of order - you're bound to cancel the arrangement at SOME time, which means BT will always be collecting an average of 6/9 months penalty for every contract that is terminated. Or have I misunderstood this? Not even the blood sucking mobile operators do this - after the initial 12/18 months, they just roll over to a one month notice period.

  11. john loader

    The Ryanair approach

    BT has repeatedly used the Ryanair approach to fleecing customers. It's all in the small print. Perhaps is they acted like an honest comapny without these tricky contracts, charges for paying the bill and a host of other bits and bobs people would want to use them - and their share price might get back to somewhere near flotation. Livingstone used to be Fincnace Director for Dixons/Currys/PC world - says it all

  12. Lionel Baden

    i can see it now

    1000's of people disconnected for not calling BT at the end of the year and asking to renew their contract.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Pot, meet kettle

    TalkTalk may well have a point, the current tendency for long lockins is not good, but as the saying goes, "they started it".

  14. Ed


    Receiving a letter is all very good if you:

    1. Actually receive it.

    2. Are around to read it.

    If it's "lost in the post" or you're out of the country then you're a bit screwed.

    I think BT's position is fair enough providing they can prove that the letter has been received, read and understood.

  15. Joe

    easy solution

    cancel your direct debit. They would then need to go to court, to try force you to pay, a very unlikely scenario.

  16. DR

    @AC - It never used to be like this

    "Are you saying that at the end of the initial 12/18 months, you have to sign up for ANOTHER 12/18 months - ie - it doesn't just roll over to a one month notice period?

    If this is the case, then that's out of order - you're bound to cancel the arrangement at SOME time, which means BT will always be collecting an average of 6/9 months penalty for every contract that is terminated. Or have I misunderstood this? Not even the blood sucking mobile operators do this - after the initial 12/18 months, they just roll over to a one month notice period."

    nope, you've not misunderstood....

    step 1, sign up for a years contract, if you cancel in a year you have to pay out the remainder of the contract including line rental and package charges (if you've opted for additional packages).

    step 2, at the end of the year the contract is auto renewed for another 12 month period, if you opt out you have to pay the remainder of the contract, including line rental and package charges, (if you've opted for any additional packages).

    step 3, repeat step 2.

    The only way that you can terminate your contract early, is by taking on extra services, in which case they'll happily terminate your existing contract, in favour of signing you up for a new 12 or 18 month contract effective from the time that you sign up for extra services....

    I wonder if it's possible to take out a contract, then after 6 months *upgrade* to include free evening and weekend calls, at which point your existing contract is terminated by BT and a new contract is signed.

    then before 14 days is up call them up and say that you've changed your mind, and you no longer want the services, you're within your rights to cancel during the cooling off period applied to all contracts.

    would BT then try to resurrect the contract that they cancelled, and would they be able to tie you to a contract that they cancelled?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Being a BT "12 Mo" contract owner

    I was aware of the terms of the contract when I signed up. Having had SkyTalk sign me up without me realising (oh wasn't that fun to cancel!) I had concented to it. I am actually content with the BT Contract which costs me 27p more per month than Sky and I get free calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers on evenings and weekends. When the others offer this (and 0844) then I might think about saving my £3.24 a year.

    I am also aware that come the end of my contract I have to cancel and pay extra per month to go on a month to month contract, renew or move. What is the problem? I chose to be tied in so it is my responsibility to know how to get out of it if I want to.

    Maybe Virgin, Talk Talk and Sky should think about being clearer in thier marketing, they now seem to put in very small print that the "Free" phone and "Free" Broadband actually incurs a "Line Rental" cost. But then Sky are about to charge £5 for their "Free" Broadband as well.

    Don't sign up or click on web links for what you don't understand (I learnt this the hard way [clicking on a weblink] with SkyTalk).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Ofcom doesn't regulate properly

    Rolling contracts exist for one purpose only -- to stop people easily moving between suppliers.

    But isn't that exactly what OFCOM exists for? To ensure that people CAN move freely, without unnecessary penalty? So shouldn't it already have spotted, and prohibited, such obviously anti-competitive contract terms, long ago?

