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Ofcom Investigate Virgin Media UK Over Customer Cancellations UPDATE

Thursday, Jul 13th, 2023 (9:21 am) - Score 4,160
virgin media engineer jacket close up

The national telecoms and media regulator, Ofcom, has this morning announced that they’ve opened an investigation into the service cancellation practices of UK broadband ISP Virgin Media (VMO2), which follows customer complaints that suggest the “company is making it difficult for them to cancel their services“.

According to the complaints, customers who have tried to leave said the company had made it difficult. Some struggled to get through to an agent on the phone, some found their call was dropped mid-way through or were put on hold for long periods. And many said they had to make lengthy and repeated requests to cancel, as their initial request was not actioned.

However, such an approach may conflict with Ofcom’s rules (General Conditions C1.8 and C4), which clearly states that the conditions or procedures telecoms providers have in place “must not act as a disincentive for customers who wish to cancel their contract“.

The investigation will also examine whether the ISP has failed to meet Ofcom’s requirements on complaints handling, such as whether customers were appropriately informed of their right to escalate their complaint to an independent ombudsman (Alternative Dispute Resolution – ADR – provider, such as Ombudsman Services or CISAS).

Ofcom’s Chief Executive, Dame Melanie Dawes, said:

“Our rules are there to protect people and make sure consumers can take advantage of cheaper deals that are on offer. That’s particularly important at the moment as households look for ways to keep their bills down.

We’re taking action today, on behalf of Virgin Media’s customers, to investigate whether the company is putting unnecessary barriers in the way of those who want to switch away.”

The issues being probed above were also on display when Ofcom published their last annual customer satisfaction report in May 2023 (here), which saw Virgin Media score below average for both average call waiting times and satisfaction with complaint handling. “If we find that Virgin Media has breached our rules, we have the power to issue a fine and direct the company to take remedial action or change its procedures, where appropriate,” said the regulator.

Investigations like this can typically take some time to run their course, which means that we might have to wait until sometime next year before learning the final outcome. However, it’s possible that a provisional finding may be published before the end of 2023, but it’s currently too soon to say how likely that is.

UPDATE 10:13am

We’ve had a response from Virgin Media, which has also noted that they’ve increased customer care staffing levels by 56% in the second half of 2022. On top of that, it’s worth pointing out that, in the most recent Ofcom data, customer complaints fell across all of their fixed products in Q4 2022 compared with the previous quarter – broadband (-22%), TV (-11%) and phone (-36%). But it’s too early to say whether that reflects a trend of improvement.

A Virgin Media spokesperson said:

“We are committed to providing our customers with excellent service, supporting them with any issues and giving clear options should they wish to leave. Complaint rates relating to ‘difficulties leaving’ have halved over the past year, showing the progress we’re making, and we will keep working with Ofcom throughout its investigation, while making further improvements in how we handle customer complaints to provide a better overall experience.”

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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
46 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    It seems to me the whole industry is awash with dubious practices as alleged here.

  2. Avatar photo Graeme says:

    I cancelled last week and I was able to do it on live chat in about 5 minutes. It’s just a shame you have to, to trigger retentions to call and offer you a similar deal to new customers.

    1. Avatar photo CactusBraph says:

      I can confirm I also cancelled without hitch, my final day was May 29th. I even cancelled before contract was ended due to moving home. They charged me a cancellation fee which was refunded as soon as they received their gear back.

      I know they’ve been pretty poor in the past but credit where its due.

  3. Avatar photo Phil says:

    VM are the most horrible company you have to deal with! Hope this company go BUST as I don’t give VM any toss!

    1. Avatar photo John says:

      Well, knowing the big business and their friends working in regulation, nothing will happen… just look at water and energy and their buddies regulating them, its nothing but a big, bad kaboki play while folk are getting shafted and bankrupt… the money is going from public to private hands though, that’s capitalism, nothing to gain ever for the working class, you all will bail out every private company and for decades all your kids will continue to pay off the 3 trillion debt!

  4. Avatar photo No Name says:

    I’m glad to see this. I joined VM, they installed my services and everything was fine until I wanted to cancel.

    Someone had merged my account with another account on the system. So the address where my services were and the address on the account were totally different. As were the contact names. So every time I rung up they either couldn’t find the account or could not speak to me about the account because the information I provided didn’t match up. It was crazy, they were like are you sure you are a VM customer. Yeah I am, you take £59 off me a month…

    In the end it took about 30 odd calls across a week to get through to someone who eventually thought, hang on something is up here. Then they uncovered the problem. Someone had mangled my account with someone else.

    As you can probably imagine, I don’t want to go anywhere near VM again because of this.

    1. Avatar photo Chris says:

      I’d be tempted to cancel the direct debit but in todays world that also cause other unforeseen problems that vm would deny because it’s not on your account.

