back to article Brit comms providers told: You must tell people when their cheap contract's about to end

Ofcom has announced plans to require communications providers to tell customers when they are nearing the end of their contract to encourage them to shop around. In a consultation on end-of-contract and out-of-contract notifications published today, the regulator moots rules that aim to stop people paying over the odds once …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quick poll: how many readers have ever heard that theme song?

    Also, you've used the wrong finger in that lead picture.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Clint Eastwood before a spaghetti western made him a star.

    2. Mr Humbug

      Jake and Elwood

      In the bar where they have *both* kinds of music: Country *and* Western

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      That Theme song ... that's The Chaps!

      https://youtu.be/IWMDuRZBnnw

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Frankie Laine - they don't make 'em like that any more.

      Not that I'm a fan of that particular genre - but can't deny that he could hold a tune.

      1. frank ly Silver badge

        Upvote for the Frankie Laine version.

  2. mrfantastic

    What about new builds?

    I bought a new home 10 months ago which only has Virgin, no BT, doubtless due to consideration paid somewhere. Unlike BT I don't have a choice of provider at all. Which should be fun at renewal time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about new builds?

      Unlike BT I don't have a choice of provider at all. Which should be fun at renewal time.

      A couple of thoughts.

      Raise the issue with Citizens Advice Bureau at the policy level - somebody like Andrew Rodger. That's a very slow burn, but CAB are the only institution on the customer's side, and the poor state of telecoms regulation is on their agenda

      Check with ismybillfair.com. If Vermin Media won't offer you the discounts they offer others, give them one last chance then complain to your MP, copied to Vermin Media, the Competition & Markets Authority. See what happens. If the answer is nothing, ask your MP to raise this with the CMA as an abuse of market power by VM. That would cost VM millions, so there's a good chance they'd stop dicking around and offer a discounted renewal.

      1. Keef

        Re: What about new builds?

        I'm not sure about complaining at such a high level with Citizens Advice.

        It might work but I have no access to the organisation as I live in the London borough of Ealing and they have no presence here.

        All the neighbouring boroughs Citizens Advice have phrases like this:

        'Citizens Advice can only help people who live in the London Borough of Hillingdon.'

        'Citizens Advice Harrow can only help people who live in the London Borough of Harrow.'

        'We can only provide a service to RESIDENTS of the London Borough of Hounslow.'

        I like the caps in the Hounslow one, like you need to be shouted at when you are failing to find the help you might need.

        So Citizens Advice as an organisation seems to be unavailable to me.

        That's not say they are at fault for not providing a service in Ealing and I'm not criticising Citizens Advice, Ealing seem to have their own advice centre.

        But contacting Ealing Council is usually an exercise in futility.

        They've done pretty much everything in their power to make themselves unavailable.

        No phone contact for most services, emails never replied to, you get the idea,

        When I did recently report a fly tipped fridge using their phone app I started getting spam emails from them. The unsubscribe link in the emails did not resolve so I couldn't use that.

        I emailed complaining about the spam but as usual I got not reply, the spam does seem to have stopped though.

        I believe a rant like this should be closed with the line:

        Now get off my lawn.

  3. Dwarf Silver badge

    I've got an idea

    How about they just offer the best offer for the longer term and save everyone the faffing around.

    This is a completely artificial market.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I've got an idea

      How about they just offer the best offer for the longer term and save everyone the faffing around.

      This is a completely artificial market.

      Actually, it is a very effective market. Regulators, politicians, pundits are happy to rail about markets that are "not working". But the choice is in the consumer's hands. Handset*airtime, or SIM free, contract or pre-pay, rolling 30 day contract or annual. Stay with your provider of leave at the end of your contract.

      In this, and other markets, there's an assumption that those who are not switching to the cheapest deal are somehow being unfairly ripped off. But these people are choosing not to switch, and the regulator+others are not happy with that choice, and want to do something about it. Now, the benefits of switching are modest and essentially a fixed value across the market in commodity sectors. If the regulator forces through changes to make everybody switch, then the value of switching disappears, as do the best deals (because those are loss-leaders).

