Almost three million UK broadband customers whose deal expired in the past 12 months say they did not receive the required end-of-contract notification (ECN) from their provider, potentially costing them up to £251m in missed savings.
This is according to a survey of more than 17,000 UK broadband users by comparison and switching service Uswitch.com.
ECNs were introduced by UK communications regulator Ofcom on 15 February 2020 and require broadband providers and mobile operators to tell customers when their contract is ending and what they could save by signing up to a better deal.
Consumers whose contract is coming to an end should receive an ECN by letter, text or email between 10 and 40 days before their deal expires. Additionally, those whose deals had expired before 14 February 2020 should get an ECN before 13 February 2021, but only just more than three-fifths of such users (62%) had received a notification by 1 November 2020.
More than eight million broadband customers whose contracts have ended since February 2020 should have received an ECN in the weeks leading up to their deal expiring, but the survey found 33% didn’t get one. Uswitch.com calculated that being on an expired broadband tariff costs about £90 extra a year on average, leading to a total additional cost of £251m.
Uswitch.com added that ECNs have led more than four million broadband customers to switch to a better deal, either with their existing supplier or a competitor. Of the five million broadband consumers who received an ECN, more than four million (88%) used the information to switch to a better deal in the past 12 months, either with their current provider or a competitor, while 12% did nothing.
Richard Neudegg, Uswitch.com
In a call to action, Uswitch demanded telecoms providers be consistent in ensuring that ECNs and out-of-contract notifications engage all customers who qualify for one. It also called on Ofcom to ensure that no practices are being used to dissuade consumers from taking action and to crack down on any behaviour that attempts to dissuade consumers from reviewing whether they are on a good deal.
In addition, Uswitch said the language used in these notifications could mean that people fail to realise they have even received the document, reducing the chances they will open it or take action promptly. It said that subject lines in ECN samples it had seen used a neutral tone and talked about “An update to your broadband service” or “A little reminder about your contract”, in contrast to what it says is the more urgent language deployed by providers in other circumstances.
Uswitch said it had also seen examples of providers extending pricing discounts beyond contract end dates, creating a loophole and avoiding the requirement of sending a formal notice when these new discounts end.
“When providers choose language in their notices which lacks the priority or formality that might be expected for such important information, consumers can be forgiven for missing something that requires action,” remarked Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at Uswitch.com.
“The fact that a third of consumers whose contract was due to end say they didn’t receive, or couldn’t recall receiving, an end-of-contract notification should ring alarm bells. More must be done to build on the success of these notifications so that all customers have a fair chance of engaging when their contract comes to an end. Ofcom must act to make sure providers cannot deploy marketing and pricing tactics designed to fly the chance of better deals under the radar.”