back to article Ofcom: Rule change to force UK comms providers to tell you when your contract expires

Starting from tomorrow, telcos who fail to offer their customers their best deals will find themselves on Ofcom's naughty step, potentially helping millions of customers in Britain. The rules – which apply to phone, broadband, and paid TV – also mandate providers to warn punters when their contract expires and tell them if …

  1. Wolfclaw
    Meh

    I believe it when I see it, no doubt the ISPs like VM are already looking at loop holes and to be honest OFCOM hasn't got the greatest track record of enforcement.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      It's a step forward, but at least you could in any case diarise the contract end date and take action in advance.

      I'm more exercised about the fact that you can sign up for a fixed price contract and have the price hiked during its currency. My broadband price was raised by 10% less than half way through its 18 month period, so clearly the provider never had any intention of sticking to the headline price. They did this in the month before Christmas when there are generally no decent offers from other providers pending the big price cuts in January. And of course Ofcom rules are that you only get 30 days to break your contract after which you're bound by the price increase for the remaining duration.

      This is not just cynical, but it's asymmetric - you don't have the same rights as the party with whom you're contracting, so it ought to count as an unfair consumer contract, but Ofcom is apparently just fine with that.

    2. Rol Silver badge

      "But we sent you an email sir"

      "No you didn't"

      "Yes we did"

      "When?"

      "A month before the contract ended"

      "Where, I don't see it?"

      "Have you checked your spam folder?"

      "Err... Err.... No it's not there either"

      "Are you sure?"

      "Of course I am. Unless you've changed you email to fcuk@virgin.cum"

      "That's the one!"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        This happens. Had the physical equivalent of this a number of years ago. I lived in a property managed by a company whose name starts with "Trin" and ends with "Ity Estates".

        They sent everyone a demand for building redecoration work that was at a *greatly* increased cost compared to most quotes. When residents queried why they'd not written to us to inform us of this expensive work in advance (we're talking hundreds of pounds per resident) and giving us a chance to choose a quote (as permitted by the lease) we were told they had written to us.

        Except nobody in 40+ apartments received any such letter. On being asked for proof of posting of these letters, we were told proof wasn't required; the building lease simply says that sending a letter first class is all that is required. And since we couldn't prove that they *hadn't* sent them, no matter how unlikely that many apartments not receiving said letters is, their statement to the contrary was all that was required.

        Bastards.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          If it came to legal they should not have stood a chance against 40 witnesses contradicting them.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Our housing agency (rhymes with 'cuntry wide'), clearly upset that the Tenants Fees Act 2019 banned them from charging £125 just to renew a contract, got their lawyers to proclaim that they could still charge us because our old contract still said that they could charge us that (but they took it out of the new contract). Then, because it took them two months to send us the paperwork, they backdated the inevitable rent increase by two months.

          Anon to avoid reprisals...

          1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

            I haven't read the legislation. But a quick google suggests the lawyers are right:

            The fees ban applies to all new tenancies entered into on or after 1 June [2019].

            If you signed a tenancy before this which included agreements to pay further fees – for example, check-out fees or tenancy renewal fees – you will still have to pay these up until 31 May 2020.

            But from 1 June 2020, any term in a tenancy which requires you to pay fees will no longer be binding, so you won't need to pay them regardless of what your agreement says or when you signed it.

  2. Sproggit

    Is This Progress?

    Ofcom legislation passed in 2002 and it really came into being as a regulatory body in 2003. We've had mobile phones and broadband and similar technologies for at least as long.

    Has it really taken Ofcom 18 years to figure out that the providers are basically serial abusers?

    Ever tried raising a concern with them? They're basically useless.

    1. robidy Silver badge

      Re: Is This Progress?

      Ofcom...well Oftel as it was setup in 1984 was run by a bunch of ex BT types...you can telll because it always sided with BT instead of opening up exchanges for competition.

      Same sh*t different millennium.

      1. NeilPost Bronze badge

        Re: Is This Progress?

        Nothing stopping them building their own.

  3. Rol Silver badge

    An offer you can't refuse

    I've been given a free upgrade to my broadband speed, but come the end of the contract I will have to negotiate at the new speed level as VM refuse to downgrade.

    Back when I had 20Mb for £20 I was happy, but several unwanted "free" upgrades, over just a few years, has me paying over £30.

    Yes it's blisteringly fast, but my income has not increased by 50% in the same period of stagnation that VM's costs surely went through.

    I'd happily go back to 20Mb, as that is perfectly adequate for my needs.

