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The Missing End of Contract Letters for Broadband and Mobile Users

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 3,264

A new survey of 20,376 UK people, specifically those who are responsible for either a broadband or mobile service, has found that 33% of customers whose ISP deal ended in the last year (7% on mobile) have never received an End-of-Contract Notification – via letter, text or email – and may thus be overpaying for their package.

Back in February 2020 Ofcom launched a new End-of-Contract Notifications (ECN) system, which requires all fixed broadband, mobile, home phone and pay TV providers to issue such notifications to existing subscribers (usually between 10-40 days before the end of your contract). The move was intended to help tackle the so-called “loyalty penalty” by keeping customers informed about the best deals and encouraging switching.

NOTE: Consumers on shorter 30 day (monthly) rolling contracts will only be sent a single annual notification, provided they’ve been with the same provider for over a year.

However, the new Uswitch survey, which was conducted by Opinium between 29th October to 9th November 2020, states that over 8 million broadband bill-payers whose contracts have ended since February 2020 should have thus received an ECN in the weeks leading up to their deal expiring – but 33% (c.3 million) never got one.

The comparison site, which estimates that being on an expired broadband tariff costs about £90 extra a year on average (more relevant on the big providers where large first-term discounts apply), suggests that those in the 33% group could thus be “overpaying” by a total of more than £251 million.

Meanwhile more than 88% of the 5 million broadband consumers who did receive an ECN (73% for mobile) have since used the information that it provided to upgrade or switch to a better deal in the last 12 months, either with their current ISP or a competitor. But sadly, the other 12% simple opted to do nothing (27% for mobile).

Did the notification from your broadband ISP prompt you to do any of the following?
36% – I took out a new contact with my existing provider
36% – I spoke to my provider and got an even better deal
9% – I used a price comparison site to compare all the deals in the market and took out a deal with a new provider
7% – I used a price comparison site to compare all the deals in the market and took out a deal with my existing provider
12% – I did nothing

Did the notification from your mobile operator prompt you to do any of the following?
34% – I took out a new contact with my existing provider
18% – I moved from a handset contract to a SIM-only deal with my existing provider
12% – I spoke to my provider and got an even better deal
6% – I used a price comparison site to compare all the deals in the market and took out a deal with a new provider
3% – I used a price comparison site to compare all the deals in the market and took out a deal with my existing provider
27% – I did nothing

We should point out that just because those in the 33% bracket didn’t receive an ECN doesn’t mean to say that some of them didn’t still find a way to save money, such as by using their own initiative to haggle for a cheaper deal or switch ISPs (Retentions – Tips for Cutting Your Broadband Bill). Sadly, the survey didn’t really delve into this.

Dirty Tricks

Perhaps of more concern is the fact that some providers appear to be using questionable tactics or language when they do issue ECNs. For example, some letters used subject lines with a neutral tone and talked about providing an “An update to your broadband service” or “A little reminder about your contract,” which could in some cases lead people to overlook such letters or discard them as unimportant.

Likewise, Uswitch claims to have seen examples where providers have extended pricing discounts beyond contract end dates, thus allegedly “creating a loophole and avoiding the requirement of sending a formal notice when these new discounts end.” We asked Ofcom about this and the regulator said they were monitoring compliance closely, while also noting that their rules have not yet been in place for a full year (even if that mark is only weeks away).

A Spokesperson for Ofcom told ISPreview.co.uk:

“End-of-contract alerts play an important role in making sure people can find the best deal for them. While we don’t recognise these figures, it’s important companies comply with these rules to make sure customers get all the information they need. We’re closely monitoring the impact of these notifications – including collecting data directly from providers – and will report on our findings this year.”

Meanwhile, it’s worth pointing out that 2020 was also the year of COVID-19, which threw much of the market into a state of chaos and all that began shortly after the new ECN system was introduced. In response Ofcom took a softer approach to judging matters of enforcement, which they said would “take account of the unique circumstances” (strain on staffing, resources, support etc.) when judging whether or not to act against a problem.

So, while we are encouraging providers to send these notifications as normal, we will take a pragmatic approach to compliance with rules like this, recognising the significant challenges providers face at this time and the steps they need to take to respond to the impact of the coronavirus,” said the regulator last April 2020. As such some ECNs may not yet have been issued due to the extreme pressures created by the lockdown(s).

Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Avatar Aqx says:

    I’ve noticed with a few providers that they send the letter 2-3 weeks before the discount ends and the wording used is also misleading. Example being that when it says “January 25” it actually means before that date because it’s your billing period and not the real life “25th January”. So the bill could actually charge from January 9 – February 8 and it will be for partial or full cost as the discount expired on the bill.
    More confirmation is definitely required to ensure it’s received with enough time to avoid such a thing happening.

  2. Avatar Alan says:

    My son nor my neighbour never received any notification from Plusnet when their contract expired
    My 90+ year old neighbour however, was called by Plusnet to inform him he was out of contract
    When I joined him up 18 months earlier, he was paying £28/month for broadband and Phone
    Customer Services told him due to inflation the premium had now risen to £44/month and persuaded him to agree.
    So he was conned into paying this when he is on Copper with a 3Mb download speed. He wont let me chase this up incase they cut him off
    You can complete the OFCOM Monitoring form here

    1. Avatar Owen Rudge says:

      Something similar happened with my elderly mum a year or so ago on BT – she had a regular broadband and phone package which was more than sufficient for her needs, then one day I went past and found she had a new BT hub. She’d been phoned up and persuaded to switch to a new £60+/month “premium” package on a 24 month contract.

  3. Avatar Steven M says:

    I got an email also from Plusnet saying I was ‘overpaying’. I renewed my ‘line saver’ last November costing me £200, which according to the new contract is now included in the £21.30 per month. I am now only paying a pro rata amount until January next year of £4.70 per month for Broadband Fibre + line rental, which I have paid for)

    Glad to say that Plusnet have said they will email again well before my contract runs out for a new review.

    “We want to say a big thank you for being a Plusnet customer. We love having you with us and want to make sure you’re getting the best value from your Plusnet services.
    We’re just getting in touch to remind you that you’re not currently in a minimum term contract for your Unlimited Fibre Extra broadband and line rental. This means you’re currently paying the out of contract price of £41.59 per month.”

  4. Avatar Billy Nomates says:

    My virgin media is due to end in less than 30 days now.
    Have I received anything from them ? Nope.

    1. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      Virgin don’t need to send these letters out, you’ll discover it automatically when your bill increases by 30-50% a month later.

  5. Avatar Royp says:

    At the beginning of 2020, I was told by EE that, because I did not give 30 days notice of leaving them, I could not leave when I wanted to and had to “overrun” the Contract at much higher rates.
    With that in mind, when my Contract with POPTelecom was coming to an end in Jan 2021, I gave them 30 days notice, but did not hear from them until 2 weeks before I was due to leave, when they offered me a “special deal”. No ECN though. I did not renew with them. How can providers get away with giving 10 days minimum ECN and yet have a 30 day notice to be posted by the customer, thus risking additional higher charges?

  6. Avatar Michael V says:

    Home ISPs & mobile phone operators really should make the effort to notify their customers. SMS, email, letter.

    But the customer really doesn’t have an excuse. They can check their Network app, log in to their account online & call customer services. It’s their responsibility to know the end date.

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