UK Broadband ISP Complaints Advice

Welcome to the UK Broadband ISP Complaints section, which contains detailed information and advice on the problems consumers often experience with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and how to get them solved. To make life easier for our readers we’ve also split this section up into five common sense categories and ordered everything by priority. Please take careful account of each.

Complaint Topics
Official ISP Complaint Handlers and Procedures
Mercifully there are no shortages of different routs you can take when seeking to escalate a complaint, though they may not all apply to your particular provider. Below can be found a numbered list, constructed in rough order of logical priority (where to go first), which indicates any organisation that has been specifically setup to help solve ISP complaint(s). Don’t be afraid to complain to more than one.
1. Normal Internal ISP Support/Complaints Channels
2. The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA)
3. Ofcom Approved Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Scheme/Complaint Handler
4. Direct Ofcom Complaints
1. Normal Internal ISP Support/Complaints Channels

It goes without saying that your first port of call should always be with the ISP itself, which will usually offer a number of customer support contacts for different departments. Allow the ISP time to investigate and resolve the problem, though how much you give them somewhat depends on the severity of your situation. We would also recommend asking to speak with a manager, although this doesn’t always work (e.g. foreign call centres).
Internal ISP Complaint Procedures

Should the provider fail to be effective at resolving your problem then most reputable ISPs will also offer an internal complaints procedure. Customers should ask their provider about this as an official complaint is often treated differently from a request for support. It can also help if, when writing a letter or email, you state ‘OFFICIAL COMPLAINT’ somewhere in the subject and make sure to send any post via a tracked/recorded method (keep the receipt as evidence).

Expect internal complaint procedures to take some time before reaching a conclusion and do not be afraid to make a complaint to another organisation while waiting for your resolution as it may not go in your favour; adding a little extra pressure to help gain the desired outcome is your right and freedom as a consumer. Make sure to politely express your dissatisfaction if the issue has not been resolved.
Unfortunately some ISPs can be rather poor, so if they fail to resolve your problem then we would recommend requesting a letter (DEADLOCK letter) from them that details what measures they have taken to tackle the complaint. This can come in handy as evidence for when or if you need to initiate an ADR complaint (no.3 below).

It is also helpful to write and sign letters of complaint to your ISP in the post or via FAX as this is typically better evidence and more official than merely shooting off a quick email. Likewise telephone calls are hard to log.

2. The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA)

Many of the markets more reputable ISPs are also members of the ISPA (MEMBER LIST), which is an Internet trade association that represents the interests of UK ISPs. The group also runs its own ISPA Code of Practice that all members must abide by and is designed as a commitment to good business practice.

If your ISP’s Internet support and or complaint procedures (no.1) have failed to resolve the problem within 10 working days of the original case being opened then you can also submit your dispute directly to the ISPA via an online form. This is highly recommended as it will put added pressure on the ISP to resolve the problem or risk their status with the ISPA.

Online ISPA Complaints Form

3. Ofcom Approved Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Scheme/Complaint Handler

The industry regulator, Ofcom (and the ISPA), requires that all UK ISPs are members of an approved ADR scheme (listed below). ADR schemes are meant to supplement, not replace, a providers own formal complaints procedure. The advantage they have is that an ADR is free and can order your ISP to either fix the problem or pay compensation.

For a complaint to be progressed through an ADR it must first pass one of two simple criteria; you can only use an ADR scheme if:
* You tried to make a formal complaint to the provider but had no success, and 8 weeks or more have passed since you first complained.

* Your provider has written to you to say they’re not going to do anything else about your complaint – known as a “deadlock” letter.
Typically your next step should be to determine which ADR your ISP is a member of. This is usually listed on the ADR websites or in your providers Terms & Conditions (T&C’s). Just do a search for ‘complaint’ or ‘ADR’ to turn it up. We also try to include this on our individual ISP Listing detail pages (click the name of your ISP from a list and it should be shown at the top) and Ofcom also has their own ADR list.

Be aware that some ISPs are merely vISP’s (virtual ISPs) or resellers, which means that their supplier will be the real one delivering your service and not the provider you subscribed with. It can thus be helpful to find out who supplies your ISP as sometimes the supplier will be the one listed on an ADR member’s scheme list and not the ISP itself. Once again our ISP Listings section includes a search page that contains common suppliers.

UPDATE April 2011

Ofcom has toughed its rules. From 2011 ISPs will have to include information of the relevant dispute resolution service on all paper bills. They will also have to write to consumers whose complaints have not been resolved within 8 weeks to inform them of their right to take their complaint to a dispute resolution service.

Ofcom is also establishing a single mandatory Code of Practice (CoP) with minimum standards for how providers must handle complaints from consumers. The Code of Practice will provide consistency in standards and will give Ofcom powers to take enforcement action against those providers who do not treat complainants fairly.

The new Ofcom Code of Practice has already come into force. However, the regulators requirement to improve awareness of dispute resolution services will not come into force until 22nd July 2011. In addition, OTELO has recently been re-branded under the umbrella of Ombudsman Services.

Ofcom currently approves two ADR schemes:
* Ombudsman Services: Communications (formerly OTELO)

4. Direct Ofcom Complaints

It’s important to understand that, while Ofcom does offer a facility for submitting formal complaints, their remit is not to actually deal with individual problems. Ofcom is a regulator and as such it will use your complaint to help track any overall issues that a particular ISP might be suffering from, which can in extreme cases cause them to take legal or punitive financial action against a particular provider.

To that end it is always good practice to issue Ofcom with a complaint about your ISP, provided you feel that the situation is serious enough to warrant it. Both UK ISPs Prodigy Internet and Pipex have been in trouble with Ofcom over their inability to provide customers with broadband migration codes. This would not have been possible without consumers raising their issues with the regulator.

Ofcom -
Hopefully by now you have a good idea of which OFFICIAL organisations have been setup to help deal with your ISP complaint and, with any luck, resolve it. But there are also other useful organisations that can help, please proceed on to our ‘Unofficial ISP Complaints Handlers and Legal Counsel’ section to find out more. Unofficial handlers are organisations that are not specifically designed to aid with ISP complaints.

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