back to article 123-reg shrugs off customer complaints over stealth domain transfer charges

Web hosting outfit 123-reg has dismissed a number of complaints from disgruntled customers who are angry with the company's sudden decision to abandon its promise to keep domain transfers free on its service. The Register heard from a family-run website business, The Mayne Design, which griped about the stealth changes to 123- …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Out of order.

    "The update was made two weeks ago without notable customer impact."

    As they didn't tell anyone, how would there have been customer impact. Most customers wouldn't have been changing domains away on a regular basis and now they have added the fee you can't escape it.

    A notable customer impact would have been - announcing the change and that it would happen from your next billing period and then seeing how many customers jumped ship to a registrar who didn't pull dirty tricks like this.

    You can be sure if I had known I would've pulled all my domains from them. you can be sure I won't be using them again.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Out of order.

      Looks like the advice is to pull your domains out of 123-Reg to another provider ASAP and say that you will take them to small-claims to recover any costs as they have not lawfully changed the terms of your agreement with them.

      They will then allow you to transfer free of charge, but you need to do it quickly or else you might renew and then you wouldn't have as strong a case.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Re: Out of order.

        Exactly my thought. Move quickly and they don't have a leg to stand on. Maybe they were hoping enough time would pass before anyone noticed for them to say 'but that was ages ago', although I'm not sure even that would save them if someone put up a detirmined fight.

      2. Tapeador

        Re: Out of order.

        "Looks like the advice is to pull your domains out of 123-Reg to another provider ASAP and say that you will take them to small-claims to recover any costs as they have not lawfully changed the terms of your agreement with them.

        They will then allow you to transfer free of charge, but you need to do it quickly or else you might renew and then you wouldn't have as strong a case."

        No, that's not true.

        Because the attempt at a renegotiated agreement by one of the parties, lacks one of the essential four factors for a binding contract to exist (offer, acceptance, something FRESH of value exchanged or promised between the parties, and intention to create legal relations), it will not bind, and the previous agreement will continue to bind, unless certain possible conditions are met.

        1) One would be that the web firm was going bust because it had promised too much in exchange for too little with that specific offer. Keeping going would be providing something of fresh value. However they would have to have 'clean hands', i.e. be in genuine difficulty.

        2) Alternatively, *when the period of the original agreement is up*, they can say they no longer wish to offer services in the future unless the terms are changed, including a domain porting fee. For subscribers leaving at that point, there will be no porting fee. However this raises issues of fairness for those who do wish to stay, which have to be balanced with questions of fairness to the firm.

        For those customers, the question of whether the firm ought to be bound by its original agreement will turn a) on the words of the original agreement, and whether they amounted to a promise to be bound for the lifetime of the customer's keeping their domain with the hosting company, and if they do, then b) on the reasonableness of the change of terms, and c) whether (in consumer cases) whether the new change of terms amounts to an "imbalance in the obligations imposed on the parties contrary to the requirements of good faith."

        It may be that the offer to maintain no porting fees 'no matter what', was part of the original fresh offer in exchange for which the person joined the company. However if commercial reality says that companies really do have to change their terms at occasional intervals (and I think it does), then they may be bound - BUT ONLY until the end of the original agreement period, i.e. when you come to renew, you will have to pay for FUTURE portings-out, but NOT the one at that moment.

        This could be disputed on the grounds that the sheer hassle of joining another company was something which the individual subscriber was keen to avoid by sticking with a company... and it goes on and on. Much will turn on the terms of the original contract, and whether a promise of a price fix was incorporated into it, and whether that clause can be changed fairly, etc etc etc.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Out of order.

          "...or else you might renew and then you wouldn't have as strong a case"

          . . . . "No, that's not true."

          . . . . "then they may be bound - BUT ONLY until the end of the original agreement period, i.e. when you come to renew, you will have to pay for FUTURE portings-out, but NOT the one at that moment."

          You appear to contradict yourself. As I said you need to do it quickly in case you renew and then don't have as strong a case, but you said this wasn't true but then state that you will [I would say might] have to pay if you renew.

  2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
    Mushroom

    A tenner

    Its all automated anyway so I think this admin fee is excessive for telling Nominet change the IPS tag to so and so.

