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Dear UK Broadband ISPs – Make Your Post Contract Prices Clear

Wednesday, Apr 12th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 3,224
Contract under magnifying glass

We’ve lost count now of how many times ISPreview has had to say this over the years, but there are still far too many broadband ISPs in the UK – particularly larger players – that fail to clearly inform their customers of how much their package will cost post-contract. As a result, consumers often feel misled when it comes time to re-contract.

In fairness, for ISPs, there can be challenges in doing this as a good number of providers do play the annual price hikes game. The catch with this is that providers can’t always give an accurate forward view of exactly how much you’ll pay post contract, due to issues like variable inflation and the cost of implementing ever changeable industry rules and regulations (i.e. the cost impact of this may change during the course of your term).

However, in our view, the above is not enough of an excuse as the ISP should still be able to give a reasonably solid indication, or it could set a general baseline increase (e.g. “at the end of your term the monthly price will increase by £X”). This will often be accompanied by a disclaimer about the as yet unknown impact of any future price hikes / inflation, which will only be confirmed just prior to their implementation.

All of this is important because otherwise consumers can be misled into thinking that the only change they’ll have to worry about are annual price hikes (where they apply), which is assuming the ISP is even able to clearly communicate those too (some give no clear warning about the existence of mid-contract hikes). But our focus today is on post-contract pricing, not mid-contract hikes (regulators are already tackling the latter).

NOTE: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) are currently working to make info. about mid-contract price hikes clearer (here). Ofcom has also put mid-contract hikes under review (here).

Admittedly, some ISPs may try to skirt around this by saying that they offer re-contracting customers the option of cheaper deals, but the catch here is that customers often won’t know what kind of deals exist until they reach the end of their current term, or may even ignore / miss the notice. As a result, it’s still important for consumers to be given a clear indication of how much they’re likely to pay post-contract before signing up (i.e. after the first term discounts have ended).

Examples of the Confusion

At present, ISPs tend to approach this issue in one of several different ways. The most common thing to do is to hide post-contract pricing away in reams of small print, which people often miss (e.g. BT), or to put it on a price notifications page that can be hard to find unless you go actively seeking it (e.g. TalkTalk). In a few cases, we’ve also seen some ISPs neglect to update their small print when special offers change, which causes more confusion.

Some providers may then further confuse matters by displaying both a ‘current discount‘ and ‘previously discounted‘ style price on their product pages, yet neither price will be the same as the much more expensive post-contract price for the same tier (usually hidden in the small print). Consumers will thus wrongfully assume that the previously discounted price is the same as the more expensive post-contract price for the package.

In other cases, ISPs may force you to go through the entire ordering system before they reveal the post-contract pricing, and at other times they might not even mention it at all. Suffice to say that we’ve long felt the way providers – mainly the biggest players – handle the display of post-contract pricing to new customers in the UK is being abused. But there has been little movement toward tackling it.

Often the best way to illustrate this problem is by giving practical examples. In order to do this, we’ve looked across some of the market’s biggest ISPs to test how they’re approaching the issue. The summary below is based on data gathered during late January 2023, thus these experiences may differ from what is occurring today (provider’s frequently change their approaches).

NOTE: The following data gathering is done from the perspective of a potential customer hunting for package details. Potential customers should ideally NEVER be expected to run through an order system, or expand small print, just to uncover the post-contract price of a package.

Summary of Approaches to Post Contract ISP Pricing

BT

Post contract pricing is hidden away at the bottom of their product pages. We had to specifically click the ‘Important Information‘ link and then select ‘BT Broadband‘, at which point you are presented with a wall of text that covers different variations of each package.

Example Package: Full Fibre 100 (broadband only) was listed at £30.99 per month on a 24-month term, plus £29.99 upfront. But in the small print the details listed for “Full Fibre 100 without Landline” stated that the price from month 25 onwards would be £40.

Sky Broadband

Post contract pricing is hidden away at the bottom of their product page and only shown after you click the ‘Here’s the legal bit‘ link, which displays a wall of small print text that is quite an eye-strain to read.

Example Package: Sky Ultrafast (145Mbps) was listed at £35 per month on an 18-month term, plus £19.95 set-up. But in the small print we found this for the post-contract pricing on the package: “£40pm for Sky Broadband Ultrafast“.

TalkTalk

The ‘small print’ link at the bottom of the provider’s product page, which expands once clicked, merely seemed to re-state the same standard package price. But after considerable googling we found a page called ‘Our pricing‘ and when you click the ‘LATEST PLANS‘ link it brings up a window with the standard pricing for their current packages.

