Any broadband problem can have a huge impact on our work and home life, so it’s crucial to know your consumer rights if your provider is failing to deliver.
If you complain and don’t get the result you want, or you think you’ve been treated unfairly, regulatory bodies are ready to step in and help you resolve disputes independently.
Your first steps
Your broadband provider has eight weeks to respond to your complaint.
If you’re still not happy with the way you’ve been treated or you haven’t got a satisfactory result, it’s time to look at Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR.
Individuals and companies with less than 10 employees can complain to one of the broadband sector’s two ADR Schemes, providing they’ve given their broadband provider reasonable opportunity to resolve any issues.
Reasons why people move to ADR
You may see one of the following factors trigger your initial complaint. If it’s not fully resolved, or you’re unhappy with the response you’ve had from your broadband provider, these can be elevated to the ADR scheme.
- Delays in the installation or provision of new services, covering a period of weeks rather than hours or days
- Persistent or intermittent faults with the broadband service, resulting in patchy connections and a track record of interference with online activities
- Any costs incurred as a result of these issues, including the purchase of mobile broadband hardware and/or temporary data allowances
- Problems caused by trying to switch from one provider to another, such as delays in the adoption of an existing telephone line
- Incorrect charges being applied to your account – commonly including an introductory discount not being applied, or an initial bill charging a full month’s fee for a partial month’s service
- Changes to a contract or policy made without your knowledge or permission.
How to do it properly
To start with, send your provider written evidence – usually by email, you can see all the latest contacts for all ISPs here – to support your initial complaint.
This should include making a note of the time of day and date of any broadband outages and details of any steps taken to try and resolve the issue yourself.
This might include plugging a wireless computer into your Wi-Fi router with an Ethernet cable to rule out wireless interference, or running diagnostic tools to identify connectivity issues.
If your broadband provider hasn’t responded to your complaint within eight weeks, you should ask for a deadlock letter confirming they’re unable or unwilling to do anything further to tackle your problem/s.
The date on this letter signals the start of a 12-month period in which you can lodge a complaint with one of two ADR schemes operating in the UK – the Ombudsman Service (Ombudsman) and the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS).
Both schemes provide cost-effective assistance with ongoing complaints, with no legal costs.
There’s no need for a solicitor to represent you, since everything is conducted in plain English and decided in a closed committee based on previously-supplied evidence.
Each broadband provider is legally obliged to register with either the Ombudsman or CISAS, but it can’t be registered with both.
Two bodies, one aim
Despite its rather awkward title, the Ombudsman Service: Communications is the more widely-used ADR scheme among broadband providers.
With complaints normally resolved within six to eight weeks, this private sector scheme offers fact sheets and online guides outlining its process.
Pro Tip: Complaints may be rejected because a customer hasn’t attempted to resolve their complaint with their ISP, or because the dispute is considered “frivolous”.
Founded 15 years ago, the Ombudsman is based at Daresbury Park in Warrington, Cheshire.
CISAS is headquartered in London’s Fleet Street.
Like the Ombudsman, CISAS cases are based on documentary evidence provided by consumer and service provider, rather than face-to-face hearings.
While the Ombudsman invites initial enquiries by telephone, post or email, the CISAS website features a straightforward drop-down menu system for submitting claims.
Find out which scheme your provider uses
This is the complete list of service providers available through BroadbandDeals.co.uk, alongside a note of which resolution service they’re signed up to:
- BT: Ombudsman
- Direct Save Telecom: Ombudsman
- EE: Ombudsman
- First Utility: Ombudsman
- John Lewis Broadband: CISAS
- NOWTV: Ombudsman
- Plusnet: CISAS
- POP Telecom: CISAS
- Post Office: Ombudsman
- Sky: Ombudsman
- TalkTalk: Ombudsman
- Virgin Media: CISAS
- Vodafone: Ombudsman
A full list of companies is published on Ofcom’s website.
If you find your broadband provider is not listed, you can report them to the regulator using this complaints form.
It’s important to note providers might appear in Ofcom’s list under either their trading name, or the name of their parent organisation – for instance, John Lewis Broadband is provided by Plusnet.
How ADR dispute resolution works
It generally takes a few weeks for your broadband provider’s ADR scheme to reach a decision about the specifics of your case.
The scheme will make what it considers to be a fair decision based on the evidence presented to it, and its findings can’t be appealed or overturned.
Conclusions might involve a broadband provider being ordered to resolve any outstanding problems, provide compensation, or undertake other practical resolutions depending on the nature of the complaint made against it.
You are not legally obliged to accept their findings, but if you do, your provider is bound to honour the ADR’s instructions.
If you decide not to accept the resolution service’s conclusions, the case will be closed and you’ll be left with a choice of seeking legal redress through the courts or finding an alternative provider.
What you must do
Because written evidence forms the centrepiece of any complaint, it is essential to keep a detailed log of when problems arise and how frequently they occur.
Compiling this log over a period of weeks will strengthen any claim that your problems were substantive and disruptive. You should keep any notes on any correspondence with your broadband provider you took before escalating the dispute to the ADR scheme.
It’s important to be honest in your logs and comments, since telephone calls and emails will be logged at the provider’s side, and any inconsistencies between your story and theirs might call into question other evidence you provide.
Remember that your complaint to your ISP will be referenced in any ADR discussions, so avoid emotive language or personal criticism that might seem inappropriate when judged out of context at a later date.