      Of course the opposite could also happen where they link your details to an account that defaults and you’re suddenly to blame despite having no clue about it. The 1st you’ll know would be when you apply for something which is unexpectedly denied.

    2. Avatar photo Phil says:

      Yes and VM has ruined my credit file way back lost 127 points and also they got my data stolen plus all the stress level they put me in hell ! Took about 3 years before they apology to me and removed me off credit file and give me a cheque of £900 in full amount for compensation for apology.

    3. Avatar photo spurple says:

      @phil, I really wish OFCOM could make it mandatory to offer PAYG contracts that cost no more than 10% of the equivalent contract service. Pay a month in advance, and service is disconnected when payment stops. Along with the sovial tarrifs for people in dire straits, the pricing for broadband need not be more complicated than this. I don’t understand why they have to turn this into some kind of credit based system.

  5. Avatar photo Phil says:

    A Virgin Media spokesperson said:

    “We are committed to providing our customers with excellent service, supporting them with any issues and giving clear options should they wish to leave. Complaint rates relating to ‘difficulties leaving’ have halved over the past year, showing the progress we’re making, and we will keep working with Ofcom throughout its investigation, while making further improvements in how we handle customer complaints to provide a better overall experience.”

    What a bloody cheek! VM know this ongoing but doesn’t care about customer end! I suggest all VM new customer DO NOT SIGN UP or JOIN VM ever!

  6. Avatar photo Chris says:

    If they raise prices how long does the consumer have to cancel?

    1. Avatar photo Gordon says:

      They are one of those that have inflation+X% in the terms so you need to wait till the end of the contract unless the raise is above that.

    2. Avatar photo Mml says:

      Yes but if you renewed your contract via the webchat as opposed to online, their agents neglect to tell you about the annual RPI+3.9% increase, so you can argue they never informed you of this.

    3. Avatar photo AQX says:

      @mml it’s also sent to the email on your account + listed on the website + TV + radio ads so it would be a hard sell to claim that

  7. Avatar photo AndyK says:

    I must say, when I tried to leave they did make it unreasonably difficult and it did seem as if they were actively trying to stop me.
    Why, for example, is there not simply a button in My Account to give notice to leave? It cannot conceivably be that difficult.
    In my case, it took FOUR back-to-back phone calls over the course of 90 minutes. Every single time, I specifically went through the menu to say I wanted to cancel and every single time I was told I wasn’t talking to the right team. The first three times, they obviously didn’t even try and transfer me – they simply put me on silent hold for as long as it took for me to hang up. They were, clearly and obviously, actively trying to avoid letting me cancel.
    They also never sent me the Ofcom-mandated notification that my minimum term was coming to an end.
    I wonder if Ofcom are still open to more evidence of Virgin Media’s malpractices…

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      I had a similar experience. Virgin make it very difficult to leave on purpose. Even after I’d finally managed to give notice, they still kept ringing me up with numerous phone calls trying to get me to stay.

  8. Avatar photo Phil says:

    Why on earth does Ofcom forcing all ISPs to put CANCEL button via account online (once the contract has expired then it should allow the customers to press CANCEL and it will cancel everything rather than bloody phone call from Indian call centre who unable to find account or even hung up on you etc.

    1. Avatar photo Bike says:

      An option to email them plus a live chat with transcript option could work too

    2. Avatar photo AndyK says:

      Honestly, this is so simple it should just be a standard. I should NEVER have to interact with a human in order to cancel a service (and I say that as someone who will ALWAYS demand an option to interact with a human).
      It’s insane that there isn’t a simple, mandatory requirement for a Cancel button in every communication provider’s online account that automatically confirms with an email the date your contract will end. There really is no reason at all why that isn’t possible!

    3. Avatar photo Jack says:

      Completely agree with this. If a customer buys a service online then they should also have the option to cancel online too.

      Sky also do the delaying tactics, you can request to cancel online through a webform but they won’t action the request until they speak with the account holder on the phone to “verify” the account

    4. Avatar photo buggerlugz says:

      An E-mail address to cancel, WHAT A NOVEL IDEA!! 🙂

  9. Avatar photo Alastair says:

    Quick solution to 90% of the problems with cancellation across all sorts of industries – make it a licence condition that you can’t provide incentives for your retentions team based on their success rate in preventing customer losses.

    1. Avatar photo Chris says:

      Vm cancellations / retentions team is always good for a discount

      Including a sim I don’t use I pay £28 for 1gig.

      They do have the last laugh as multiple altnets are installing and I have 18 months left on the contract.

    2. Avatar photo AndyK says:

      This will only ever work if there is also a regulation that says you absolutely cannot charge a new customer less than an existing customer…which to be fair should be a regulation regardless!

    3. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      @AndyK as already has happened in the insurance industry.