    Above all, every user should have the right to terminate a contract without any penalty whatsoever if a service defect still hasn't been corrected after 24 hours.

    However, considering that nobody at OFCOM can be bothered to read a dictionary to find out what "unlimited" means, its pretty unlikely that anybody there actually knows enough to recognise anticompetive behaviour even when it is staring them at the face.

    Yes, its high time OFCOM was abolished and replaced by a proper, USER-ELECTED body that actually has an interest in serving the public.

  19. GreyWolf

    Pot/Kettle Part deux

    "BT cynically places the onus on its customers to cancel their contracts – simply because it knows that many of them will simply forget."

    No, BT knows the customers won't cancel, because the customers know ALL the other providers are just as rubbish as BT, especially TalkTalk.

    Why take the risk/certainty of an incompetent screw-up on transfer when there's nothing better to be had elsewhere?

    Believe me when I say this (I've worked in oversight of telecoms order handling), if your connection is working, let sleeping wires lie.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Car insurers use this tactic but wont go to court

    As BT mention that insurance companies do this I thought I would share the following:

    My partner had this issue with a well know car insurance company who claimed that by not cancelling after the end of the 12 months she had given "implied consent" that she wanted the new contract and would have to pay the cancellation fee on the policy.

    They enacted the usual debt collecting mob and we wrote back to them explaining that in the judgement on the Alder Hey organ retention case you cannot have implied consent unless you opt out and that the only consent acceptable is direct with an opt in.

    We then pointed out that as there own t and c's say that failure to pay the renewal means the policy is cancelled in 7 days and that as with any insurance contract there is a 7 day cooling off period nothing was owed and they where welcome to take her indoors to court.

    Lo and behold they dropped the claim and cancelled the account.

    Given that the terms and conditions and the pricing may have made a material change to the contract BT can hardly argue they have implied consent for something that is different to the original contract you signed up for.

    Paris, its all about consent

  21. Ashe

    Pot/Kettle Redux...

    Actually, I had cause to help a friend order a few things from BT recently, so I can say that as long as you order from their inbound teams (as opposed to the "we're calling you to see if you want..." then they go to quite excruciating and tedious detail to make sure you understand exactly what you're getting into. In fact, they tell you in detail, twice.

    Yes, the whole rolling contract thing is sharp practise as they're relying on peoples tendency to forget, and on general inertia. As others have said, highly cynical, but then, surely you should be paying attention to what you're getting into.

    The problem, as we have seen, is that the others aren't much better, and in some cases, worse. whatever else BT gets away with, remember, not only are the others at it too, but they also get rather a lot less in the way of slapping than BT seems to.

    Not to specifically defend BT, but glass houses and all that. These days, it feels like "how do you want to take your poison?"

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    if no money changes hands

    there ain't a contract.

    the only way money can change hands is if you've let BT put their hands in your bank account.

    they only way they can put their hands in your bank account is if you give them a direct debit

    moral of the story: don't hand your wallet to strangers. better yet, don't have anything at all to do with BT.

  23. Mike Shepherd
    Thumb Down



    Oh, that company that we handed practically all the local loop and trunk equipment nearly 30 years ago and which still hasn't been forcibly split to ensure competition.

    It's still the Post Office, really. They just put up new curtains.

  24. Biton Walstra

    wanted to join TalkTalk but no joy

    since we moved house and the new home had TalkTalk we TRIED to join TalkTalk but with no luck. we were free to move away from BT. after having to dial 5 numbers and every person told us another story we give up and had the BT engineer to change the line back to BT. for BT we only needed 1 phone call / number to dail and all was sorted in no time we even kept the same number. be broadband will follow next week.

    and the funny story is that no one from TalkTalk was actually saying welcome glad that you called us and consider to join us... non of that but oh, can you dial this number to talk with this department.

    as you ask me TalkTalk just has to many departments with people with limited knowledge to keep them all in the job.

