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COVID-19 – Virgin Media Engineers Say Home Installs Risk Lives

Monday, March 30th, 2020 (8:21 am) - Score 23,623

Some of Virgin Media’s UK broadband ISP and TV engineers have accused the operator of putting “lives in danger” by continuing to do new in-home installations, during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis, for people who previously had a working service from another provider (they argue such work is unnecessary in this climate).

According to the Evening Standard, it’s alleged that some customers also do not reveal in advance that they are self-isolating in order to get their installations done, which if true is an obvious risk to those doing the work. The accusation is that Virgin Media may be putting profit ahead of the health of their workers (some engineers have also contacted ISPreview.co.uk to raise similar concerns).

On the flip side the Government has designated broadband engineers as “key workers” (much like those in the NHS, water and energy sectors etc.), which in practice means that work necessary to continue the roll-out of “gigabit-capable” broadband, and maintaining existing networks, can proceed. But home installations are a more complicated consideration.

For example, Openreach recently ordered a significant reduction in their work (here), but they made some exceptions for self-installs (no engineer required – e.g. ADSL, FTTC migrations / upgrades), installs for vulnerable end customers (only where essential), installs for critical national infrastructure customers (e.g. NHS, pharmacies, utilities, food, financial etc.) and, optionally, installs for those with no other form of broadband.

Meanwhile Virgin Media has introduced various policies around social distancing, cleaning, health and has said that their “engineers will only enter a home if they need to” (here). Likewise customers are asked on several occasions, before the visit, to confirm if they’re self-isolating or not (obviously some people may allegedly be giving the wrong response here).

The operator has also said, where it’s possible, that they’ll send customers a self-install QuickStart pack (i.e. no need for an engineer to enter your home). The problem is that a lot of Virgin Media’s service installations do require an engineer visit, especially since most of their new additions are coming from newly built Project Lightning (network extension) areas.

A Spokesman for Virgin Media said:

“The safety of our people and customers is our absolute top priority as we do everything we can to keep the country connected in these difficult times.

We are already taking steps to minimise the amount of in-home work we need to carry out. Our engineers will only enter a home if they need to in order to fix or install core services and will adhere to social distancing guidelines when inside.

We are frequently checking the health of our engineers and also check with all customers before a visit takes place to see if they, or anyone in the household, is self-isolating or has flu-like symptoms. We will not enter a property if that is the case.

If a customer does not feel comfortable with an engineer entering their home then we will work to rearrange an appointment for a suitable time in the future or see if there’s a way for services to be self-installed or fixed remotely.”

The situation highlights a difficult clash between the ability to keep working when designated as a “key worker“, during the COVID-19 crisis, and the different approaches being taken by other operators. For example, most people hoping to get a new ultrafast broadband (FTTP or G.fast) service installed on Openreach’s network will probably now be waiting until at least June, but on Virgin Media similar work can still proceed.

As if the situation wasn’t already awkward enough then we’re hearing some feedback, from different operators, about how ordinary people are hurling abuse toward engineers as they work (usually during street works). Many appear to be unaware that such work is still allowed to proceed (repairs, maintenance and network extension etc.) and in fact it may even go quicker with so little congestion on the roads to worry about (see here).

One recent update from INCA said, “We are getting multiple reports of staff who are working on streetworks being on the receiving end of abuse from members of the general public, who believe that the gangs are flouting Government restrictions. Clear signage and adherence to the guidance can help to protect these key workers.”

No doubt some of those same people wouldn’t be too happy if their broadband stopped working and no engineers came out to fix it for several months. We’d ask everybody to please respect those who are required to continue working during this crisis. Street works also have other problems to contend with since the COVID-19 situation has created wider issues in the supply and support chain, which will no doubt delay a lot of work.

UPDATE 31st March 2020

We should point out that Virgin isn’t the only operator receiving such gripes from their own engineers. We’ve also heard from several concerned KCOM engineers and have had a few reports from the odd alternative network ISP engineer.

Leave a Comment
43 Responses
  1. Avatar Spoffle

    “Engineers”

    • Avatar Trina Mellors

      It’s disgusting virgin media are putting there workers at risk and their families by going into peoples houses to put in virgin boxes etc. How is this essential work. This needs to be asked to the government whether this is actually safe to do at the moment. I know they have been told they are key workers but I do not understand why they are ?