      So if you currently switch deal every couple of years and you're advocating that suppliers just offer their best deal to all, then you're voting for a price increase for yourself, i order to give cheaper prices to those who currently choose not to switch as often, or at all. Out of curiosity, why do you think that those people who choose not to exercise their right to switch should get a better deal, at the expense of those who currently do? This is how markets work, even if retard regulators and politicians can't understand that.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: I've got an @AC

        "In this, and other markets, there's an assumption that those who are not switching to the cheapest deal are somehow being unfairly ripped off. "

        This is most certainly the case with contract mobile phones which include the purchase of a phone, go over their duration and the monthly charge is not reduced to reflect the fact the phone has been paid off. I seem to remember Ofcom doing something about this, not sure if they did it off their own back or were prodded by the EU.

        Out of curiosity, why do you think that those people who choose not to exercise their right to switch should get a better deal, at the expense of those who currently do?

        Simple, it is significantly cheaper to retain and roll over customers than it is to lose them or take on new customers; there is a price to churn - there was a sound commercial reason as to why Orange offered discounts to existing customers and why networks' have a retentions department. The problem is more about preventing exploitation of existing customers and people's very natural inertia to change.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: I've got an idea

      Indeed.

      My elderly mother received a personalised missive from BT saying she could have BT broadband for no extra cost than she was already paying. Turned out that in practice she was already getting some discount that was "incompatible" with the free offer and would be charged significantly more - BT clearly have access to her account details so knew this before sending the letter. She signed up after making a complaint that was supposed to result in the "no extra cost" being honoured, which it wasn't.

      They then sent her a letter saying they were increasing her charges still further and she had 30 days to escape without penalty the contract which she had inadvertently entered as a result of the "no extra cost" offer that involved significant extra cost. Exasperated, she decided to move to Sky and was promptly informed by BT that she would be charged the balance of the contract despite their previous assurance she would not.

      I've got an even better idea: create regional bodies (like the old Electricity Boards or Gas Boards) to bulk buy utility services on behalf of local consumers, getting the suppliers to tender annually. Consumers can then stop wasting all the time they currently spend trying to deal with sleazeball suppliers and maybe a small commission can go to help prop up the declining revenues of local authorities.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I've got an idea

        I've got an even better idea: create regional bodies (like the old Electricity Boards or Gas Boards) to bulk buy utility services on behalf of local consumers, getting the suppliers to tender annually.

        Then why involve the private sector at all? We could go back to the happy days of good value, customer-focused, innovative, reliable state providers. Government could print the money for all the new infrastructure it wants, unions could negotiate harmoniously with government over pay.....

  4. JimC Silver badge

    If they really want to do consumers a favour

    They'll ban these cheap year one expensive thereafter tariffs so that consumers won't have to change insurance/power/every other damn supplier every year...

  5. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

    easy option

    Rather than the £15 for 6 months offer it should show the monthly payment averaged over the contract term ?

    It's not that difficult ?.... unless you are making a fortune off people that don't have a clue.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: easy option

      >Rather than the £15 for 6 months offer it should show the monthly payment averaged over the contract term ?

      Not brought a mobile phone in recent years.

      There are several sites that do exactly that so the headline is: £23 pcm and £240 cashback

      Only the detail tells you that you actually pay £33 pcm but the cashback is only paid in months 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, if you make the effort to claim it.

      Because of the additional information, I am able to determine that the £25 pcm and zero cashback is in fact the better deal.

      However, neither of these deals are available to existing customers wishing to upgrade. The best deal available to them is £28 pcm and no cashback...

  6. Ian Bush
    Flame

    Just like ISAs

    "We want people to be able to take advantage of the wide choice of communication services available and shop around with confidence, so that they can get the best deals for their needs."

    On the other hand we could have a situation where companies don't have the right to rip the customer off the moment they put a foot wrong. We could have a situation where the default is that companies can not rip off consumers at will. Maybe governments could understand that while representing me one very important responsibility is to spare me working through a plethora of compare the market type sites and rather let me HAVE A LIFE. But no. As long as their hedge fund managers maximise their profit that is all that matters. I am just a working droid to maximise somebody else's profits. Fuck 'em.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just like ISAs

      Maybe governments could understand that while representing me one very important responsibility is to spare me working through a plethora of compare the market type sites and rather let me HAVE A LIFE.

      Well, I politely disagree that it is the job of government to manage every aspect or my life and wipe my arse, but you're entitled to a contrary view. Maybe you should move somewhere like Venezuela or Cuba? I think there's a few other places where government managing everybody's lives hasn't worked out so well, too.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alternatively....

