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Sky Broadband Defends Move to Push Users on to GBP4 Sky Talk Service

Monday, November 2nd, 2015 (11:02 am) - Score 1,857

Ofcom has said that they’re in contact with Sky Broadband after the ISP earlier announced that they planned to unilaterally move their existing free Sky Talk (voice calls) customers on to a new £4 per month package, albeit via the controversial approach of presumed consent.

The change was revealed as part of last month’s price hike announcement (here), although existing customers still had to do a bit of digging in order to uncover the development (Sky’s official announcement page doesn’t mention the £4 charge). In fairness the writing had been on the wall since July’s closure of the old Sky Talk packages (here), which at the time only affected new subscribers.

Meanwhile many existing customers have continued to make use of the Sky Talk Weekends service, which at no extra costs included free UK weekend calls for those who subscribed to the Sky Line Rental service. Funnily enough this too is a downgrade from the older Sky Talk Freetime package, which not so long ago also included free evening calls.

But on the 1st December 2015 all that will change and those who subscribed before the July 2015 Sky Talk revamp will instead find their free Sky Talk add-on being changed for the new Sky Talk Evening and Weekends package, which adds £4 per month to the cost.

The move is similar to the one that BT pulled when they suddenly lumped the £5 per month BTSport Pack content on to their existing broadband subscribers, as opposed to giving them the continued usage of BTSport Lite for free (here). At the time Ofcom felt the need to intervene (here), although so far the regulator has not taken a similarly strong stance with Sky.

An Ofcom Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

If there is concern around how a particular contract change has been implemented, Ofcom will speak to the provider involved to establish the facts and assess the risk of consumer harm. Ofcom is in contact with Sky about its recent price changes, and how they were communicated to customers.”

In fairness Sky have given plenty of warning and are sending out letters / emails, which give customers a chance to try the new service for free during the first 3 months (the new package also includes calls to UK mobiles, UK landlines and 0870/0845 numbers). On top of that customers can visit Sky’s website to change or downgrade the package (sky.com/changetalkpackage), while others may simply choose to exit their contract without penalty.

Never the less anybody who fails to receive or simply overlooks the letter, which can easily happen (lots of people were unaware of the BTSport change despite BT sending similar notifications), will eventually find themselves paying £4 extra for a service that they don’t necessarily want and never requested. We understand that Sky has agreed to look at any complaints about this on a case by case basis, such as if you neglect to change your package in time.

A Sky spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

With our new Sky Talk packs, customers gain even more types of inclusive calls, including to UK mobiles, for as little as £4 a month. However, we are making it clear that if customers are not happy with their package, they can upgrade or downgrade at any time.”

Under Ofcom rules and general consumer laws, providers must treat customers fairly when they make changes to their contracts, including changes to prices and the services offered. They must also make sure that customers are made fully aware of any changes and any impact so that they can decide whether they are happy to agree to them.

Ofcom has also published guidance which states that the notifications sent to customers should be easy to understand and clearly set out what change is being made, how it will impact the customer and what steps the customer can take to avoid the impact of the change if they wish to.

Sky certainly deserves some credit for broadly meeting the above points and perhaps doing so in a more effective way than the aforementioned BTSport situation. Never the less many consumers will consider it bad practice to try and tack-on a new service at extra cost and as we said before, such notifications can be easily missed.

Similarly Sky should really mention the extra charge on their official announcement page (linked above), otherwise it makes it even harder to know what’s happening if you missed or didn’t receive the related notification letter. In that case you might well be oblivious to the change, at least until it shows up on your bank account.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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