  2. Avatar Meadmodj

    I regard this as a serious breech of H&S risk assessment and it is irresponsible of VM management. OR had already announced they would be withdrawing any service that involved a home visit and would review the situation regarding vulnerable people which was the correct approach. This included simple repair/testing to NTE/ONT. VM installs often include in multiroom, installation of physical products etc. If it cannot be self-install then this should have stopped.

    The risk is both ways and should be essential repairs only.

  3. Avatar Mike Delaney

    Why put your engineer in danger of catching or even transmitting the virus if they are happy to work alone outside fine but new customers really I want food delivered to my property can I find a delivery service in the next month or so I d think so..? Get real virgin media.

  4. Avatar Andy fane

    My neighbour is getting installed as we speak, he is getting 4 TV boxes and there are two virgin vans outside.

    He expected it to be cancelled as he has sky but the engineer says he was told by his manager that he is to carry on as normal and CV19 doesn’t apply to Virgin as he is classed as a utility!

    • Avatar JmJohnson

      Utilities are affected… the energy dno’s are only issuing reactive works (faults). All planned works have ceased (maintenance, new provisions etc).

  5. Avatar Communications Workers Union S.Wales Branch

    Engineers are still being sent on non essential jobs such as installing a 3rd tv box. Contractors are being sent home unpaid if they refuse to enter premises. We have had reports of engineers going sick after visiting 50 to 70 homes in a week.
    Virgin Media are putting public safety at risk to maximise their profits.

    Engineers are more than willing to maintain essential services. But VM are taking advantage of this crisis.

    The Govt. should issue instructions on a sectoral standard (basing on Openreach’s approach would be a good start) to protect the public and key workers.

    • Avatar Shane

      I am in Newport and I can’t even get a self stater pack delivered!

      Maybe an Engineer can drop a modem on my porch? I didn’t think so!

      VM are so backwards in going forwards it’s unreal

  6. Avatar Roger_Gooner

    VM is still offering a manned installation of the hub 4 for upgrades to Gig1. I see this as completely unnecessary. Post the hub 4 to the customer, if it doesn’t work then reject the upgrade and use the old hub again.

    • Avatar Ausa

      Manned install is mandatory as part of Gig1, the installer does a Wi-Fi check & provides/configured boosters free as part of the package.

    • Avatar Roger_Gooner

      In no way can the WiFi work be considered essential especially as VM routinely posts boosters to customers for them to self-install.

  7. Avatar John nightingale

    Why are vigin media contractors digging up the roads and laying new cables at present during lockdown
    This is not essential work, no social distancing between crews whilst carrying out the work, also crews sharing the same vehicle. This pandemic will take longer to control when companies like this do not obey the goverment guidelines. New infrastructure is NOT essential. vigin media = profit over pandemic

    • Avatar Shane

      Just like why are there groups of 8 people walking past my house right now – and I live next to a Police Station? Because they don’t care end of the day (people and cops)

    • Avatar Michele Hendon

      We have the same problem in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. So pleased someone else has noticed.

    • Avatar Pezza

      It’s not under the restriction and it’s all about money. Simple really. VM and Sky are pretty employers.

  8. Avatar Kevin

    I think allot of you need to familiarise yourselves with what the government are asking. The details can be found here:
    https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

  9. Avatar JamesW

    Could VM use the current climate to roll forward with there gig upgrade in areas?

    As they would have the staff available?

    Would/could benfit the end user getting this done earlier/quicker?

    In theory they could go and do “MANY” areas. All be it they would need to schedule the works to be done in the night time if there was to be any down time.

    • Avatar JamesW

      By this I mean none home visit upgrades in there Green boxes or Nodes

    • Avatar CarlT

      I really don’t think that’s going to be a priority right now. Ask people what’s on their list of things they want from VM not many are going to say gigabit.

      It makes very little difference to the vast majority of users whether working from home or not.

      Stability and quality are a far bigger priority.

    • Avatar Steve

      Nope. I would be livid at upgrade work being done at anytime.
      Right now I work from home including night shifts and that would stop me being able to work. Essential maintenance due to an outage yes but not upgrade.
      This is not the time to do work that will cause an outage at anytime.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Indeed. This is the time to have a change freeze for everything bar essential work.

      Upgrades to enlarge e-peens is not essential.

    • Avatar JamesW

      What if the upgrade would “fix” issues of over utilisation in areas? Slow speed (below paid for speeds).