    Probably just a way to try and lock-in existing customers

    1. Tony Green

      Re: A tenner

      As I remember from when I transferred some domains out, 123-Reg don't even HAVE to tell Nominet. You just fill in an online form and it's all done electronically. So cost to them is the power for the server while you do it.

      I suspect it's more to do with deterring people from transferring domains away from their crap service.

      Though that was at least better than Webhost UK, who I wanted to leave because their staff were bloody useless. I had to ask them and THEY did the transfer. Had me worried they were going to screw it up for me...

  3. Steve Knox

    The real point of this

    123-reg has more than 1 million customers and has seen discussion on this from a very small number of them.

    Translation:

    We don't care because not enough of you will care enough to impact our bottom line.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The real point of this

      123-reg has more than 1 million customers and has seen discussion on this from a very small number of them.

      So at a stroke they've just generated £1,000,000 for themselves - nice work. Means I'll owe them £3k+ not happy.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tempted to transfer the few domains I have there then look into a small claims court case as they haven't properly notified me of the change in conditions.

    1. David Pollard

      Small Claims

      IANAL but it does look as though they changed their terms without proper notification and without agreement. Whether it will be possible to reclaim all or part of prepaid hosting charges on the basis that the existing contract is thus cancelled I don't know. But Mayne Design's blog, mentioned in the article, is definitely useful as it has a screen copy of 123-reg's "We don't rip you off ... No hidden charges to transfer away".

      For anyone unfamiliar with the Small Claims procedure, the Trading Standards Office at the local council can be quite helpful. And if there's no response or no success in response to an initial formal letter asking for refund and the promised free transfer the court procedure is fairly straightforward.

  5. Piers

    So...

    "This change to our product is not directly customer impacting, and the fees involved in this service are equal to those charged by the registry concerned for the same service."

    I'll be paying that to Nominet instead then, so 123 won't get a penny as I shift all the domains I look after away from their "service".

    1. MrWibble

      Re: So...

      I did the same with a different company after a particularly sour experience. Yes the amount of money was the same, but at least the shit company weren't getting any of it. Made me feel a little better!

  6. Billa Bong

    Domain registration *should be* loss-leading

    It's like slapping a £1 tag for wanting to remove a mars bar from a shop. I ditched 123-reg a looong time ago because of crap customer service, and FreeParking after them for crap customer service and excessive charges. I'm now with Heart Internet. Haven't had to complain so far.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Domain registration *should be* loss-leading

      Um, you do know 123-reg and Heart Internet are basically the same company, right?

      1. Vince

        Re: Domain registration *should be* loss-leading

        Er, no they aren't (unless something changed and I missed it).

        They were setup by the same people originally yes, but 123-reg/webfusion/host Europe were sold long ago and the owner did then setup heart afaik. Not sure there is any current connection.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Domain registration *should be* loss-leading

          I just checked with Heart and they don't charge for transferring out a domain or for changing an IPS tag so I'll be changing my domains to them shortly and asking 123-reg to waive the charge.

        2. CKOne

          Re: Domain registration *should be* loss-leading

          Heart is part of Host Europe Group - http://www.heg.com/

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Domain registration *should be* loss-leading

          It still appears that 123 and Heart are part of Host Europe so some connection.

        4. mandarin4

          Re: Domain registration *should be* loss-leading

          Well both are part of Host Europe Group so there has to be some connection between them.

        5. David Pollard

          Re: Domain registration *should be* loss-leading

          123-reg and Heart Internet are both listed as brands of Host Europe Group.

          www.heg.com

  7. PeterI

    Okay so the question is where to move to? Never had a problem with them in the past BUT this is just the sort of thing that means I'll move now before I get stuck with them.

    1. moiety

      You could try Namecheap - their customer support is very good and I've never had a problem there in 6+ years...my own domains and several client domain collections.

    2. Johnny2Shoes

      I've just transferred all my domains to www.fasthosts.co.uk - UK call center, no transfer out fees and a decent Control Panel.

      1. druck Silver badge

        Have a search on The Register for fasthosts, you may want to rethink that.

  8. Warm Braw Silver badge

    "Fees ... are equal to those charged by the registry"

    Well, unless the rules have changed since I was a registrar, that's at least disingenuous.

