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I don't want to name the provider so have referenced them as Provider. The following has happened to me and I want to know where I stand legally. This has happened in England (UK).

In December 2015 I moved into a property I had purchased. I ordered a phone line and fibre optic broadband package with Provider. This had an 18 month minimum term contract. Upon expiry of the contract it operated on a month-by-month basis, i.e. there was no further contract period. As long as the bill was paid the service would be provided.

I paid my bills on time and in full without any issue. The 18 month period came to an end, and I didn't enter into a new contract.

In July 2019 I phoned Provider to ask if the monthly price of my package could be reduced. I asked if I could have the landline removed and keep the broadband.

The man I spoke to said he could reduce my bill from about £50/month to £32/month. At no point did he mention the word "contract". He said he could do this whilst I retained the same services (phone included) and actually increased the fibre speed up to 150 Mbps, from 100.

I have sold my property and am moving house. I therefore phoned Provider to request my services be moved to my new address.

Provider cannot provide services at my new address (fibre is unavailable).

I was told I'd have to pay nearly £200 to end my contract.

I explained I was unaware I was in contract, due to the reasons specified above.

Their response is that when I accepted the £32/month deal it was a new 12 month contract. They said they had sent me details of this via email after the call. I have never received this. However, irrespective of whether I did, I feel this is bad practice as I explained the man on the call in July didn't tell me I was starting a new contract.

Because I am moving out of my house I have proceeded with the cancellation, and therefore £200 disconnection fee is due to be taken from my account at the end of December.

I spoke to someone to complain but they wouldn't budge.

Is there anything I can do? Or do I have to accept this as my own fault?

My assumption was that the man on the call in July was genuinely trying to give me a better deal. Because he didn't say anything about a "contract" specifically I assumed everything would operate on the same basis, except the reduction in price.

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  • How will the money be taken? Direct Debit? [If so you can cancel that, and they'll have to go after you for the money themselves - but they probably will do it] Nov 23 '19 at 21:03
  • It is Direct Debit but I have agreed to the cancellation, even though I disagree with the cost due to the reasons of being unaware I was in contract. I could cancel it but I don't want it to affect my credit rating (which is very good) or cause other issues.
    – Andy
    Nov 23 '19 at 21:32
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There are two possible lines of attack here.

Firstly, you could cancel your direct debit. However it's likely that the provider will still pursue you for the money:

“Notwithstanding their inability to fulfil the service, they charged me a termination fee. When I challenged this I was served with a default notice under the Consumer Credit Act.

I'm not entirely sure at what point this would start hurting your credit record. I'd have hoped they'd have to take you to court and win first, given the amount would be disputed, but I'm not certain about that.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, you can focus on whether they properly informed you. One rather well-known provider has been in trouble for this, and agreed to (emphasis mine):

  • making clearer to consumers that Virgin’s network does not cover the whole of the UK and that if a customer moves to a home outside of Virgin’s network they may be liable to pay an ETC. In particular Virgin will make this clear in:
    • its customer contracts and terms and conditions;
    • the material on its website; and
    • in the scripts used by its customer service agents.
  • pointing customers towards its postcode coverage checker and to the availability of its 30 day rolling contracts as an alternative option for customers who are aware they may need to move house in the near future; and
  • updating its agent training materials and process to ensure that agents provide correct information to customers that indicate they may need to move home.

Whether or not Virgin is actually the provider here, the Ofcom action is pretty strong evidence that any provider should do this. You should ask them for evidence that you were informed, most importantly at the time of agreeing to the contract. Ask for recordings of the call if they exist. Formally, you are entitled to them under the GDPR, as a Subject Access Request. You shouldn't have to state you are making one but it might help move things along quicker if you do. If they don't exist then make it clear to them in writing that you were not informed during the call.

Most providers will have some kind of arbitration or ombudsman service, and you should make full use of that, and also make clear to your provider that you plan to this. You can start here, though it looks like not all providers are signed up to it. For Virgin for example I got directed to CISAS.

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  • Thank you, this is very helpful. I've made a complaint through the official complaints system on Provider's website. They've said they will acknowledge it within 48 hours and attempt to deal with it in a number of days (I think about 20 from memory). If I get nowhere then I'll take a look at the links you've given. Thanks.
    – Andy
    Nov 24 '19 at 10:14
  • @Andy I'd suggest demanding the call recording now if you haven't already, because that could take a while to get and it'd help keep movings things along. Nov 24 '19 at 11:08
  • Thank you. I did request a copy of a call transcript - if it indeed exists - when I made the initial complaint, and also repeated that request on the complaint form. I don't believe they have this, which further enforces my feeling they have no leg to stand on. Essentially they appear to have signed me up to a 12 month contract as a matter of their own choice and without my consent. If they fail to provide any evidence I've given consent then I can't see how they can win this one.
    – Andy
    Nov 24 '19 at 20:39
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    @Andy They might also have a recording that no-one has transcribed yet - of course once you have that you can make your own transcript. If they don't have any positive evidence relating to you specifically, they might try to argue that it's their general policy to tell people this and therefore it would have happened with you (they only have to prove this on the balance of probabilities for a civil dispute). Nov 24 '19 at 20:47
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Though not for the same issues, I had $236 worth of problems with AT&T last year. I spoke to 1/2 a dozen service reps (like a chain letter, one forwards you to another) and got nowhere after about two hours of effort. Nada.

I contacted the Federal Communications Commission and lodged a complaint. I didn't expect much but they took the bull by the horns and within a week or so, the excess charges were removed. I would imagine that there is some sort of similar regulatory authority in the UK. Contact them.

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  • I looked at Ofcom which I thought might be the equivalent in the UK but one of their pages (ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/…) says "We cannot handle individual complaints.". If anyone in the UK knows who to contact please post. I have spoke to the Providers customer services team, to no avail.
    – Andy
    Nov 23 '19 at 22:05
  • @Andy that page says "If your provider is unable to resolve your complaint, ask for a deadlock letter. This enables you to take your complaint to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. ADRs act as an independent middleman and will examine the case from both sides and reach a decision they think fair.". You do have to give the provider 8 weeks to resolve the complaint before you can escalate it to the ADR process though.
    – timday
    Nov 25 '19 at 20:01

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