Example Package: Full Fibre 150 was listed at £29.95 per month on an 18-month term, with free postage and packaging. But the ‘LATEST PLANS’ page gave a standard price of £39.95 for two similar packages titled “Fibre 150” and “Fibre 150 Data Only”. The latest plans page lacks context and package names sometimes differ from the main site, which adds unnecessary confusion.

Virgin Media

The ‘Offers‘ link at the bottom of the page, once clicked, returned a wall of small print that listed the details for various packages and bundles, including stating the post-contract prices. But beware that the small print uses different package names from the listed products, which display based on speeds (e.g. “132Mbps” actually equates to their “M125 Fibre” tier – this will be confusing for some people).

Example Package: The 132Mbps package with a Virgin phone service was listed at £25 a month on and 18-month term, with a setup fee of £9.99. Weirdly, if you select ‘I don’t want a phone line‘ then it adds an extra £19 a month to the cost, so we opted to have a phone line. But the small print said that the post-contract price for M125 with phone was £51.

NOTE: Virgin changed how they present post-contract pricing during our testing. Initially it didn’t show unless you looked under the aformentioned ‘Offers’ link, but later they re-added it to the product details and, after that, visitors only needed to click the ‘Plan details‘ link on each package summary to get a drop-down with the correct post-contract prices shown. This goes to show that ISPs keep changing their approach.

Vodafone

This provider doesn’t allow you to see all of their packages until AFTER you run an availability check and, even when you do this, it fails to clearly mention any post-contract pricing. After a lot of digging through links and an email to Vodafone, we eventually found a ‘Price Guide‘ document that uncovered this information.

Example Package: Full Fibre 100 was listed at £26 a month on a 24-month term. The small print on the order page, below the chosen product, merely said “Please note – your monthly price will increase after 24 months, when your in-contract discount expires,” but failed to state by how much. But the ‘Price Guide‘ document listed the post-contract price as £36.

Plusnet

This is another provider that now hides its package details behind an availability check, but in order to find the post-contract price you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page (under where it says “Here’s the legal bit“) and click ‘Broadband and Line Rental‘ to expand a wall of small print. Plusnet does at least make this text a readable size and offers a clearer layout.

Example Package: Full Fibre 145 was listed at £30.99 on a 24-month term with a £0 activation fee. But the small print at the bottom of the page put its post-contract price at £35.

Shell Energy

Shell mercifully put its post-contract prices right alongside their discount rates, which made for a refreshing change after the above lot. But in case there’s any doubt, they also include a useful guide for promotional package prices and details in the small print (here).

Example Package: Full Fibre 100 was listed at £30.99 on an 18-month term, with the post-contract pricing displayed alongside at £37.99 per month.

Hyperoptic

The provider included their post-contract package prices under the ‘More information‘ link, which shows directly below the headline (discounted) price of each package. This is good.

Example Package: Superfast 150Mbps was listed at £25 per month on a 24-month term, with a £29 activation fee. But we only needed to click the ‘More information’ link directly below to see that the post-contract price for this was £35 per month.

Zen Internet

Zen hides their full fibre packages away behind an availability checker, but otherwise, and so far as we could see, the price they display is the general price you’ll pay both during and after your contract term. Clear and simple.

Example Package: Full Fibre 100 was listed at £35 per month on an 18-month term, with a £15 set-up fee.

In an ideal world, we’d like to see all ISPs clearly stating any known post-contract pricing directly alongside their promoted package prices (BEFORE starting an order), so that consumers can then make an informed decision about the likely cost of staying loyal to that provider post-contract. Post-contract prices should never be relegated to hidden pages or small print, they are too important to the decision process for that.

We should point out that ISPreview.co.uk tries to list post-contract prices on the individual detail pages for each ISP in our ‘Broadband ISP Listings and Comparisons‘ section, but it’s sometimes difficult even for us to find them (i.e. this suggests it must be a nightmare for everybody else, who won’t be dealing with this on a daily basis).

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
25 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Obi Wan says:

    Alternatively for BT, try my BT > see your offers. It tells me mine will go up by £5.

    Still, the issue is the passive messaging. I think people need to be actively told in clear writing.

    1. Avatar photo HullLad says:

      It’s a regulatory requirement for all ISPs to send customers notification that their contract is coming to an end, along with the price they will be paying after the contract end date.