  25. Bod

    Opt out / opt in

    If you weren't on a rolling contract before and they send a letter saying you will be opted in if you don't reply, then you can break the contract with no charge as they have changed the T&Cs. Doesn't matter what they say in the letter.

    However I doubt this is actually the case. It sounds like they are doing like everyone else and conning people into signing up to a contract when asked questions like "do you want this *free* offer?".

    PlusNet have been doing that in recent years, though the offers are quite reasonable (last was a few quid off my monthly bill for basically staying with them for another 12 months), though sometimes sneaky (e.g. last offer came shortly before they then introduced some bargain "value" deals that are much cheaper).

    However unless the contract specifies it's a rolling contract they can't change you onto one at a later date. Well they can, but again you have the right to cancel due to change of contract T&Cs.

  26. Gavin


    "then before 14 days is up call them up and say that you've changed your mind, and you no longer want the services, you're within your rights to cancel during the cooling off period applied to all contracts."

    Thats assuming BT honour your consumer rights and allow you to cancel.

    I signed up for a BT line 3 weeks ago, and after much arguing with the woman about accepting a 12 month contract, i resented to the fact that I had to take a 12 month line rental contract. She also decided to put me on free evening and weekend calls, despite me stating I would only be using the line for broadband (and going with Nildram because BT insist on a 12 month contract whereas they do not)

    Imagine my surprise a few days later when a letter arrives welcoming me to free calls - on an 18 month contract that started 2 days previously so it is too late to cancel without penalty! There was no mention of 18 month contracts during the call.

    Needless to say this issue has been reported to BT and will be taken further if not resolved immediately. I sure as hell will not be accepting another 12 month contract when it expires, so if the choices are 12 month contract or cancellation, I will be putting the kettle on and awaiting the engineers arrival to wrip out my phone line.

    BT = Bloody Tossers.

  27. Chris

    Cheeky Feckers

    I have just had to pay Talktalk £70 to get out of a rolling 18 month contract after they didn't send (or I didn't receive) a letter from them. Apparently they only allow 7 days for you to cancel or 14 days if you ring and say you didn't get the letter.

    But thats for cancellations I don't know what they do if you instructed BT to take the line back and that process took longer than 14 days, another 18 months and a £70 bill perhaps?

    During the entire 18 months of TalkTalk hell my average broadband connection has been under a quarter than that (upto) advertised and I have lost phone and broadband connections on a number of occassions. Once for over 2 weeks (no refund).

    There customer service is shocking, even a basic thing such as not saying their customers services dept is closed before sending you through a hideous number of options!!!!!!

    I would advice avoiding TalkTalk like the plague.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    BT are complete twats

    Try signing up for a new line and see how easy it is. Epic fail.

    They don't even respond to customer quiery emails.

    A truely shocking provider. That it is the national carrier makes me ashamed to be British.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Lionel Baden

    "1000's of people disconnected for not calling BT at the end of the year and asking to renew their contract."

    I think not. In this case BT will certainly phone you 30 days in advance. And 29 days, and 28 days and so on until you agree to renew. The difference would be that the onus would be on BT to chase you to renew rather than on you to remember not to.

    If anyone is so bothered about the automatic renewal (but you want the service for now) then just write to them immediately cancelling in 12 or 18 months or whenever the cancellation is due. send by recorded signed for (70p on top of normal postage costs) and then your contract will not be renewed. If they refuse to accept cancellation so far in advance then make them sue for their money.

  30. Charles Smith

    The City Solution

    I used to run the IT for a large Financial Company in the City of London. These automatic rollover contracts were a common feature for the provision of Market Data Services (Forex Prices, Equity Prices etc.) and they were not cheap. Forgetting to cancel a contract prior to rollover could prove very expensive.

    We adopted a standard practice for every service of issuing an advance notice of Contract Cancellation on the date that the service started. e.g "We hereby give 12 months notice for Contract abcd1234". It was all perfectly legal and put the onus on the supplier as there were no delays or costs involved in starting a new contract.

    The suppliers hated it because their systems didn't track advance cancellations very well and we could often negotiate lower prices when they called us pleading with us to renew the contract.