    1. Pinballdave

      Re: An offer you can't refuse

      I have also just had my VM broadband upgraded from 50Mb/s to 100Mb/s, but it came as my current 'loyalty discount' came to an end, resulting in the upgrade coinciding with a price increase from £24 to £37. Phoned up, was offered £27 per month but sticking with upgraded 100Mb/s speed. Said I'd rather cancel, and waited for the call back from retentions.

      When the call came the next morning, I said my bit and got offered the original 50Mb/s for £24. I got cheeky and said that would be OK, but you're only going to stick a £2-3 price rise on it in the next few months, and I'll still be stuck in contract at £27 so won't have gained anything over the original offer. I was then offered a further 'discretionary discount' , and will be paying £21 per month until the next round of price rises.

      My only concern with these new rules, is that they may result in more people getting 'loyalty discounts', and whether that will affect the level of discounts offered to those of us who are willing to take the 'waiting for the retentions phone call' gamble.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: An offer you can't refuse

        Retentions offered me bb only 100mb for £20, I phoned back yesterday and was told it was now £22. Got 200mb for £27 though. Hopefully I still have 2 weeks to change my mind as I’m hoping for plusnet to get openreach to install a new line from a closer cab, if that falls through 3 are bringing 5g at the end of the month.

        My phone will utilise wifi calling but this keep crapping out on Virgin, works fine everywhere else. There are other issues with vm, like right now I get faster 4g than on vm plusfaster upload. I’d be happy with a symmetric 50mb product, I want faster upload speeds!!

  4. poohbear

    "customers could save between £100 and £150 by negotiating a new deal with their provider." ... for some version of "negotiating" ... maybe Blighty is different, but we only get the "take it or leave it" variety of "negotiations".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No monopoly. Thus a lot of us can leave it. The 3g signal is so good around here I'm going 100% movile, faster speeds and still unlimited with tethering for cheaper than foxed line. I get a bit slower ping but so far it's been rock solid.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      but we only get the "take it or leave it" variety of "negotiations".

      But, but, but, capitalist competitive market. Surely that means only the best survive and therefore the customer gets the best deal, no? Or you can start your own service that's cheaper, of course. It's a free country. Surely the likes of AT&T or Verizon won't use dirty lossleader tricks to put you out of business and ruin you out of tow n. Or use various legal tricks to stop the city/county/state from stating up a new service.

  5. Lee D Silver badge

    I'd like to point out:

    I don't *WANT* the very cheapest contract every damn time. The whole concept of cheapness being good is something I can't fathom. USwitch will recommend me a bunch of companies that I've blacklisted because their service is just so shite (e.g. TalkTalk Broadband).

    The constant race to the bottom, with government-backed initiatives, is something that I don't understand the utility of. Do we only ever buy the cheapest car? Cheapest flat? Cheapest carpet? Cheapest fridge? How many people *ONLY* ever want the cheapest thing?

    What they are supposed to be combating is long-term customers getting a worse deal than new customers, really. You don't do that by encouraging companies to constantly push the fact that they're not the cheapest in the customer's face.

    I don't *want* to switch utility companies every month, or have you waste advertising and other money on services for me to do so. I want the damn company I've chosen to not raise prices artificially or "after the contract ends" any more than it would cost for someone to get a new contract.

    "You could get a better deal by switching to an awful company that's a penny cheaper" isn't good economic sense for anyone.

    Let the market operate itself, but put in legislation to enforce that *newer* customers should get no better a deal than is already advertised and available to all *existing* customers of those companies, and which either can switch to at any time.

    The one service where I really don't give a damn how cheap and rubbish it is so long as I have it is car insurance. If I've got a properly-underwritten certificate that makes me road-legal, that's it, that's all I care about. And for some reason, every single year, it's cheaper to switch to arbitrary random companies ranging from the co-op to Halifax to the RAC - who all use the same underwriters, all have the same details about me, all utilise the same centralised self-service portals from the same company, and yet my insurance price will double once I've been with them for a year for no reason, and everyone else will be even cheaper than I got last year. It makes no sense, even if you assume they're gouging for customers who then are too lazy to ever move again. Why would the RAC, for example, put their name to something that next year they know the majority of their customers will flee and likely never return because they forced their prices up artificially?

    Regulate the damn market, not force companies to try to make you move to the cheapest deal ever year, spamming you each time. If I want to move, I'll move. If I'm unhappy with the service or price rises, I'll move. If the price stays the same but doesn't follow the lowest on the market on a stupid race to the bottom... then unless I particularly care about that, I really don't see why they or I should care, when a 5 -minute check will tell me if I'm being conned. Or I might just decide "Hey, their service is really good, I'll stick with them".

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: How many people *ONLY* ever want the cheapest thing ?

      A lot of them, apparently. That's why the shoe stores have entire aisles with cheap shit that won't last a year - it ensures that customers will be back next year.

