We often hear from broadband customers left in the lurch after poor service from their providers so we put together this guide to help.
Please do note, however, that this guide can only provide some general pointers on common broadband issues.
It does not constitute, nor should it be considered, specific legal advice.
First, let's consider some of the most common complaints against broadband providers.
A faulty connection or completely dead broadband line must be the single most common broadband complaint.
The sheer complexity of the problem - the fault could be a widespread network problem, in the line, in your household wiring or result from a fault with the router - makes it tough to diagnose and often the issue is outside of the provider's direct control.
Even when the issue is out of their direct control, though, the provider still has a responsibility to provide the service or tell you the course of action they're taking, as well as a realistic time frame for that action to be completed.
Case study A broadband provider disconnected its customer when a telephone line (owned by another provider) was upgraded and refused to provide compensation.
CISAS found that exclusion clauses in the contract were void under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 and the customer was reimbursed and compensated.
Mis-selling of broadband deals is, unfortunately, not uncommon, particularly when deals are sold door-to-door or over the phone.
In many cases, however, customers feel that they've been mis-sold even though they have actually been provided with the correct information at every stage of the process. Misunderstanding is not mis-selling.
When making this type of complaint, then, be very specific about what you were promised and by whom and detail how your current package doesn't live up to this standard.
Mis-selling is common enough that many complaints are successful and, for example, in December 2011 Ofcom made an ISP compensate a whole group consumers who had been misinformed about their products.
It's also worth noting that if you feel you've been mis-sold but have only just started your broadband contract you may be entitled to cancel under distance selling regulations - if you think that's you, see our full guide here for further information.
Case study A consumer contacted us recently to tell us that he had taken out a broadband contract after speaking with a salesperson who told him that the deal offered completely unlimited downloads.
That would have been true if the customer had lived in the broadband provider's main area but instead he was served by a market 1 (least competitive) exchange and the deal he was actually connected to had severe restrictions on downloads.
After complaining, the customer was able to resolve the issue with the provider informally: he was allowed to leave the contract without penalties and had his initial setup fees refunded.
Case studies released by the ombudsman are short on good news for those facing huge mobile data bills run up abroad or in the UK.
A completely successful complaint (i.e. that wipes out the high bill) in this case must show that the broadband provider didn't take adequate steps to warn you about the costs of data and/or the charges as they started to mount.
Unexpectedly high bills (UHB) are so common however, that Ofcom has conducted a review confirming roaming related problems are the primary cause for UHB's. They're currently working on extending EU regulations [pdf] which require a 50 Euro default data roaming limit for roaming inside the EU and alerts when consumers reach 80 and 100% of their limit when outside the EU.
Until that's sorted, an agreement with the provider which reduces the bill remains however the most common way of settling bill shock complaints.
Case study: A customer shocked by a bill for £2,975.00 for use of 3G services on holiday didn't receive any compensation from CISAS after she acknowledged that she had received warnings about the high charges being incurred.
1. Follow the provider's procedure: following your broadband provider's complaints procedure to give them the best chance at resolving your issue first time round.
That will probably mean registering a complaint online or by phone first.
If the problem isn't resolved to your satisfaction, you can then move to the provider's official complaints procedure.
Taking the complaint to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme or to court (see next section) should be approached with extreme caution.
2. Keep records: keeping track of your correspondence will make it a lot easier to communicate the steps that have been taken to resolve the problem so far.
If you think that your broadband provider is dealing with the issue poorly and you suspect that you will have to complain about the poor service, you may also want to note down the dates and times of any phone calls to the company.
Once you're using the provider's official complaints procedure, communicating solely through email or letters is often a good idea so that you can keep track more easily.
3. Be reasonable - and expect the same: you shouldn't have to be a lawyer to get your broadband complaint sorted out.
The basic principle is that communications providers have a duty of care towards their customers. That means, for example, taking steps to resolve service issues, providing clear information on billing and responding to complaints in a clear and professional manner.
Take the same approach yourself: staying calm, friendly and open to compromise will help resolve most issues.
When a problem cannot be resolved within eight weeks, after you have taken reasonable steps to communicate with the provider, you are entitled to take the issue further with an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme.
By law, all broadband providers must be registered with an ADR scheme and, in practice, they are registered with one of two: CISAS or Otelo.
Here's how the major providers break down:
|Communications & Internet Services Adjudication Scheme
|Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman
|Be, EE, Madasafish, Orange, Plusnet, T-Mobile, Virgin Media, Vodafone, Zen||AOL, BT, Demon, Eclipse, O2, Post Office, Primus, Sky, TalkTalk, Tesco broadband, Three|
To indicate to your broadband provider that you're taking a complaint further you'll need to request a 'deadlock letter'.
The provider's deadlock letter will set out the dispute so far and the steps that it has taken - the letter can be used in dispute resolution or in court.
Once you have a deadlock letter you're free to go to the correct ADR scheme who will then communicate with the provider on your behalf.
You'll need to make a full submission to an ADR scheme, explaining your point of view and setting out the compensation you feel you are due.
The two ADR schemes offer slightly different compensation levels, with CISAS awarding an average of £173, and Otelo £103, as calculated in August 2012.
As of that date, following a review of the two schemes made by Ofcom , CISAS no longer limits compensation awards to the amount requested by the consumer.
Check the scheme rules carefully before making a claim.
Once the ADR scheme hands down its judgement you can choose either to accept it or to take the matter to court. It is strongly advised that you take professional legal advice before making that decision.
This article was first published 28 October 2011, it was last updated 15 March 2013.
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