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Cancellation fees “punishment” for switching broadband suppliers

1 Aug 2014

People who stand up to costly broadband cancellation charges are seeing their fees passed to debt collectors, finds Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.

New evidence from the Citizens Advice service reveals some people are finding themselves locked into unsuitable broadband contracts or hit by arbitrary cancellation fees when they switch to get a better service. The charity found the average cost was £190 for getting out of a broadband contract, with fees up to £625 reported, in cases from the first six months of the year where cancellation fees were recorded.  

Snail’s pace connection speeds, persistent faults and bad customer service were among other gripes consumers complained about over the last year. Over half of problems reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service were for substandard service.

Those moving house were sometimes hit by the early cancellation fees, despite the fact that they wouldn’t be able use the service after they moved.

The cases analysed were taken from over 3,300 internet and broadband problems reported to Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales and over 4,500 issues highlighted to the consumer service across England, Scotland and Wales from July 2013 to June 2014.

Citizens Advice is calling for internet service providers to never issue cancellation fees if customers have been having persistent problems with their service, so that people aren’t being forced to stay in unsatisfactory contracts. Providers also need to improve their customer service, and must be a lot more careful handing cancellation fees over to debt collectors.

Margaret Lynch, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said:

“We want to see a fairer country where people as citizens and consumers are empowered and have their rights respected. Arbitrary fees locking people into contracts that don’t work for them in are a step in the wrong direction. Any consumer facing these sorts of fees should let us know by calling our consumer helpline on 03000 04 05 06.”  

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“People are finding themselves held captive by bad broadband services. Some consumers who have stood up to problem suppliers have found themselves being punished for switching when they’ve been hit with a cancellation fee that is then passed over to a debt collection agency.

“Internet service providers must not shackle customers seeking a better service with unreasonable fees that can turn into shock debt. All internet users need to be able to easily have a way out of inadequate contracts and broadband speeds that only give them daily frustration.” 

Bad broadband problems reported to Citizens Advice

•One woman was hit by a cancellation fee even though it wasn’t in the terms and conditions of her contract. She had tried to switch provider after the broadband speed was so bad that she was paying repeatedly to use an internet café.
•One broadband user in his 70s saw his service stop working altogether after months of problems. When he changed provider he was sent a letter saying that he owed over £200 for early cancellation, which was then handed over to a debt collection agency. 
•One client moved home and was not told she would be put on a new contract at after she moved, instead of just having her old contract moved over. The supplier insisted she was tied into a new 18 month contract when she called to say she didn’t want to continue with them.  She soon found herself owing over £170 that she worried debt collection penalties could be added to.



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