  10. Avatar Pezza

    Not surprised by this, I’d imagine Sky are equally as bad, profit is ALL they really care about, plus the board making there yearly bonuses. The culture created in these companies isn’t particularly employee friendly to say the least. Plus if it’s like Sky, VM no doubt have banned any union? So if you don’t like it there’s the door…

    • Avatar FibreBubble

      Virgin Media de-recognised the union some years ago.

      It is disturbing that Virgin’s disregard for the welfare of people working for them, which is long established, now extends to their customers too.

  11. Avatar Andrew M

    Virgin will admit they could have handled this pandemic better in regards to information and guidance for the field technicians but they now have several policies in place to protect their technicians and customers. People complaining that texts aren’t being sent to customers need to realize that those customers like the ones that lie about having symptoms or self isolating are also lying. Virgin cant control those selfish customers. If a tech turns up to a job where the customer is clearly showing symptoms and not well or are self isolating that tech has every right to refuse to do the job. All they have to do is let their field manager know. As for the installs Virgin are only providing installs for new customers that have no existing services already. So if Virgin know the customer is coming from another provider meaning they still probably have an active service then they will not book the install. Again customers can lie about not having any existing services but again Virgin can’t control those selfish customers. In regards to faults all techs are being urged to perform all their outside tests and have been given guidance on what these checks should be so they can try and fix the fault from the outside and not have to enter the customers property. If they do have to enter they are encouraged o ask the customer to leave the room while they are working, also if equipment needs changing the tech can activate the box then leave it on the door step for the customer to pick
    up. If customers don’t want techs in their house then they can just refuse to let them in the tech will just do their best to fix the fault from the outside where possible. Lastly all vulnerable technicians have been urged to let their line managers know that they are vulnerable so that they can work out ways of working from home or other none customer facing jobs for that tech to do depending on the techs situation and why they are classed as vulnerable.

    • Avatar Malc

      It’s all well and good saying the techs can activate the new box or modem from outside the property which we can but it won’t work as there’s nobody in the dispatch to activate it the customer would have to wait till the close of day before it works how is that helpful to the customer especially if they are working from home, last week alone I had jobs because the customer had slow Internet speed.

    • Avatar Communications Workers Union S.Wales Branch

      The point isn’t customer choice or Virgin being the victims of lying isolators.

      The problem is they are running promotions whilst BT, SKY etc have stopped visiting homes. They are sending engineers to 3rd box installs (so they know there is a setvice), and threatening engineers who refuse to go in a house that they will be sent home without pay.

      So you have engineers attending out of fear for their livelihood, customers being mislead that they won’t get covid19 or spread it because the engineer has gloves / uses own remote, then the tax payer and NHS pick up the bill when the following week the engineer falls sick and up to 70 house holds could have been infected.

      All the while Virgin’s CEOs are counting their bonuses.

      Profit is being put before the lives of their staff, their customers and the interests of the country.

      It is a disgrace.

    • Avatar Click Clack

      Yes someone has read all the do’s and don’t try putting that into practice I had 10 jobs today of those 10, 8 needed to be dealt with inside the property as much I want to work on the external side of the property this in theory very rarely happens. Virgin should have from the start of all this just of dealt with total loss of service.

    • Avatar Mikey B

      Wheres the mention of still not providing the correct PPE for staff? No face masks ,No sanitisers? Has that been resolved? As ive seen many in the past ‘leave’ due to not having the correct PPE on site, why in this pandemic is this any different?

  12. Avatar Ackers

    I am a subcontractor we are not forced to work we ask the customer on 3 occasions if self isolating if we get a yes it get puts back 2 weeks
    Also as of 1st of April we getting taken over by virgin so guys don’t won’t time of as will impact there switch

    I do agree with essential work like fault and customer moving in to new homes moving a modem or add box I will
    Not do

  13. Avatar Raffa Lutz

    I have 3 multiroom installs today, its business as usual at Virgin Media…

  14. Avatar Dazie

    It is difficult to tell from the above conflicting comments, but if the article is factual, this is disgraceful and VM need to stop all in house non essential work immediately. Openreach seem to have taken a more sensible approach.
    It is important not to forget that some infected people do not show symptoms at all and a person can be contagious for a couple of days before showing symptoms. This is reckless endangerment of human life and an example of why the lock down has to go on for months rather than weeks – as spreading continues from house to house.

  15. Avatar Andy

    Poor old Richard Branson…how else is he going to add to his billions…govt said no to the bailout…MUST MAKE MONEY

  16. Avatar SymetricalAccess

    This doesn’t supprise me. Virgin Media has demonstrated on several occations it only cares for it’s bottom line. This is just another example to add to the pile.

