John Lewis has been ranked the worst broadband provider for the second year running, while weak tech support and poor value for money meant Virgin Media was lowest-rated among the big broadband firms, according to new Which? research.
The consumer champion’s annual survey of almost 4,000 broadband customers found that despite many providers subjecting their customers to above-inflation contractual price rises, some are still offering little more than a slow connection, mediocre service and shoddy support.
Amid a cost of living crisis, Which? is recommending that customers consider a provider that pledges not to increase prices every year.
Languishing at the bottom of Which?’s survey for the second year in a row is John Lewis Broadband. A quarter (25%) of the High Street stalwart’s customers said they are dissatisfied with their service. Speed and connection reliability both earned John Lewis Broadband a feeble two out of five stars despite services being provided by Plusnet – who were one of the better providers rated. John Lewis’ value for money was also deemed below par and customers were some of the most likely to be paying hefty fees for their service.
Although the Big Four broadband providers supply nine in 10 households (86%), Which? found Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media customers were rarely impressed with their service, while BT was seen as only marginally better.
Virgin Media found itself second from bottom in Which?’s rankings, it was again the lowest-rated of the Big Four providers. Virgin only managed two stars for both technical support and how easy it was to contact customer services. It scored a measly two stars for value for money – with a fifth (21%) of customers saying it performed poorly.
Of the fourteen providers ranked, Sky was joint eleventh (alongside SSE), earning just two stars in five out of seven categories. Which? found that customers were let down on the basics – the speed and reliability of its connections.
TalkTalk did not impress either, in eighth position of the Which? rankings. It received a reasonable three stars for customer service but fell down when it came to technical support, where it only managed two stars.
The UK’s biggest broadband provider, BT, is joint sixth in the Which? satisfaction rankings, putting it mid-table alongside its subsidiary, EE Broadband. BT customers generally seemed satisfied if not overly enthusiastic – it got three stars in nearly all categories.
Like Virgin Media and TalkTalk, Which? found that BT customers were more likely to say they had never switched providers before taking out their current contract. Whilst many of these customers could be overpaying, those who are out of contract stand to save the most if they haggle or switch away rather than auto-renewing.
Ofcom rules require providers to offer customers the right to exit their contract penalty-free if they surprise them with price rises not set out in their contract. But many providers factor them into contract terms, allowing them to get around this. This means most people will not be able to do anything when their bills go up unless they are already out of their minimum contract period – usually between 12 and 24 months.
Not all providers take this approach with their customers. Hyperoptic, SSE and Utility Warehouse promise to keep customers’ prices the same for the length of their contract. However, despite being one of the top ranked providers, Hyperoptic’s network is currently limited, whilst SSE and Utility Warehouse did not stand out in Which?’s survey.
There is also support available for some of those struggling to afford their internet connection. Consumers who are on a means-tested benefit could be eligible for a ‘social tariff’. However, not all providers offer them, and Ofcom research has shown that while 4.2 million households are eligible for social tariffs, only 55,000 are currently signed up. Which? is calling for providers offering these tariffs to do more to highlight them to eligible customers and all providers must consider what more they can do to support low-income customers.
As a Which? Recommended Provider and top of the broadband satisfaction table for the seventh year running, Zen Internet also commits to keeping prices the same for the full length of contracts and is widely available as it uses the Openreach network.
Zen was the only provider to earn four stars for the speed and reliability of its broadband connections – with a third of customers (33%) giving these the highest ratings possible. And despite not being the cheapest provider, customers consider Zen great value, also awarding it four stars.
Natalie Hitchins, Head of Which? Home Products and Services, said:
“It’s unacceptable that at a time when many people will already be struggling with the cost of living crisis, some broadband firms are hiking their prices at above inflation rates while failing to live up to customer expectations.
“If you’re out of contract, you don’t have to accept any price rise – you’re free to switch at any time. Our research regularly shows that out-of-contract customers are at higher risk of overpaying for their broadband and with price hikes looming, switching could be a valuable way to cut costs.”
Notes to editors
- Customers looking for cheaper broadband can compare deals with Which? Switch Broadband (which.co.uk/switchbroadband), a transparent and impartial way to compare tariffs and find the best broadband supplier.
- Our research – Which? surveyed 3,903 broadband customers in the UK in December 2021/January 2022. Fieldwork was carried out online by Deltapoll.
Price hikes & Price promises
- Contractual price rises are generally based around CPI as published in January, but providers also add an extra percentage of 3-3.9%. No provider offers to reduce prices in the event of deflation –in that instance they’ll still hike prices using that extra figure.
- Ofcom has several voluntary ‘fairness’ commitments that the largest providers have signed up to. One is that providers have a fair approach to pricing – although many are still forcing people to accept above-inflation price rises. The regulator has said it’s concerned about the impact of these price rises but hasn’t indicated any intention to intervene, despite this year’s price hikes being higher than ever.
- TalkTalk is also raising prices from April this year unless your plan is eligible for, or you opt to pay for ‘Fixed Price Plus’ inflation protection, which could cost an extra £3 a month.
- Sky and Virgin Media don’t make price promises – and when we asked them, neither would commit to not instituting contractual price rises. But neither has factored them into their terms at this stage (nor has Now Broadband, which is owned by Sky) although they continue to make changes on an ad-hoc basis – if they do increase prices in this way, customers are able to leave.
- KCOM, which offers fibre broadband services in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, cancelled its contractual price rise for this year, saying it didn’t want to add to the burden of rising costs consumers already face in 2022.
- Zen said it’s reviewing whether to continue offering its Lifetime Price Guarantee to new customers due to rising costs, but still commits to not increasing prices for customers who are in contract.
- Virgin Media and Sky announced price hikes earlier this year – but customers were given the right to switch away when these were announced.
If you’re on a means-tested benefit such as Universal Credit, you could be eligible for a social tariff – we’ve rounded up those available below. If you sign up to one of these deals, you’ll need to share evidence that you meet the eligibility criteria.
Research from the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has shown that while 4.2 million households are eligible for social tariffs, only 55,000 have signed up so far. Access to a decent broadband connection is vital for every day life – social tariffs could make getting online affordable for millions of customers currently struggling to afford their connection.
And, while it doesn’t offer a social tariff, TalkTalk partners with the Department for Work and Pensions to offer six months of free fibre broadband to certain jobseekers. This isn’t available to all customers; eligibility is determined by Jobcentre staff. If you’re on Universal Credit, ask your Jobcentre Plus work coach if you’re eligible.
More info on how to save on your broadband bills here:
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