  31. Jay Jaffa

    Cancel it all and go mobile

    Three's Mobile Broadband service costs a tenner a month. fuck them all offer and their copper of coax - who needs that shit anymore.

  32. Norman

    Last year my phone was cut off

    I only asked for my phone line to be changed from business to residential.

    Apparently Business don't talk to residential, so as I didn't tell residential, business didn't send overpaid line rental to residential. Residential decided that owing business, didn't count so disconnected me. Business apparently then went and ripped the wies out of the exchange and my phone number returned to the great numbering organisation elsewhere and no way could I have it again.

    This mean't the broadband stopped etc.

    I spent many hours in the nearest phone box (about half a mile away) trying to resolve between business, residential and ISP.

    You really can't make it up, if only there was an alternative. Sorry, there is, but their customer service is just as bad. Been there, done that!

  33. Rob Beard

    @ Gavin

    We're the same, we have a BT line at something like £11 a month which we don't use apart from providing a broadband service. I can't see why BT can't just provide ADSL on the line and give us a cut down line rental (say £5 a month). But then it's BT, and they like to screw the customer every way they can.

    @ Jay - As great as your idea is, for a tenner you're only going to get 1GB a month (at least on pay as you go) and you'd be lucky to get decent speeds. Best I've got from Three is about 300KB/sec.


  34. Julian
    Thumb Down

    More Pot and Kettle

    TalkTalk rang me up the other day to offer me a free wireless broadband router and other incentives - to lock me into a new 18 month contract and cancellation charges, which no longer apply to my current contract.. Pot and kettle.

    Mind you it's debateable who provides the poorest service, BT, Virgin, TalkTalk, ......... , and don't forget Phorm.

  35. andy

    pot calls kettle black

    TalkTalk promised me free landline broadband within 3 months if I'd sign up for a year. Fortunately I wasn't such a mug. Pack of absolute lies. The LLU broadband finally arrived here 19 months later, by which time they'd been zapped for bad advertising because it wasn't actually free. Do CPW have any one month notice deals at all - not by the look of what I see above.

    If BT customers do sign up for evenings all all calls, they get 0870 and 0845 calls included in their package. Is CPW's bollocks a diversion to hide that for once they aren't going to slavishly copy things that BT do?

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why the no cheap line rental for only BB?

    Because it costs BT Retail more to set a line up than they usually get. They'd make a loss on every phone line if they didn't enforce contracts/line rental.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Opt-in the same as opt-out at BT?

    So BT told the reg that their customers were "opting in" by forgetting to opt-out?

    Interesting manipulation of the language.

    Almost as manipulative as the leaflet they sent purporting to describe "free weekend calls" which turned out (on page 5 in small-print, after all the adverts) to be their notification of a price-increase to line-rental...

  38. Telecide

    Universal Telecom

    Universal Telecom have my company locked into a 12 months termination period which its trying to expand to 3 years under new contracts for new customers (or existing ones who, for some reason, have to re-sign). That would mean, under current rates, I would either have to give 3 years notice to quit or be handed a cancellation charge of about £3600. They are all crap.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    My TalkTalk customer experience.

    Sorry but my experience of TalkTalk contracts does NOT tie in with the above. Couple of weeks before my contract was to expire they contacted me, informed me about it and offerred a renewal. My choice (after some research) was to renew.

    VFM IMO is fantastic with TT. If you never need their helplines or customer services then they are fine. If your a newbie and need hand holding then maybe TT isn't for you.

    On the other hand....getting my monster in laws contract cancelled when she had to go into a loopy old dears home was a nightmare. Wrote to TT - ignored (twice), phoned TT six times ignored. Cue snotty email to head honcho Mr Dunstone and wow! 6 hours later - disconnected, contract cancelled and refund cheque in post. They could not have been more helpful.

    Moral of the tale? Probably none except when your dealing with people who won't deviate from the script find the biggest behind and kick it hard?

    In any event I remain a happy TT customer.

  40. Charlie Barnes

    Re: Yet another example...


    Well said that man.

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