      They are also required to advise them of the best alternative deal from their range, the cheapest deal from their range (even if it’s not available to them), the best deal based on the customer’s usage.

      If you’re not getting this from your provider, you need to ask them why.

  2. Avatar photo James says:

    ISPs should be made to give you a breakdown of exactly how much you will pay each month during your contract including all price rises.
    Example
    Month 1 will be £30, Month 2 £30….Month 10 £33…. And post contract Month 19 £35

  3. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

    The problem here is more that all large ISPs play the same game of massive, loss making discounts to acquire customers, followed by equally massive price hikes unless customers leave or are good at dealing with customer retention agents. That often means that there’s a major diversity impact that means those groups unable or reluctant to regularly switch or to engage in effective retention negotiations will lose out – elderly and vulnerable customers will be particularly affected, whereas the beneficiaries are largely well informed, relatively well off, disloyal, middle class customers.

    If (as is the case in many retail insurance markets) companies were prohibited from penalising loyalty and the price discrimination that is normal in telecoms, then the clarity of terms would be far less of a problem. The results in insurance are a general lowering of prices – obviously serial switchers lose out, but there’s also real gains that churn costs are reduced for providers (churn costs are in practice paid by the profitable, loyal customers).

    So there’s the answer. End the loyalty penalty. Like the insurers, telcos will squeal like stuck pigs if this were announced, and Ofcom would take years to implement it as they’re incompetent, but it’s the only way forward. Then force ISPs to limit contracts to one year fixed price (again, normal practice in insurance) and the job is done.

    1. Avatar photo Iain says:

      200% this. Fairness, just like in insurance pricing, is the correct way forward.

      The current post-contract loyalty penalty is unreasonable. Fixed costs have been paid off!

    2. Avatar photo GreenLantern22 says:

      I agree there is a problem but I don’t agree with your proposed solutions. Longer contracts are not necesarily a bad thing, a lot of business contracts are longer than 2 years. It’s the combination of longer contracts with mid contract rises that makes it a bad deal for consumers. To me there are 3 easy solutions:
      1) Ban mid contract price rises
      2) Allow customers to choose existing new customer offers once their minimum terms run out
      3) Limit contract rises for out of contract customers to RPI + 3.7% once a year

    3. Avatar photo Simon Farnsworth says:

      Rather than limit the contract length, I would prefer to see changes to how broadband prices are advertised; I would say that you must include the total price (including all charges – installation, termination, excess construction charges, monthly fees etc) over the tie-in period and the length of the tie-in period as prominently as any other price in your advertising materials and up-front in your contract terms. If your total paid exceeds the amount in the contract terms, then the contract tie-in ends immediately; where an ISP doesn’t want this, they have to update the contract terms before the tie-in begins.

      As a sop to providers, I would let you advertise the total price as a monthly average *if* you include the tie-in period in months, or the weekly average *if* you include the tie-in period in weeks (etc down to as small a time unit as you want to quote – you just look a bit silly if you say “it’s just 0.001p per second for 126,227,704 seconds”). This is only allowed in advertising – in the contract terms, you must provide the total and the tie-in period, and let the user do their own maths.

      This has the effect of making mid-contract price rises awkward – if you charge £20/month, and you want to reserve the right to increase the price to up to £30/month depending on inflation, you need to advertise your price as £30/month on average over a 24 month tie-in, or as a total of £720 over a 24 month tie-in, or even £7/week over 104 weeks, even if you’re saying that you charge just £20/month – that disparity is thus there for customers to spot – why is it £7/week, but £20 for a month?.

      It also has the effect of putting a big number in place if you’re using installation or termination charges to subsidise a cheap price, or if you’re using a cheap introductory offer to attract people to an expensive long contract. So, I can say “it’s just £10/month for the first 12 months!”, but I’ll then have to also say “but £2,400 over the 48 month contract period”, or “average of £50/month over 48 months”. If I charge £480 installation, then £20/month for 12 months, I have to say that my first 12 months is going to cost you £720, or an average of £60/month for 12 months.

      I would also amend your “out of contract price rise” limit slight; limit to whichever is lower, RPI+3.9% or the rise they would be paying if their contract had tracked RPI continuously since the last price rise, but allow a provider to give 3 months notice to customers on old contracts that they have the choice between migrating or terminating service – notice form to be set out in regulations, and making it clear that the choice is migrating to another tariff from this provider, migrating to another provider (with instructions on how to do this once you’ve found your new provider), or losing service.

