Want to walk? How to leave your ISP

neil hawkins
By Neil Hawkins

cancel contract 2©iStock.com/ugurhan

STUCK in a dysfunctional relationship? Divorce is the answer. There's always someone else willing to take care of your bits.

Your megabits that is - we are talking about leaving your ISP after all.

The good news is switching away from a nightmare broadband provider is far simpler than it used to be.

Ofcom research in 2013 found that nearly half of those (46%) who considered switching didn't bother in the end, with "a lack of clarity about the process" listed as one of the main reasons for giving up.

But since then new rules have come into play, making it almost ridiculously easy to walk.

Read on or click through to find out more about:

Rundown: The process

How much work you'll have to put in depends on which ISPs are involved.

With the vast majority of ISPs, it's now simply a case of choosing a new provider and getting in touch with them to order the new service. They then take care of contacting your old provider to arrange changeover dates and so on .

We've got more detail on how it works, including the process of moving to or from Virgin Media, which is different, in our step by step switching guide here.

But before jumping into the switching process, however, it's wise to find out whether you'll be charged for leaving.

Cancellation fees

Very few people are likely to read the entirety of the terms and conditions when signing up to a broadband provider - but most are aware that they're committing to a minimum contract period - usually 12, 18 or 24 months.

Leaving before the end of that period means "early termination fees" might well be payable.

Rules laid down by Ofcom state the minimum standards an ISP must stick to when entering a contract with a new customer, including when that customer can leave without penalty.

From October 2015 these conditions will also include a minimum guaranteed connection speed, based on the lowest 10% of connection speeds with an ISP in a customer's area.

If this is the case, or if any of the other conditions apply, you may be able to exit without paying any cancellation fees. If not, have a look at our guide to see who charges what.

People moving home will find that notice periods and the fees involved differ depending on who provides the service - see our guide for a full list of moving charges.

Anyone who's just joined a new ISP but then decides that actually they don't want that service can also back out without incurring any fees, as long as they move swiftly.

The regulations covering distance selling, included in the Consumer Contracts Regulations (available here [pdf]) cover anyone still within 14 days of the start of their contract.

The rules can be complex, however, and we take a better look at using them to cancel here.

And while this is a highly unlikely scenario, it's also possible to cancel the service without being charged through instances such as mis-selling, or if there are serious technical issues that result in a very poor or no service.

Returning your router

If you've fulfilled your contractual obligations and decided to leave, you'll probably be in possession of a wireless router sent by your ex-ISP.

It will try to tug at your heart strings with its logo, a daily reminder of your former relationship. We say out with the old and in with the new.

It's likely there'll have been a new generation of routers introduced during the past year or longer, so with a new router you'll be upgrading your Wi-fi too.

It can vary between ISPs but it's often not necessary to return the router when you leave - although some encourage you to recycle them by sending them back after you've switched.

One major exception to this is Virgin Media: all equipment is rented by the customer and must be returned upon cancellation, even after a minimum contract period has been served.

Failure to return anything can result in charges ranging between £12 for not sending the remote to £150 for keeping a Tivo box.

Don't forget your cash

After leaving it can be all too easy to completely forget about your previous ISP. This is what they're hoping you'll do if you've got a credit balance on your account.

There are various ways of ending up in credit with an ISP - particularly if you've made a complaint at one point or another and received a goodwill or compensatory credit against your bill.

How to handle this scenario is more fully explained in our guide to reclaiming cash from ISPs here.

Problems with leaving

It's definitely worth trying to resolve any outstanding issues with a current ISP before leaving as they could hinder any new services, especially in the case of technical problems.

That said, a current or soon-to-be-ex ISP must cooperate with the switching process: if they don't, it might be worth making a complaint.

Under the new switching rules, they're also not allowed to try to lure you back with special offers once the changeover has begun - so if they get in touch with a steal of a deal once your order's in with a new provider, that's not on.

We've highlighted some steps to take when complaining about broadband, and if talking to your ISP is like talking to a brick wall, the same guide also sets out how to approach industry regulators.