What should I do if my ISP threatens to cut me off?

The prospect of ISP disconnection could seem apocalyptic, but there are many reasons why it may occur, most of which can be averted in advance

Saturday, 5 March, 2022

Love it or hate it, the internet has become an indispensable aspect of modern life.

You probably wouldn’t be reading this article without home broadband, and your life would be immensely poorer as a result.

ISPs provide the foundations for home working, online gaming, on-demand content consumption, ecommerce, video calling…the list goes on.

As a result, the threat of ISP disconnection is enough to send a shiver down the spine. To many people, a world without cat memes and online auction sites isn’t a world worth knowing.

But why might account suspension or deactivation be suggested in the first place? And what should you do if ISP disconnection becomes a real prospect?

Information blackout

There are many reasons why an ISP might threaten to disconnect a user’s account, from genuine mistakes to misbehaviour on the customer’s part.

To determine the appropriate response, it’s important to establish the circumstances.

As you work through each step below, remain calm – any subsequent claim for restoration or compensation will be weakened if you’ve resorted to swearing or writing in capital letters.

Gather evidence to support any arguments you put forward, and keep detailed notes of (a) who says what, (b) when they say it, and (c) your understanding of what’ll happen next.

This is useful if you receive contradictory information, if investigations drag on and you begin to conflate memories of early conversations, or if you need to elevate a complaint.

Every ISP is signed up to an industry dispute resolution service, and we’ve previously profiled the role of these independent bodies.

Is it a scam?

Firstly, establish whether the communique you’ve received is legitimate.

If it’s an email, does it have your full name or account number on it? That infers authenticity, as does an email address ending in yourisp.com.

An email full of typos and missing graphics, addressed to “Dear Customer” is almost certainly an example of phishing and should be deleted.

Similarly, if you receive an unsolicited phone call claiming to be from your ISP, ring their main customer services number from a different phone, to investigate your account status.

Is it a mistake?

Back in September, mobile operator iD Mobile threatened to cut off 24,000 customers due to a billing system malfunction.

They swiftly issued an unreserved apology after angry bill-payers inundated them with complaints.

Don’t assume your ISP is above making mistakes. From inter-departmental communication breakdowns to incompetent accounting staff, even the biggest firms make daily blunders.

Computer systems are notoriously buggy, so if you think an ISP disconnection notice is erroneous, ring them immediately (don’t rely on web chat) and raise your concerns.

Are you in debt?

This is the most likely reason for potential disconnection, but it might not be due to payment arrears.

An old credit or debit card might have expired or been replaced, but not updated on the ISP’s system. Ditto new bank accounts – start by checking ISPs have current payment details.

If the account balance is overdrawn, explain what’s happened once you’ve figured it out yourself. Offer to settle the balance in full over the phone, or propose a repayment schedule.

ISPs know customers may periodically experience cash flow issues. They’ll usually work to resolve short-term debts, retaining custom and strengthening loyalty in the process.

Have you done something wrong?

If your ISP has an acceptable use policy, don’t be surprised to receive a disconnection notice if you spend every night mining Bitcoin or sharing movies via peer-to-peer networks.

Bandwidth intensive activities like these will be noted, and could trigger complaints if such behaviour is deemed to be persistent.

You might also be threatened with disconnection for performing illicit activities like sharing copyrighted material – typically over third-generation darknets like Freenet.

Alternatively, accounts may be deactivated if they’re unused for long periods. This is usually a ‘soft’ disconnect which can be rapidly reversed, unlike a definitive ‘hard’ disconnect.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!