Guest expert, David McClelland, on beating those broadband blues
Have you had that sinking feeling as the internet freezes just before an online quiz or a family Zoom call? We’ve all been there in the last month. But what if you’re consistently getting bad service?
Resolver asked digital consumer champion and top TV expert, David McClelland, for his advice on your broadband consumer rights and how they can keep you connected if your broadband service goes bad.
Broadband – your rights
With many of us working and schooling from home right now, our connection to the internet has never been more important. But what happens if the broadband service we receive isn’t up to scratch?
Whether signing up to a new service, or experiencing problems midway through a contract, there is consumer protection in place to make sure your internet service provider handles any complaints quickly and fairly.
The ‘cooling-off period’ is here to protect you if you change your mind once you’ve bought something ‘at a distance’ – on the internet or over the phone, for example. In the case of a broadband contract, it begins the day after you sign up to the service and lasts for a minimum of 14 calendar days. That means you have two weeks in which you can change your mind and terminate your contract without penalty. That’s the law, as enshrined in the Consumer Contracts Regulations.
One thing to be aware of once your new broadband service has started is that your provider will test and tune your connection to make sure it reaches the best speeds possible. While this is great in theory, the downside is that your new service may appear unreliable for the first week or two while they do this.
What this also means is that your broadband service won’t have settled down to what will be its normal performance within the standard cooling-off period. Some internet service providers do go beyond the 14-day minimum cooling-off period and give you longer to back out, so be sure to check the cancellation section in the terms and conditions before you sign up to a new provider.
But remember, the cooling-off period is really there to protect you if you change your mind after you’ve bought goods or a service from a distance; if the service you end up receiving isn’t up to scratch – it doesn’t matter how long you’ve had it for – then there are other consumer protections that have your back instead.
Consumer Rights Act and Ofcom Code of Practice
Suppose the broadband service you’re receiving isn’t what you were led to believe it should be. Perhaps you’re not getting the download speeds you were promised before you signed up, or your connection keeps going offline.
First of all, do some basic troubleshooting to make sure there isn’t a problem with your computer or broadband equipment. Most ISPs share tips on their website about how to get the best broadband performance – the industry watchdog, Ofcom, has this handy guide.
If reliability is still a problem, or your download speed is less than you were promised, then it’s time to raise your case with your ISP. If your provider is part of the Ofcom Code of Practice for Internet Service Providers – the UK’s major ISPs all are – then they have 30 days to diagnose and fix the problem. If they are unable to fix it, and it’s a problem outside of your home, then you can walk away from the contract without penalty.
Even if your ISP is not part of the industry scheme, they are still obliged to provide you with the service you have paid for. If they can’t, then under the Consumer Rights Act they are in breach of contract and you should again be able to leave the contract penalty-free.
At the time of writing (May 2020), the 30-day period that ISPs have in which to resolve broadband service issues has been relaxed to reflect additional pressures service providers face due to the coronavirus outbreak.
However, if for some reason you and your ISP can’t agree to a resolution, then raise a formal complaint with them, setting out what you believe is wrong with your service and what you’d like to happen next. Your ISP will have to up to two weeks to respond. If you’re still in deadlock, then it’s time to call in the big guns.
Alternative Dispute Resolution / ombudsman schemes
Ombudsmen exist to fairly and independently adjudicate on cases between consumers and service providers where the usual customer support and complaints procedures haven’t reached a conclusion.
There are two ombudsman schemes in the UK for internet service providers – CISAS and Ombudsman Services – and all ISPs must be a member of one of them. Ofcom publishes this online tool to indicate which scheme a telecoms service provider is associated with.
Ombudsman schemes are free to use and make it very simple to raise your case. Resolutions decided upon by the scheme range from an apology to financial compensation or a promise to resolve the problem and are enforceable in court.
As you might expect from TV’s top tech expert, you can find loads more tips and some fab videos from David at http://www.davidmcclelland.co.uk/. And if you think you’ve been scammed or ripped off, resolver can help you make a complaint for free. www.resolver.co.uk