      It took my wife a looong time to get the message. She's a self-admitted shoe addict. She used to bring back a new pair every two months. I waited, because we had the means and it's her thing so who am I to tell her off and tell her to stop ? My thing is computer equipment and she never complained, so how could I ?

      Then one day, she started complaining about how she was fed up with shoes that couldn't last more than a season. She said herself that she had all these nice-looking shoes, but after wearing them more than two times they started to hurt her feet. After six or ten times, they were falling apart. She told me that, from that point on, she would buy less pairs of shoes, but of better quality. Hallelujah.

      Since then, and it's been quite a few years now, she occasionally brings back a pair of shoes. She is very happy to show them to me and I'm very happy that she's buying quality that will last, on top of things that look good on her.

      But it took time, a lot of time. People will understand, but they have to have the means to do so. If we were minimum wage earners, I don't know that the lesson would have made it through.

      1. Dr_N Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: How many people *ONLY* ever want the cheapest thing ?

        Pascal Monett> Since then, and it's been quite a few years now, she occasionally brings back a pair of shoes. She is very happy to show them to me ...

        Oh dear. You've not twigged that your wife is not showing you ALL the deluxe shoes she's buying?

        Nor the handbags. So very, very sorry.

    2. tip pc Silver badge

      Just make companies only have 1 tariff per tier that all customers, old and new, get.

      Or mandate that all customers get moved onto the cheapest tariff at contract end.

      It’s not difficult, obviously the retailers don’t want that and the regulator is sympathetic to the retailers.

      I do agree that quality does cost, a quality isp with proper interconnects and useful value add services is far superior to cheaper than cheap talktalk if that’s what you need.

      Gas and electric is bonkers though as the billing companies have no impact on how that energy gets to you and yet the regulator is happy for billing c9mpanies to take the pi55.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re- Insurance

      I firmly believe insurers actively want customers to bugger off every year.

      Remember PPI and Mrs Plevin? She was the one who challenged the banks for charging ridiculously high commission, and the courts agreed that 50% was quite enough. However, to have qualified for any compensation you would have had to have stayed with the same lender for a precisely defined period, spanning several years.

      Hence my belief that insurance companies and financial organisations are actively ring-fencing profits from any potential future compensation claims by encouraging customers to go elsewhere at renewal time, and thus lose the continuity necessary for a claim to succeed.

  6. NeilPost Bronze badge

    Or you could set yourself a diary reminder.

  7. wolfetone

    BT have been reminding me that my deal is about to end - 6 months ahead of time.

    So I called them and asked them for a deal, they only gave me £1 a month off. Which, in fairness, is still a reduction.

    The problem was that, while I was talking to the guy on retentions, on BT's own website I was being offered the same package for £5 a month less.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "So I called them and asked them for a deal, they only gave me £1 a month off. Which, in fairness, is still a reduction."

      I gave up on BT when they told me their "unlimited broadband" had a data cap on it - it made for an amusing call to play to Trading Standards - how many definitions of "unlimited" can you come up with?

  8. Alan Brown Silver badge

    IPv6 disclosures?

    Too bad they won't mandate that ISPs be required to disclose if they have IPv6 and hard rollout dates for it.

    TalkTalk have been stringing retail customers along with "real soon now" for eleven YEARS - and despite the latest happy shiny press releases bigging it up, have admitted to resellers that they have ZERO plans to roll it out to retail customers(*) anytime soon (where that means at least the next 2-3 years, apparently)

    They've also been repeatedly caught telling prospective retail customers that they offer it (they stopped doing that when raked over the coals) or are about to offer it in order to secure sales - for the last 15 years.

    (*) TalkTalk business offer IPv6 and TalkTalk(or predecessors) have held a _huge_ allocation since 1998 with another being acquired in 2002

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: IPv6 disclosures?

      Like it actually matters. If you want IPV6 so bad go with a provider that offers it. I don't think it's Ofcoms job to get involved with such niche technical aspects of ISP's services.

  9. JakeMS
    Thumb Up

    Good

    I'm glad to see this.

    I had to wait for an 18-Month BT contract to end. As a business line we were paying £40/mo incl a static ip.

    Due to moving premesis, and still being bound by said contract the BT increased that price to £80/mo due to according to them, moving premesis cancelled their introductory offer.

    Later, the contract auto renewed to £120/mo for 18 months, because I forgot about it. Because we stated we didn't want that contract to auto renew again, it eventually fell to their "out of contract status" for £190/mo.

    We've switched to Zen for £45/mo now...

  10. clyde666

    monthly deals

    So how would this affect people who are "out of contract" - on rolling month to month ?

    Is the ISP going to have to notify them every month ?

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