    Although Nominet do charge a fee if you approach them directly as a domain owner to change an IPSTAG, they certainly did not in the past charge a registrar to do it and NOMINET didn't really expect to deal directly with domain owners except in rare cases when something had gone wrong with their relationship with their registrar.

    I doubt they cover their admin costs for this exceptional procedure so they probably won't take kindly to getting even a modest increase in direct requests.

    1. Vince

      Re: "Fees ... are equal to those charged by the registry"

      A large number of providers charge, it is not at all uncommon to charge for transfers (in or out). It's pretty much always the case on .com/net/org and so on for other reasons, but it's not unusual - the lack of notification however is...

  9. batfastad

    Rubbish

    Wow this tactic reminds me of the early days of domains, where nearly all registrars had fees for any single conceivably action.

    These guys are complete jokers, on the same level as UKReg/Fasthosts. Most companies I've worked for have had an account and I always push for a switch.

    Not to mention the control panel looks like it's not changed since 1998 and feels like a bunch of cobbled together CGI scripts and Apache Server Side Includes. Don't even think about managing more than 5 domains with it.

    I actually hate the way that the contact details and owner information for UK domains has to now be managed at the registry rather than the registrar as well. Want to change the ownership information? That'll be £10+VAT to Nominet.

    1. Monkey Bob

      Re: Rubbish

      > Want to change the ownership information? That'll be £10+VAT to Nominet.

      They've changed this relatively recently so that if it's done right it doesn't cost anything.

      The registrar can change the main admin (a1) contact if needed, which can then request a password for Nominet's portal, & the account name can be changed through there with no charge AFAIK*.

      The contact details, & anything other than the main account name, can be changed by the registrar at any time, in seconds by pgp signed email.

      * - I've never changed the account name myself. I work at a registrar, & I've changed the a1 contact for customers & sent them off to do this, & not one has come back saying it doesn't work...

  10. MrMur

    Been gradually moving everything off 123-reg after a cock-up at their end meant I was told I had to pay twice to secure my domain and even though the knew I had already paid and they would refund the first payment some days after. I did get the refund and they gave me 2 years extra free on the domain, but I lost several hours of my time trying to deal with it. Still got a few domains with them, alas. I wish I'd had warning.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "123-reg has more than 1 million customers and has seen discussion on this from a very small number of them."

    So, 123-reg, there'll be no problem waiving the charges for such "a very small number of them" then, will there? Plus as an added bonus it will save you losing in court.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    FreeNetName!

    Anyone remember when FreeNetName.co.uk charged around £85-ish to change the tag? That was about 12-14 years ago.

    But for 123-reg to charge £9.99+VAT now just to change the tag, especially now that OpenSRS are charging for .com/.org/.net etc whois privavcy services now leaves me wondering what we'll get charged for next??

  13. Da Weezil

    Surely material changes to a contract (such as the introduction of a fee for services previously headlined as "free") would need to be properly notified in order to form part of a valid contract? I have had no such notification and such a material change to the basis of my relationship with 123reg can surely only be made with my knowledge and consent (aka an email saying "we are doing this - if you dont like it leave now").

    They are just about to lose a handful of domains here - and I'm going to look into the legality of any charges they might try to impose when I leave.

  14. Sam Liddicott

    company for sale

    maybe the company will be sold soon and to get a high valuation they need to be able to guarantee minimum per customer revenue

  15. vagabondo

    Oh Dear!

    For what I thought was a predominately UK based site for IT professionals, there seems to be a lot of ignorance of the .uk registry displayed by the author and commenters.

    "Internet Provider Security (IPS) tag" is a nonsense-term wrt Nominet and the .uk registry. This usage is an invention of Webfusion Ltd/123-reg.

    Nominet members that are authorised to add, renew, and delete domains from the registry are called "registrars". Registrars used to be called "tag-holders". The tag (normally the abbreviated name of the registrar) is the registrar's id used in the registry databases. The domain is registered for a "registrant", who must supply an email address, and identifying information.

    All registrants should be notified as to how they can use Nominet's web interface to update the registry information, including the tag(s) (if any) they wish to be associated with their domain(s). They can also ask any registrar to take them on as customers and change the tag for them. The system notifies the registrant, and both losing and gaining registrars of the change. This need not cost anything (although you have to pay Nominet or the new regstrar the upcoming registration fee). Nominet's rules do not allow a registrar to hold a registration as hostage for any reason. Of course this only works if the correct registrant information is held by Nominet.