  10. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    There is a solution to this that Ofcom could regulate to introduce.

    An industry standard “leave my current provider” website/API/database, run with oversight from Ofcom. Bit like mobile phone switching. (Maybe the way it used to be e.g. can get a code from the “my account” website portal or quickly via a call centre).

    Enter your specific contract details from current provider (or a port code) to validate it is you making a valid request, request routes to the current provider and replacement provider (with necessary transition details for e.g. number port, service takeover date).

    1. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      That sounds like you just need to create a dummy ISP called (say) “No one”, and then use a gaining-provider led migration to “No one” to cease your original service.

      Bizarrely though, there is actually an ISP called “No one”!
      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2021/07/new-isp-no-one-joins-cityfibres-uk-fttp-broadband-network.html

  11. Avatar photo Obi says:

    I’ve never been with VM since they don’t serve my side of the street, but for Ofcom to get involved suggests it’s really bad

    Whilst Ofcom is unlikely to make changes to the rules based on this case, would love them to lower switching costs, as done with PAC codes on mobiles

  12. Avatar photo anon says:

    I’ve had this problem with them. 45 minutes on the phone to them. No I don’t want to stay. No I’m not interested in your deals. “ah ok sir, please tell me who is your new ISP” . No. “I understand sir, but they cannot guarantee speed, we can guarantee it” . I want to quit, i’ve told you 5 times I want to quit, please carry out my wishes . “Yes sir, but I can do you a deal, for £19 a month for ” not interested.

    They will not let you quit without spending almost an hour on the phone to them, and them insisting on talking you out of it or lying that your new ISP isn’t as good, can’t guarantee speed, doesn’t do this or that etc.

    They should be investigated. If a customer says no deals, not interested, I want to end my contract please carry out my wishes, then that should be the end of it. I mean it’s fine for them to offer you a deal, but not to be told 4 or 5 times you want to quit and to keep going on and on about it. It’s hard sell pressure tactics and I’m sure it works on a great many people, probably older folk who will get scared by their “we guarantee speed” stuff, or will just cave in after having spent almost an hour on the phone to them.

    In fact what would be great would be if ofcom could implement some sort of automatical contract ending via text message like when you request a PAC or STAC code.

    1. Avatar photo AndyK says:

      This exactly. I’m sure they cut me off because I explicitly said “I gave you a chance to keep my custom – I called you and asked for nothing more than the same price a new customer would pay. You refused, so my new connection is installed now so take this as my 30 days notice”. At which point it’s “oh but this is the wrong department, I’ll put you through” – then endless, silent hold until you give up and call back.

    2. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      I’ve also had retentions ring me with the “I understand sir, but *insert new ISP here* cannot guarantee speed, we can guarantee it” BS. Too right they should be investigated. VM will skirt along the edge of what is legal and over it, if they’re continued to be allowed too.

  13. Avatar photo Si says:

    A cancel button is a bad idea because customers cancel for different reasons eg they are passing a business to anew owner and there would be a danger of th number being lost to that location. Ceases, transfers and change of ownership are different cancel reasons that all need different processes that need to be executed with clear understanding and timeine so a one button for all would be impossible. This is bad for Virgin, really bad. For OFCOM to target both a process (cancellation) and dispute resolution process in one hit is catastrophic and couldn’t be worse timing given the coming switch over. If OFCOM find that they deflect cancel requests and don’t handle follow on complaints correctly the likely penalities wil be high but dwarfed by brand damage. It’s overdue, they are going to get a clobbering.

    1. Avatar photo AndyK says:

      The number of people who actually care about their telephone number is diminishing – and it would be very easy to say “If you want to keep your number, you need to call us”. Or better yet, actually kick ISPs in the backside and have them finally set up the switching system that was supposed to be in place in April!

  14. Avatar photo Bytes and Bobs says:

    Yet more evidence it’s not a good idea to be a VM customer. I have never and will never be a VM customer because they don’t give two hoots, they struggle to even pretend to. They will get away with whatever they are allowed to get away with and will do the bare minimum to keep out of hot water while slowly slipping back to previous ways. If possible, avoid.

  15. Avatar photo Ray In Leeds says:

    I’m going to go against the grain here, I have found that if you are polite and not be negative then you will go far I called Virgin about 2 weeks ago to see if they could lower my bill as I was still in contract till next year because of the other bills I have to pay, The lady who I’m sure was overseas told me she was going to put me through to retentions which she did and I have a new contract at a lower broadband speed now £15 lower a month, So guys just be polite that is all I’m saying don’t get hot under the collar be calm, Some of you won’t agree with me but I have found this is the best way, I have in the past dealt with Joe public retail etc so I suppose that goes some way, If when dealing with the public anyone being stroppy with me in the store got nowhere with me! if they were ok and understanding I would go well out of my to help and sort things out for them, So there you go.

