Know your broadband consumer rights
DISCLAIMER: This guide is not legal advice. Please speak to a qualified legal advice service, (i.e. Which? Legal Service) or your solicitor for specific legal advice.
Most broadband providers do not set out to mislead their customers. They want to deliver a service that you are happy with so you will stay on with them.
However, broadband is one of the problems consumers complain about the most. In fact, more customers complain about broadband than landlines and pay-monthly mobile contracts combined, according to official Ofcom figures.
Many disputes arise from the customer not reading the small print of their contract (55% of users surveyed admit to this). Other problems stem from specific policies around technical support, billing or other issues related to the terms of service within a broadband contract itself.
Understanding your broadband consumer rights will help you to make an effective complaint. Moreover, if you’re not happy with how your complaint is handled, knowing where to escalate the issue is an essential way to resolve a dispute.
Know your broadband consumer rights
In 2019 broadband customers will get automatic compensation if they experience a set of specific issues: if faults aren’t fixed after two days, if an appointment is missed or if the start of a service is delayed, you will get an automatic, fixed payment – but only if your provider is part of the scheme.
The following year should see the Government introduce its broadband universal service obligation that will give everyone the right to a decent connection on reasonable request, by 2020.
Until then, there are a number of laws you need to be aware of to fully understand your broadband consumer rights: the Sale of Goods & Services Act, Unfair Contract Terms Act, Distance Selling Regulations and Communications Act 2013 .
Slow broadband speeds
Did you know that broadband providers are allowed to advertise speeds that just 10% of their customers will actually receive? That’s due to change in May 2018, when every internet service provider (ISP) will be forced to be more transparent and communicate speeds that half of customers will achieve at peak time.
There are fears that many households may have signed up to broadband deals that over-promise, but under-deliver, on speed. If you suspect your broadband is too slow, you should check the speed of your connection and contact your ISP.
- Use our broadband speed test to find out what your actual speeds are
- Check your contract to see what your minimum speeds should be
- Read our broadband speed guide to demystify this topic
- Contact your provider and ask if they can help with your slow broadband
If your broadband speed is slower than the speed quoted in your contract, you have grounds to complain. The Consumer Right Act states that goods supplied must match any description given to you – regularly receiving slower speeds contradicts this.
If your broadband provider gave you a router to use, it will be part of your contract, which means they are responsible for ensuring the router is as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose.
If you’re experiencing problems with faulty equipment, like a router, you should contact the technical support helpline of your ISP and ask for a repair or replacement.
If you’re unhappy with how your request is handled, or if they don’t take steps to fix it, you have grounds to complain since this is a breach of your broadband consumer rights.
How to cancel your broadband
If you want to cancel your contract, make sure you compare broadband deals before you do anything else. This will indicate what speeds are available in your area, and show you the best price on offer. You may be able to get a faster speed, a more competitive price, or both – but you may already be on the best deal, too.
If you want to cancel your broadband, you first need to check your contract to see if you are in or out of contract. If you are out of contract and you switch, your new provider will cancel your existing contract for you. If you’re still in contract, you might need to pay a termination fee to leave.
There are a couple of situations that allow you to leave your contract before it’s expired, without paying a penalty:
- If the price is due to increase, your ISP must give you at least 30 days’ notice and allow you to leave
- If the service is bad, this constitutes a breach of contract
- If the goods or service isn’t as described, you have been mis-sold, which is a breach of your broadband consumer rights
How to complain about your broadband
Go back over your contract and read the section that relates to the "Service Level Agreement" or "Level of Service". This section is a description of the specific services that your broadband provider is bound by contract law to fulfil. If you don’t think your provider is meeting this service agreement adequately then you should have good grounds for your complaint.
TIP: Keep a record of all correspondence with your broadband provider, no matter how small. Try to avoid phone calls and use emails or letters sent via recorded delivery.
- Ask your ISP for information about their internal complaints procedure
- Ask for details of the procedure that leads to a “deadlock letter” – this is where your provider has exhausted all possible methods at their disposal to resolve the issue with you, and it can be a powerful resource if you need to take this further
- Write a letter, email or fill in a web form to formally ask your provider to investigate your complaint
- If it’s been more than eight weeks and the issue hasn’t been resolved, or you’ve received a deadlock letter, you could escalate your complaint as outlined below. But tell your provider this is your plan – often it will cost them less to settle rather than deal with dispute resolution or court action.
Dispute resolution or court action
If you’ve exhausted all possible options and you still haven’t resolved your complaint, you may want to consider an alternative dispute resolution or court action.
Since 2013 all communications providers need to subscribe to one of two alternative dispute resolution schemes (Ombudsman Services: Communications or CISAS) that act as a middleman between the provider and consumer.
You should submit a complaint to one of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) schemes in the first instance. It usually takes six weeks to make a decision and if you win, the provider will be ordered to fix the problem, compensate you or take other practical steps. The decision is final and binding; it can’t be appealed or overturned.
If you’re not happy with the outcome, you can consider court action. This decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, and our advice is to avoid this unless you are certain you have a strong case against the broadband provider. At this stage you can lose your dispute against your ISP in court and it may cost you money in fines and fees if you lose.
If you still want to proceed with court action, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice first. If you want free legal advice, Citizens Advice Bureau is a government-backed organisation that can help you. Which? offers a very cost-effective legal service, too.
How the law grants you broadband consumer rights
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 replaces the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulation and the Supply of Goods and Services Act. It states that products must be:
- of satisfactory quality
- fit for purpose
- as described
For broadband consumers, this protects your right to claim a full refund or compensation if you can prove that the service or equipment, was not delivered as described, was not fit for purpose beforehand, or is not to a satisfactory level of quality or workmanship.
The Distance Selling Regulations give consumers rights when shopping on-line or by mail order. Under the Regulations you have the right to clear information, a cancellation period of seven working days and protection against fraudulent use of a credit card.
These rules are especially important if you have applied for broadband online and use a credit card to pay off your broadband fees. Distance Selling Regulations may protect you from having a problem with refunds, late payment fees or cancellation fees as well.
The Communications Act states that all communications providers, (including broadband providers) must implement and comply with a dispute resolution scheme. As a result, all ISPs must be a member of either Ombudsman Services: Communications or CISAS in order to comply with the Communications Act regulations.
Useful organisations for dealing with broadband disputes
The following is a list of useful organisations that can help you resolve a problem with your broadband provider in different ways.
Ofcom – Office of the Communications Regulator set policies for broadband providers but they don’t settle individual disputes. Their website has a lot of useful information and they do log consumer complaints against broadband providers.
ISPA – The Internet Services Providers Association is the UK’s trade association for the ISP industry. Refer to their code of practice when in dispute with a provider
Trading Standards – An excellent starting point for consumer protection information and advice.
HM Courts Service – Moneyclaim.gov.uk is the HM Courts online service for making and receiving small court claims.
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