      This gives providers a choice with their loyal customers – you can leave their prices alone modulo inflation, or you can push them into taking action to find a new deal, but take the risk that they look around and go elsewhere or that they get upset at losing service because they didn’t take action.

  4. Avatar photo Spotify95 says:

    IMO, Virgin Media are absolutely barmy. I checked their website yesterday, and a TV/broadband/phone package that is supposed to be £62 per month, jumps up to £95 after the initial 18 month term! How are providers allowed to do this, I do not know, this is worse than mid contract price hikes as at least they say in the T&C’s that the price goes up by CPI+3.9 or RPI+3.9.

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Except that VM’s price rises won’t go up by RPI+3.9%, their standard tariffs do. The company applies that (userous in itself) formula to the undiscounted tariff, and add the increase to the customer’s monthly bills. So let’s assume RPI+3.9% is 10% by next February. A customer joining now for £62 a month will see their bill go up by £95 x 10% = £9.50, but when added to the £62 is a 15.3% increase. For customers who sign up for headline multiplay bundles some of which are discounted by over 50%, then the same example 10% figure would result in those customers paying over 20% increase month on month.

  5. Avatar photo Yatta! says:

    When contracts are due to expire or are broken by the service provider, renegotiate and/or give your notice (as the latter in my experience subsequently aids the former), if a satisfactory price cannot be agreed, find an alternative service provider. It’s not difficult, those who don’t only have themselves to blame.

    1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Works for me, works for you. Not so good for those who aren’t as nimble in arranging their services. I’ve been involved in these sort of calculations for energy suppliers, and most of the profits come from those least able to afford – the elderly, the disabled, those whose life circumstances (everything from losing their job, to mental health issues, demands of caring responsibilities as a few examples) mean that the time and energy to sort out utilities is in short supply.

      You can choose to blame those groups for their failure to act if it makes you feel good.

    2. Avatar photo Yatta! says:

      Those who can least afford post contract price increases should be the ones who are most motivated, for those who are truly disadvantaged and/or need extra help social tariffs are available.

      Keep waving the victim card “if it makes you feel good” Andrew.

    3. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      You were waving the “blame the losers” card in your post, so I’ll happily keep waving the “don’t blame the victim” card. The fact that some people lose out in this context is because of industry practices on pricing, it’s not some natural law of economics of the jungle (well, maybe your real name is Jacob Rees Mogg, and you think it is).

      Awareness of and access to social tariffs suffers exactly the same problem of ability to engage that means some customers can’t get the benefits of switching.

      Your assertion “least afford = most motivation = your fault for not switching” completely overlooks the range of circumstances of disengagement. But maybe you’ve got no vulnerable friends or relatives, don’t know anyone limited by mental health issues, or challenged by caring responsibilities. Or maybe you do, and they’re lucky enough to have you sort them out – unfortunately not everybody is so lucky.

      Loss making acquisition pricing also results in higher net costs in the UK telecoms market from marketing, onboarding and termination costs as many customers who can churn simply to take advantage of those prices. All those additional costs aren’t paid by serial switchers, and you really think that allowing suppliers to offer loss making prices and palm the costs off on those who can’t switch is a good outcome? Off you go, Sir, the Daily Mail comments section is ready to welcome you.

    4. Avatar photo Yatta! says:

      Good grief Andrew…

      One day a right-winger calls me a “Guardian reading Britain hating leftist”, the next day a left-winger calls me “Jacob Rees Mogg” who belongs on “the Daily Mail”… it’s beyond parody!

      Another one of your utterly baseless assumptions is that I am not, or have not been, amongst one or more your aforementioned groups… however unlike yourself I’m not going to pretend that being so, or have been so, precludes personal responsibility.

      With the exceptions of incapacity or death, there is no “can’t switch” or can’t renegotiate at the end of contracts.

      Social tariffs exist for those in genuine need, if those who require them contact their ISP and the ISP offer a social tariff, the ISP has a requirement AFAIK to switch them to it FOC, even if they’re in an existing standard contact.

      Social tariffs have no mid contract price increases and they cost nothing to leave mid contract.

      IMO there should be a requirement for all ISPs to offer social tariffs (perhaps I should prepare myself for rabid attacks from the right-wingers! Maybe I’m Jeremy Corbyn in disguise and belong on the Morning Star!!).

      Climbdown from your faux-morally superior horse, “Sir”, reality “is ready to welcome you”.