    They are a dead end anyway, will get left in the dust one the upload side. When it’s safe to do so your better off switching to another provider. The more people with a decent upload the more usefull it will be.

  17. Avatar Pops

    So if they are doing everything to protect both the workforce and customers why then the day after the announcement of a lockdown do they increase their workforce. I am talking about the “essential work” of sending new collection agents into (ex-) customers homes to collect their equipment

  18. Avatar Octavia

    I’m having virginmedia install this Friday and I’d like to look at the comments

  19. Avatar SimonHayterUK

    The lockdown has little to do with stopping COVID19 since it’s not a complete global shutdown. It’s simply measures put in place to stop healthcare provides becoming overwhelmed, nothing more. The only way to stop COVID19 would be a vaccine, a favourable mutation, or mass immunity (however antibodies only last so long, but can weaken, if caught again). The lockdown is not saving you or your family directly, its saving the NHS. As soon as the infections rate PEAK (not deaths), the UK will lift a lot of the restrictions as seen in Italy and Spain, which still have hundreds of deaths a day. COVID19 is not FLU, it’s a common cold, and like common colds, the particles are tiny, and replicate in the system for many days, if not weeks, before the body, reacts, in elderly, these reactions are delayed, and why its deadly, because the system can’t catch up. Best thing people can do is get ‘FIT’ loose ‘WEIGHT’ and all meet up in the Winchester once the storm has passed.

    • In fairness effective Social Distancing (lockdown) can reduce the spread of the virus, when given enough time (several months), to such a degree that it will effectively die out in a population. At present the models suggest COVID-19 is in that area with an R0 of less than 1.

      But the massive economic harm from maintaining the lockdown can’t be maintained forever and later waves of infection, either from abroad or the spreading of a smaller local cluster, could easily restart the global problem.

      A vaccine is indeed the ultimate solution, while an effective treatment to help prevent series lung damage would also be a third way to manage the danger it poses (plus reduce NHS strain).

  20. Avatar John Square

    I work for a company that undertakes phone and broadband maintenance work for pretty much all ISP’s (excluding Virgin) inside customers premises only. We currently only visit homes in the event that phone or broadband services have been impacted to check if the problem is internal (customers phone, hub, router etc) in which case we get the service working, or, if it’s an external fault, we escalate the issue to Openreach. During the current lockdown we will not visit to repair or install set top boxes as they are not essential, the customer is advised to unplug the tv aerial from the box (freeview) and connect it to the tv. However some ISP’s are wrongly passing jobs marked as broadband faults that turn out to be TV jobs when we arrive, I would like to think this is purely a reporting error. In these cases we explain the situation to the customer and leave. So far all customers have been sensible in vacating the room we are working in and asking if we need washing facilities etc. If we feel that any home has health or indeed cleanliness issues we are free to refuse the work and close it down as a health & safety issue without having to call it in for approval. Latest instruction from Sky is that we do not enter customers home under any circumstances, we can talk customers through some checks and tests from outside, quite how this works with the elderly or partially sighted customers is yet to be judged.

  21. Avatar BellLara

    I’m so sorry to the Virgin media engineers! I work in customer services in one of the call centres and was given a half hour briefing on how to deal with faults calls (never dealt with a fault in my life) so that we become essential staff as customer services aren’t! We follow a flow when a customer calls in with a fault so every second call requires an engineer which includes customers with multiple STB’s and slow intermittent bb. We are sending engineers out to selfish customers as the computer tells us to and putting engineers lives at risk as well as our own as we are in a overcrowded call centre that promises everyday to let us work from home only to be told “The work at home solution” is on hold as VM are scared that their staff breach security! Security is more important than lives according to VM it’s an absolute joke!! But all HR staff etc are working from home the underpaid agents just sit their doing a job that they shouldn’t be doing as they know nothing about it! Sorry again to all VM engineers.

  22. Avatar VMEngineer

    Everyone moaning about engineers going into properties, yet here you all are booking faults and installs. Haha you couldn’t make it up. Hypocrites

  23. Avatar Jon Harvey

    Huh, I’ve been waiting on Virgin to change me over to high-speed internet since just before the lockdown. Keep getting told that they aren’t doing installs because of Corona. It maybe that the actual cabling installation hasn’t been finished as they were waiting on that but I really want it done soon. Guess I need to make a phone call after the weekend!

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