Thousands of Brits are being slapped with costly cancellation fees worth hundreds of pounds when they try to switch broadband providers, the Citizens Advice charity has warned.
The group found that the average cost of extricating oneself from a rubbish broadband deal was £190, but customers had been handed out fees of up to £625. Even where users were trying to get out of a deal that left them with snail’s pace connection, persistent outages or bad customer service, they were still paying through the nose if they cancelled in the first six months of their annual contract.
One woman surveyed by the charity was charged a cancellation fee even though the Ts&Cs didn’t mention anything about it and the connection speed was so bad, she had ended up using an internet café.
Other customers found themselves unable to cancel even when a home move meant they could no longer get the service or were stuck with a new 18 month contract with the same provider after moving house. In many cases, customers found the fees handed over to debt collection agencies when they didn’t immediately pay up.
“People are finding themselves held captive by bad broadband services. Some consumers who have stood up to problem suppliers have found themselves being punished for switching when they’ve been hit with a cancellation fee that is then passed over to a debt collection agency,” said Gillian Guy, chief exec of Citizens Advice.
“Internet service providers must not shackle customers seeking a better service with unreasonable fees that can turn into shock debt. All internet users need to be able to easily have a way out of inadequate contracts and broadband speeds that only give them daily frustration.”
Ofcom requires any additional charges to be fair and clearly explained to customers. The regulatory rules also call for early termination charges to be limited and for charges to only apply if the supplier has met its commitments, which is arguably not the case when broadband speeds turn out to be less than promised or outages are frequent.
“Consumers who end contracts early should never have to pay more than the payments left under the contract - in fact they should often pay less, to reflect costs providers save because the contract ends early,” the regulator’s guidance states.
“When consumers enter into contracts with suppliers they make certain commitments… If the contract and any early termination charges are fair, the supplier may insist on consumers fulfilling their commitments or paying the charges.
“This does, of course, work both ways. If the supplier is unable to fulfil its own commitments, it may be required to pay compensation to consumers.” ®