Does your broadband provider owe you money?
THE best things in life are free, so the old adage says, and when that "thing" is money, those words seem truer than ever.
Over the course of two years, Ofcom estimated some two million customers left their provider without claiming more than £10 million in credit.
With figures like that, it's possible that not insignificant sums of free cash could be but a phone call away.
Here's how to claim your share.
Are you owed money?
Refunds are available for anyone who has overpaid for services or built up credit on accounts with suppliers.
It's possible to claim back this credit up to six years (five in Scotland) after you closed the account.
There are three common ways people get into credit with their provider:
- Paying for a service in advance
- A promotional balance
- A goodwill balance
Paying in advance might be a quarterly or yearly payment, rather than a monthly one, for line rental.
Check with your provider how they take payment for the basics of your service - but don't assume that because you paid for a year upfront you'll be able to get that money back. It depends on the terms of your contract.
Promotional credits are perhaps the most frequently forgotten about form of credit applied to an account.
For example, let's say that you chose a broadband and phone bundle because it offered six months' free broadband.
Such offers are usually applied in the form of a credit equal to the value of six months broadband, after you've been with the provider for 12 months. It's not only an incentive to choose the ISP in the first place, but also to remain with them for a whole year's contract.
However, if at the 12 month point you switch provider, the credit doesn't come with you. It just sits there like Prince Harry's minders unless you claim it.
Finally, a goodwill credit is most frequently applied after a complaint.
A common problem: the ISP completely fails to get their service going when you sign up, you complain, they refund you for the missed days and you promptly forget about it.
PAYG: Note that mobile networks will almost always refuse to refund leftover or unused pay as you go (PAYG) credit.
It is occasionally possible to get a refund, but the cut-off for being able to claim is around six months.
In the meantime, some networks may offer to shift unused top-up credit to other PAYG mobiles on the same network (e.g. O2 to O2), or let customers put leftover credit towards a new mobile contract.
Monthly contract credit refunds are available from the big four network providers.
Refunds by provider
Happily, some providers automatically refund any money or credit that you are owed via cheque or bank transfer.
If your provider is any of the following refund heroes then you probably don't have credit owing - but it's still worth checking.
BT: Your final bill will tell you if you have any credit on your bill and you'll be automatically refunded, usually within five working days.
EE, T-Mobile and Orange: Your final bill will tell you if you have any credit on your bill, and you'll be refunded automatically. It might take up to four weeks for the payment to come through.
EE home broadband: As with EE mobile, your final bill will tell you if you have any credit on your bill and you'll be automatically refunded, EE say within the next month.
Post Office: Your final bill will tell you if you have any credit on your bill and you'll be refunded automatically. Usually done within 10 working days - often in the form of a postal order.
Sky: Used to expect their customers to do all the running, but since late 2012 they've begun automatic refunds. Your final bill will tell you if you're in credit and by how much, and you'll be refunded within 45 days of cancelling.
Virgin Media broadband: Your final bill will tell you if you have any credit on your bill and you'll be automatically refunded if it's over £1. For amounts less than a pound you'll need to request a refund.
Unfortunately, not all are as thoughtful.
In fact, many providers hold onto your money until you ask them to cough up. The height of rudeness, if you ask us.
Here are the zeros.
O2 mobile: Normally refunds amounts over £20 automatically. All other amounts must claim via this refund request form.
Plusnet: Your final bill will show any credit you have. Refunds are only automatic for those who change provider using a MAC code, but not for those who cancel their service completely.
TalkTalk (including Tiscali, OneTel and AOL): Your final bill will tell you if you have any credit on your bill, but you'll need to call to get a refund.
Three: No automatic refunds are given. Customers must do all the legwork and contact Three themselves.
Vodafone: Refunds are automatic providing you have paid for your contract via Direct Debit, otherwise contact customer services to request a credit refund.
How to make a claim
Thankfully, there is a fairly straightforward approach to getting back any money you may be owed.
All it requires is a baseball bat and the patience to hang around the head office after dark. We are, of course, kidding.
It's simply a case of making a call to your old provider and asking customer services whether your old account is in credit.
Have as many details about the account to hand as possible - address, old phone number, and so on - to make it easier for them to track it down.
Then prepare to pop the Champagne/Panda Pop depending on the amount.
What to do if you hit trouble
If you find yourself banging your head against a brick wall in an effort to get back what's rightfully yours, fear not, further recourse is available.
First of all make a formal complaint to your provider. In many cases, you can do this via customer services, but do check if they have a dedicated complaints department - often confusingly called "customer relations".
Your provider then have up to eight weeks to resolve your problem, after which you're able to involve either the Telecoms Ombudsman or the Communications & Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS).
In 2013/14, according to their annual report, the Communications Ombudsman resolved almost 13,000 complaints, 13% of which concerned disputed charges - so you certainly won't be alone.
Find out more about resolving ISP disputes here.
These independent services can then pass judgement on whether the provider should hand back your money.
Got the reclaiming itch? Check out our guide to reclaiming cash from banks here.