Our lives have become so reliant on broadband provision that it’s often difficult to imagine leaving your existing provider.
The prospect of a better service is tantalisingly close, but the path to reach it seems fraught with uncertainty and danger.
Would leaving a contract early place you in breach of your existing contract? Could another provider deliver even slower line speeds? And what if you’re without internet for a while?
These are all legitimate concerns, and it’s worth being aware of them before telling your existing broadband provider to take a long walk off a short pier…
Problems caused by leaving a contract early
- Exit fees. Attempting to cancel a fixed-term contract could incur significant financial penalties.
This will be outlined in the terms and conditions document you received when you joined. It might include a proportion of remaining payments, hardware costs and/or admin fees.
- Hardware return. Some firms provide packaging to return routers and microfilters, but they may expect cables and even remote control batteries to be sent back as well.
If the package goes missing in the post, you may be responsible for its full value. If prepaid packaging isn’t supplied, don’t attempt to return items by second-class standard post.
- Additional services. Broadband companies are increasingly focusing on selling extra services like landlines, TV or even mobile contracts alongside internet connectivity.
Cancelling Virgin Media broadband and TV services as part of a combined deal would incur costs for both platforms – which could become considerable on a quad-play contract.
- Absence of services. Broadband companies take a dim view of customers bailing out mid-contract, so they’re unlikely to be flexible about service cancellation dates.
If anything goes wrong with the new provider’s installation, you might end up without internet connectivity for days or weeks. That could be a major problem.
- The blame game. One of the biggest problems with leaving a broadband contract mid-term involves persuading the provider to accept a measure of responsibility.
You might blame unusably slow line speeds on the ISP, while they attribute it to wireless interference in your home. Proving culpability can be very stressful and frustrating.
Tips and advice
Firstly, study the small print in your existing contract – that brochure or PDF you probably filed without bothering to study in any detail.
Despite its legal complexity, small print enables customers to decipher what fees might be incurred by walking away.
Some providers will allow customers to leave for free as a contract approaches its conclusion.
They may also be amenable to downgrading a package mid-term. This won’t free you from their clutches, but it’ll reduce the amount of money you have to pay.
A 14-day cooling off period usually applies to new contracts, enabling you to walk away without incurring a penalty.
This also applies if the contract was missold – for example, if you were promised 200Mbps average line speeds when your existing connection can only support 60Mbps.
Unscheduled price increases give you grounds to cancel your contract according to Ofcom rules, providing you serve notice within 30 days of being informed about higher costs.
Poor service could provide ample grounds for leaving a contract early – unjustifiably low connection speeds, persistent faults or demonstrably bad customer service.
A new provider may even offer to contribute towards exit fees, reimbursing you through discounted monthly payments.
However, it’s very unlikely exit fee contributions will be made in tandem with introductory deals or other incentives.