Given our reliance on the internet nowadays, switching broadband provider is often a significant event.
Having a stable internet connection is becoming vital for shopping, socialising and streaming.
Yet switching provider doesn’t always improve matters. Sometimes, it makes things worse.
It’s therefore important to understand your consumer rights – in particular the cooling off period given to anyone signing up to UK broadband deals for 12 to 24 months.
What is a cooling off period?
In essence, it’s a period at the start of a contract where you can legally annul your agreement.
Although any supplied equipment will have to be returned, there’s no need to see out the full contract term or make monthly payments.
This period can be measured from the date your order is accepted by the provider, or the date it’s successfully installed. Each provider determines when their own cooling off period starts.
Why would a cooling off period be of use?
These are some of the reasons people change their minds after signing a broadband contract:
- An existing provider makes a counter-offer when the customer declares their intention to leave – perhaps combining extra services with reduced prices
- A change in domestic circumstances occurs, such as a house move being delayed
- People sometimes only read the small print after they’ve signed on the dotted line, discovering things they’d rather not commit to
- Line speeds – a leading cause of dissatisfaction with existing providers – don’t always improve after switching to a new broadband firm. In some cases, they might be worse.
Cancelling a new broadband contract might not give your old provider enough time to reinstate their service. You could end up stranded on the information hard shoulder.
How long does a cooling off period last?
Each broadband provider sets different criteria for this, so there’s no definitive answer.
Legal changes in 2014 mean ‘distance selling’ contracts (set up without face-to-face contact) have a 14-day cooling off period from receiving written confirmation, or the service starting.
Some providers are more generous than this, but check the small print to determine whether your new ISP’s designated period involves working days, calendar days, etc.
Some ISPs allow you to cancel by phone through their customer service team, while others require written notice by post or email.
We’d generally recommend cancelling by email, which combines the immediacy of a phone call with the permanent correspondence record of a letter. Plus, you can easily quote an email in the event of a dispute.
Plusnet generously let anyone struggling to achieve their estimated line speeds leave within 90 days of their contract starting.
Sky give new customers eight days after their installation is completed to identify issues and walk away, whereas Virgin Media only give people seven working days after their order is accepted to completely cancel their services.
However, Virgin won’t levy any fees during this period, whereas BT broadband customers have to pay activation fees – which are unrelated to termination fees.
The cooling off period doesn’t apply to rolling broadband contracts, which are typically auto-renewed every 30 days and therefore don’t lock customers into a minimum term.
What if something goes wrong?
Like every company, broadband providers make mistakes. Cancelled accounts might remain active, and direct debits occasionally prove tricky to revoke.
If problems arise, remain calm. Compile notes about what’s happened, including screen grabs of online bank statements or live text conversations with customer service personnel.
Assuming you’re within your ISP’s cooling off period, you should eventually receive a full refund for any payments made – apart from non-refundable setup costs.
It might take time to resolve, but politely-worded emails will achieve the speediest resolution.
If your broadband becomes unfit for purpose at any time, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives you the right to price reductions or contract termination, outwith the cooling off period.
If your ISP is unable or unwilling to honour its commitments to close your account, every broadband provider is signed up to one of two Ofcom-approved dispute resolution services – CISAS and the Ombudsman Service for Communications.
You can check which ombudsman your ISP is signed up to here
This should only ever be a last resort, however.