    People could just pay attention to what they are signing up to and not expect to be treated like small children.

    (I realise some need to be treated this way, but most people are just too lazy to take responsibility for themselves)

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Alternatively....

      Have you ever genuinely read and understood an entire commercial EULA?

      Unless you're a lawyer specialising in such things, the answer will be no.

      And probably not even then.

      Unless the law requires otherwise, contracts are always deliberately worded to be unclear and difficult to understand, because lawyers make money that way.

      Thus the law does need to protect consumers from unfair contract terms, if only because as a consumer, you are never in a situation where you can both demand wording changes and enforce the new wording on an entity like BT.

  8. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I'd be happy

    with making companies like vermin media and bt openretch offer the same sort of deals to long term customers as they do to new ones.

    vermin are currently offering my deal (tv/bb/phone) for 30 quid a month while I'm stuck at 60

    (and dont ask about switching.... openretch around here is shite )

  9. Roland6 Silver badge

    Sounds simple but not always in practice...

    "They may face a price increase, or elements of the deal they originally signed up to may change," Ofcom said.

    I suspect this will have zero impact on the problem with 18 month service contracts, that many providers (eg. EE) like to offer - to the exclusion of all others.

    Many providers will allow you to pay for 12 months line rental up front, at a discount to the pcm rate, I would regard this as an "element of the the deal".

    However, when the line rental is due for renewal, the service provider won't allow you to renew on an annual basis, as the duration is outside of the term of the 18 month service contract, and they won't allow you to renew the service contract early, so for the last 6 months you are forced to pay the pcm line rental rate...

  10. Ubermik

    Yeah I had this happen to me, I work 7 days a week most weeks and often away from home, earlier this year I had to check the bank for something and found my cable bill has doubled because my contract ran out but without a single letter or email about it meaning I had paid as much for 6 months with virgin as I should have, and would have wanted to pay for an entire year

    And this despite being a virgin customer since they very first came to my area around 2 decades ago without interruption

    So now I am with talk talk, and when they tried to offer me tasty deals to stay with them I told them to shove it as a matter of principle, they will NEVER get another penny out of me ever again

  11. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
    Alert

    Remember that in the ears of the telcos, "stop fleecing those who haven't switched" will be heard as "fleece everybody equally"

    I'd rather have the choice to not be one of those getting fleeced, tyvm.

  12. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Not on the best deal

    My gripe with the various organisations saying the public could save £X million a year by swapping to the cheapest provider misses the important point that I may not want to be with the cheapest provider. For instance for broadband my cheapest provider would be Talk Talk, but I consider the extra few pounds a month I pay not to be with them money well spent.

    It's similar to saying we could save billions by everyone buying a Dacia Sandero rather than an actual car.

    On the flip side, they don't appear to be suggesting mobile providers contact you by SMS when you're at the end of your fixed term, which I would have thought would be the best way to guarantee getting in touch.

    1. ChrisC

      Re: Not on the best deal

      "My gripe with the various organisations saying the public could save £X million a year by swapping to the cheapest provider misses the important point that I may not want to be with the cheapest provider."

      This is a valid point when considering the independent organisations set up to help people compare and switch to deals across different providers, but I don't think that's what's being talked about here - this sounds more like requiring comms providers to do much the same thing that energy companies do, and let their customers know if, at the end of their current contract, they'd be able to save money *with that same provider* by switching to a different contract.

      So e.g. for a phone company, if you'd taken out a standard phone+airtime contract, the provider would then be obliged to let you know at the end of that contract what the cheapest option would be for you to remain with that provider without any changes to your existing service - i.e. keeping the same phone as you've now just finished paying for, what would be the cheapest deal which would still give you at least the same talk/data allowances as you're currently receiving.

      If, like the energy companies, the comms providers also had to add in a note along the lines of "better deals may be available from other providers", then fair enough, but it'd then be up to the customer to go investigate these other providers - this initial notice to let you know you were paying above the odds wouldn't explicitly recommend switching to anything other than another deal with the same provider.

  13. phuzz Silver badge

    Oh well

    Personally I'm fed up of hearing from my mobile network. Every time I get close to the end of a contract I get at least two or three phone calls trying to get me to sign up for a more pricey contract (plus emails, texts etc.).

    Presumably because I'm on their cheapest possible deal.

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