    1. Avatar photo spurple says:

      They just take the opportunity to ask you stupid things about your new provider, the speed, price etc, none of which is their business, but they can’t cancel your contract without this information they claim, so you get frustrated anyway

    2. Avatar photo AndyK says:

      I have never not been polite and courteous on the phone to Virgin Media – in fact I’ve been significantly less abrupt than they were to me. It’s obvious that their call centre staff are incentivised on stopping cancellation requests and get quite upset when you aren’t interested in what they have to offer.

  16. Avatar photo exvm says:

    I recently cancelled VM after being with them for like 15yrs (moved to YouFibre as soon as it became available at my address).

    VM did make it difficult and an annoyance. I did the request via the web chat and the agent kept pushing for the reason and pushing other offers at me before they would do what I was asking for.

    It took something like 40 minutes for them to actually action the request. The next day the retentions calls started coming. I wasn’t interested in answering if I’m honest, there’s no way they can offer any deal that beats what I have now. The calls actually started coming from agents (assumingly) personal mobile numbers and one of the agents even added me on WhatsApp to send offers, The excuse is that they are working from home.

    It’s no use in disabling the marketing stuff in MyVM in this case because they state that it will take something like 28 days for the setting change to be effective (which I think is purely their deliberate choice).

  17. Avatar photo John says:

    When I tried to cancel with them last January it took me 8 (yes 8) advisors before my request was finally processed got every excuse under the sun oh your downloading a lot call back 48 hours etc etc and this was a UK call centre too

  18. Avatar photo Jacob says:

    Working for VM I don’t see the increased staff levels, we are being made to take more and more call types that originally went to different departments with no training just a brief overview, oh now you’re going to get these kind of calls too.

    So queues are longer and those you get through to are not necessarily trained on what you will be asking. I can see exactly why we get so many complaints and why customers are finding it difficult to cancel. Retentions calls get sent to non retentions in the first instance and require a transfer to them and then to a second tier if they REALLY want to cancel. So takes 3 agents to actually cancel. We are not happy about the changes either as it does nothing for the customers perception of VM or the agents happiness in their roles and inevitably and understandably customers are frustrated. So many agents have been off with mental health issues as a result but cutting costs and increasing revenue is all they seem to care about.

    So we do understand and we do feed this all back but unfortunately we don’t make the decisions we just have to try out best to sort the issues created and resolve whatever customers are calling for.

    I wish I could say it will get better but in my year there it’s only going one way.

  19. Avatar photo Insert Name Here says:

    I remember the good old days… when we couldn’t book disconnections for weeks at a time to fudge the end of year numbers, every single year, or when we had to make test calls to get the PCA numbers up to hit an unrealistic target or when it turned out that moving customers that were held to contract hadn’t in fact been supplied with a new contract/paperwork. Oh and don’t get me started on complaints logging, halving the complaints logged for a specific reason doesn’t mean that half as many people complained, much more likely that fewer staff too the time to log a complaint because they had to hit an unrealistic calls per hour target and didn’t have the time.

  20. Avatar photo Shaukat says:

    The best way to cancel virgin media is to tell them your moving to a non virgin media area or to another country – That way they dont keep you on the phone longer than necessary.

  21. Avatar photo M says:

    Just be adamant and keep demanding your right to cancel and ignore any contradictions and deflections in their responses, don’t even be polite because they’re 100% foreign owned, half an American company (Liberty) so they don’t do polite, nor will they ever deserve it, and also half Telefonica (Spanish). People should be angry, they should show it and teach these companies that they can’t take advantage of the loyal customers anymore. Save your politeness for your friends, family and colleagues, or the nice Joe-average person you start a conversation with in the street, pub, or the local shop owner, they deserve it more. Give them the hell they deserve for treating you so bad.

  22. Avatar photo NeilB says:

    I managed to cancel in March using their Whats-app chat function. It was much better than calling them on the phone. I still got calls/texts from retention’s to try and make me stay, but once I explained that the recent outages were seriously affecting my WFH availability they backed down.

    Since moving away from them, and being on FTTP, I have had zero outages that I am aware of – night and day compared to being on their network.

  23. Avatar photo jason999 says:

    I cancelled Virgin Media back on April 23, 2023 it took them nearly two months to send packing to, so I could return their equipment, this despite me asking multiple times. To make things worse, they even had the cheek to bill use for non return of equipment, one of the worst companies I have ever dealt with.

  24. Avatar photo Former engineer says:

    I was previous employed by virgin and I was forced to lie to customer during installs and services calls telling them that the NPS (NET PROMOTER SCORE) Question about how likely you are to recommend virgin was about me. If I was to ever get a 0 due to poor service from calls centre I was grilled by my manager who told me I wasn’t doing my job correctly…

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