    Webfusion Ltd t/a 123-reg appear to be charging to change the outgoing tag, presumably because this is a nuisance for them, and is usually done by the new registrar as part of their service along with name servers etc.

    Until a few days ago (and still in most cases) a domain transfer to a new registrant (not registrar) was done by Nominet staff, and required a written application, with evidence of identity and acceptance of liability in case of a challenged transfer. This used to cost £26. Now a registrar can be "accredited" (they need suitable level of indemnity insurance)

    to transfer domains between registrants. The will normally charge for this service. If you check out nominet.org.uk, you can see that Webfusion Ltd (123-reg) are accredited.

    So the message is -- Don't Panic! -- this was a bit of a non-story.

  16. NT1

    Single or multiple domains?

    Implied is that 123-reg charge £9.99+VAT per domain whereas Nominet charge that for mass transfer of domains. Better to move them all to a different registrar for a one off fee using Nominet's service rather than 123-reg!

    http://www.nominet.org.uk/uk-domain-names/manage-your-domain/change-registrar

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Single or multiple domains?

      OK so have I got this right: I can go to Nominet and transfer ALL my 200 UK domains to a different registrar for a single £10 fee or pay 123reg £10 for each domain. If I do a Nominet bulk transfer 123 will no longer get their £4.99 a year renewal for each domain so they want to wave goodbye to £1k a year against the future prospect of getting £2k from all my individual transfers. And there's more. Soon I'll need to protect my .co.uk names by buying the corresponding .uk for another £6pa and at the same time double my potential "escape from 123 fee" to £4k total.

      Any recommendations for an alternative registrar? Ideally a more reliable one (123 have screwed up my renewals a few times) and with a better control panel .

      1. vagabondo

        Re: Single or multiple domains?

        You can read all this stuff at http://www.nominet.org.uk/become-registrar/fees

        If you ask Nominet to do it for you it's £10+vat per domain. But you can do it yourself, or more simply leave it to your new registrar. I do not know of any registrar who charges for transfers in. Choose your registrar depending on what other services (if any) that you need. Domain registration is often provided as a loss leader to sell other services. My company does not bill separately for domain registration and name servers, but bundle it in with our support and management services.

  17. NT1

    Re: Single or multiple domains?

    vagabondo, if you follow the link http://www.nominet.org.uk/uk-domain-names/manage-your-domain/change-registrar , you will see at the bottom it says "If you have multiple domain names (all available via online services) being moved to the same new registrar, the cost of a mass registrar change is £10 plus VAT." i.e, it is not a charge per domain name.

    1. vagabondo
      Facepalm

      Re: Single or multiple domains?

      @NT1

      Thank you. The Nominet fees page that I referenced appears to be wrong/misleading. I will inform the Nominet office on Monday.

      I really should have opened an account as a normal registrant, so that I was familiar with our customers' view of the web interface.

      Thanks again for taking the time to correct my misunderstanding.

  18. Edward Noel

    I moved from 123 to domainmonster...

    ...after 123 were acquired a couple of years ago. Domainmonster seem genuine & haven't tried to rip me off surreptitiously (as yet).

  19. Martin Chandler
    Happy

    Re: has people forgot android Jelly bean 4.2

    I raised a support call with 123-reg and they amended my account so I don't have to pay for changing the IPS Tags. I have now moved all my .co.uk domains out of 123-reg for free :)

  20. howiecrosby.co.uk

    State of play.

    Is this an obvious game plan from 123 or just plain bad manners.

    There is a way to play it though, you could be a flipper?

    If that is the case, why not transfer your names [FOR FREE] over, with the expectations that you are going to sell your name before the year is out? Or pay the outward bound fee once reg is up OR drop the name!

    Or transfer your names to another site before going to 123 for around £6 and carry on as normal.

    Depending on your name obviously and how many names you could transfer? most good flippers in the market can do this, so if your name was coming up for renewal somewhere, why not take this decision with your instinct in hand! Go to AcornDomains.co.uk [I have no affiliation!] and sell, rather than waisting £5 a domain at domainlore where we all know it's just the 3L and the odd fantastic keyword that sells well.

    or ultimately sell to a client.

    Best to you all.

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