    5. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Yatta! “With the exceptions of incapacity or death, there is no “can’t switch” or can’t renegotiate at the end of contracts.”

      Well, we appear to be getting quite heated here and I’ll be pleased to dial things down a notch; a bit callous of me to cast you out to the Daily Vile comments section, I must apologise on that one. However, I’ll take issue with this one comment. It isn’t about “can’t”, it is about relative ability, that results in a difference in impact. I’ve seen the numbers for energy supply – until we had a price cap that applied to all, the most profitable customers were the less well off (indeed they provided most of the profits full stop), the less able, the aged, and unfashionable though it may be to say so the less intelligent.

      The same applies in any market where there’s a loyalty penalty due to industry practices. Now, just because those people could switch, as a group the ones I’ve mentioned are less able to access the benefits of switching. It seems you’re saying “tough, they could have switched, their problem!” I’m saying that I think that such practices are unfair and is what regulation should prevent in the case of all utilities, and in selected markets where things have gotten out of hand (as they did in retail insurance).

      That’s not to preclude all price competition, but to prevent the sort of massive loss making discounts that end up being subsidised by other customers, undercut other competitors who may be less able to sustain those loss making prices, as well as creating cliff edge circumstances for consumers at the end of a fixed term. For many years Germany had very strong laws to prevent predatory pricing of both goods and services, I think that the behaviours of the UK telcos would benefit from similar rules.

    6. Avatar photo Henry Hoverball says:

      This is a horrifyingly callous and ignorant bit of ableism. Well done.

  6. Avatar photo Paul not the gospel one says:

    Hello, my humble opinion is the following….

    It is our duty as consumers to look for better deals whilst we are in said contract…

    It is the duty of said businesses that are collecting our cash, to stop using inflation and other indices of cash conversion/ extraction against the consumer with government consent ..

    A contract is a contract,honour it properly.

  7. Avatar photo Chris says:

    People aren’t stupid, they realise it’s the sales/marketing people playing games and they’re getting tired of it.

    Just give me a simple contract with a fixed price, no hidden tricks and I’ll be happy.

  8. Avatar photo ACDeag says:

    Have Virgin dropped their RPI+3.9% for new contracts. All the web pages say is:

    †Prices of Virgin Media services may rise during contract.

    I looked in their T&Cs there is nothing in there either.

  9. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    If only OFCOM did their duty and supported the customers they are there to protect eh? It seems to me like transparency from these companies is something they would rather steer well clear of, simply because they can. The annual CPI +X% fleecing whilst in contract is another perfect example of how borked the entire system is when ISP’s refuse to break it down and just state the lowest figure.

  10. Avatar photo HullLad says:

    It’s been a regulatory requirement for all ISPs to provide customers with this information before their contract ends (10 – 40 days before the contract ends) for some time.

    That information must include the price they’ll be paying once the term is up, the cheapest deal they offer (even if its not available to that customer), the best based on their usage, and it also has to notify them that cheaper deals are available elsewhere.

  11. Avatar photo Balzam says:

    This is important when a consumer has fttp becoming available, but their current isp is not serviced by the altnet. Do they extend for 12 plus months, with the prospect of having to pay the remaining periods charges, or move to an isp serviced by an isp associated with the altnet.
    This will be my issue soon unless the altnet gets to me prior to contract end. Of course the fttp provider may go bust/not provide a service when expected which adds to the problem for the consumer. The whole model for consumer telcoms is a farce.

  12. Avatar photo Suffolk says:

    Many months ago I visited the BT web site to renew my sister-inlaws Broadband
    Logged into her account on clicked on the icon “renew your broadband and your old price”
    The link was dead.
    I spoke to CS who admitted the link it didnt exist, but offered me a renewal price with a £5 increase
    Shocking the staff were fully aware of this ficticious dead link

  13. Avatar photo Bob says:

    Many of the ISP’s appear to be in breach of the Consumer Rights Act, This act CLEARLY states Key terms must be prominent and that would include the price. Hiding it away in the fine print is not compliant nor is just rolling them over to a new price

    1. Avatar photo Henry Hoverball says:

      Sadly, like many businesses, they will flout any inconvenient laws if they think they can get away with it. Individual customers don’t tend to have the resources to take them on, it’s massively asymmetric.

      Unless regulation and indeed laws are actually enforced, firmly and competently, they may as well not exist.

      Virgin in particular, need to be absolutely hauled over the coals for pretty much everything they do. They are a deeply abusive and unpleasant outfit.

Comments are closed

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