New Which? research shows Virgin Media is the worst culprit among broadband providers for leaving customers without a connection for long periods – as new rules requiring companies to pay automatic compensation when things go wrong are due to be introduced by Ofcom.
The consumer champion found one in six (17%) Virgin customers said they had been left with no connection for hours or days at a time, putting the company in the frame for payouts to householders left without a service.
Among the other big providers, BT (8%) Sky (8%) and TalkTalk (10%), around one in 10 customers had experienced problems with having no connection for long periods.
From April 1, householders who report internet outages that are not fully fixed after two full working days will receive £8-a-day automatic compensation paid as a refund on their next bill if their provider is signed up to the new voluntary scheme.
Customers will also get £5 per day if the installation of their service is delayed and £25 per missed appointment if an engineer fails to turn up or cancels at short notice.
According to regulator Ofcom, which set up the scheme, Virgin, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Zen Internet – who together serve around 90 per cent of broadband and landline customers in the UK – had all signed up in November 2017 when the scheme was announced.
Which?’s annual broadband satisfaction survey found the worst offender for leaving customers facing a long wait for an engineer visit was SSE – with just under one in 10 (7%) customers facing this problem.
But the firm’s customers are unlikely to get automatic compensation if their appointments are delayed or cancelled if SSE does not sign up to the scheme.
Despite being highly rated for overall service, Zen Internet was the firm most likely to leave customers facing a wait of between two weeks and a month to get their broadband service set up – with half (50%) saying this was how long the process took.
Vodafone customers were most likely to endure an even longer wait before they were up and running – with nearly one in five (16%) saying they waited between a month and eight weeks, or for more than two months.
Under the new guidelines, delayed broadband set-up will only be eligible for compensation if the provider does not install on the agreed date – rather than after a specific amount of time.
The firms have had 15 months to implement the new scheme – which should create an incentive for them to make big improvements to the shoddy customer service that has left Virgin, BT, Sky and TalkTalk languishing towards the bottom of Which?’s satisfaction survey.
According to estimates from regulator Ofcom, consumers experience around 7.2 million service quality failures each year in their broadband/landline services. This scheme could mean consumers are paid up to £126 million additional compensation per year – almost eight times more than the £16 million they currently receive.
Ofcom says more than five million consumers lose their landline or broadband service each year, nearly 250,000 engineer appointments are missed, and over one million landline and broadband installations are delayed.
Which? is calling for all broadband providers to sign up to this scheme to ensure that all consumers get the compensation they are entitled to without being made to jump through hoops.
Ofcom should closely monitor the scheme to ensure it is working for consumers and act swiftly to make changes if necessary.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:
“Broadband customers who suffer slow repairs, missed appointments and delayed installations have up until now had to jump through hoops to get compensation, so it is encouraging that some will now be refunded automatically.
“However, for consumers to truly feel the benefit of this scheme, broadband providers must improve their service overall. If not, we expect the regulator to show its teeth and take stronger action.”
Notes to Editors:
Which? supports Ofcom’s Boost Your Broadband campaign which helps consumers get the best from their broadband and find out if they could get a faster connection without paying more.
Customers looking for cheaper broadband can compare deals with Which? Switch Broadband, a transparent and impartial way to compare tariffs and find the best broadband supplier.
The broadband satisfaction survey is based on a survey of 8,063 Which? members conducted in January 2019. Customer score is based on whether people are satisfied with their provider and whether they would recommend it.
Respondents were asked: Thinking about the last 12 months (i.e. since January 2018)…Which, if any, of the following problems, have you experienced with your [brand] broadband?
Optional answers included ‘Left without a connection for days or hours at a time’ which affected an overall average 8 per cent of customers. However, it is worth noting that the code of practice will only apply for customers who experience outages of 48 hours or more.
Also in the optional answers was ‘Long wait for an engineer’ which overall affected 3 per cent of the people surveyed. However, it is unclear whether these customers were waiting for an appointment with an engineer or waiting for an engineer who did not show up. Under the new rules, only customers who experience a no-show engineer or an engineer who cancels within short notice would be automatically compensated.
Respondents were also asked about when they first signed up to their current provider: Overall, how long did it take to sign up to [brand] broadband (i.e. from when you placed the order to when the service became available in your home)?
Answers were given between certain time periods ranging from ‘less than 1 week’ to ‘more than 2 months’.
74 per cent of people who answered this question said it took between one week and one month.