THE BLOG

Broadband Contract Complaints up by a Third, but Who Is to Blame?

21/12/2015 13:13 GMT | Updated 17/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Today (Dec 17), the Telecoms Ombudsman revealed exclusively to us that the number of contract complaints about broadband in 2015 is up by nearly 40% since last year.

In essence, in 2015, Ombudsman Services: Communication received 2,636 more complaints than in the 12 months previous.

The funny thing about complaints numbers is they tend to be the tip of the iceberg. Those whose feathers have been ruffled by unexpected cancellation fees, contract length disputes and ad-hoc changes to contract terms are likely, in reality, in their hundreds of thousands.

But who is to blame?

Katherine Niccol of law firm Slater and Gordon took a typically legal view. "You enter a contract, you're told how much you're going to pay each month, you're told that there's maybe a cap on your data, you're told that if you're late paying your bill there may be a charge," she said, putting the onus firmly on consumers who really should take a little more time to read their contracts.

But, she also admits that "None of us do, we're all guilty of it".

So the question remains: is it reasonable or fair to expect the average consumer - who for the purposes of this point we'll suppose has neither the will nor the legal awareness to take fully on board how every clause might play out across 12-18 months - to spend thirty minutes to an hour reading it?

The banking industry has learned this lesson the hard way - if indeed anything can be considered a hardship for that particular industry. PPI and packaged bank account mis-selling have taught it to take a more explicative approach to the way financial products are sold or altered.

I myself recently found myself in a compulsory 45-minute meeting at my local branch of Lloyds to listen to someone explain to me in excruciatingly dull detail how the changes I was making to my packaged bank account would affect the interest I both pay and receive.

It was tedious, certainly, but one thing I can guarantee: In however many months or years from now that I find myself with a few quid more or less than expected, I will need neither to ask why, nor to complain to the Financial Ombudsman.

Broadband and mobile providers are yet to have their 'PPI moment' - a point at which something tips the scales to the point it's more profitable to invest in the resources to ensure things are properly explained than it is to allow consumers to sign their contracts without fully understanding them.

Idealists will argue that this should already be the case. That ensuring broadband and mobile customers fully understand what they're getting themselves into constitutes a moral imperative that transcends the day-to-day profit/loss decisions of the business circus. But is that reasonable?

Sorry idealists, (most) businesses simply don't work this way. Most businesses settle for the happiness of their customers to cruise along at the bare minimum required not to lose them. Things just tend to be more profitable that way.

No, if the ratcheting of contract-related complaints continues to gain a third year-on-year, someone (Ofcom), will have to step in and make them do it.

In the meantime we should keep our eyes peeled and our wits about us when signing up to any new broadband or mobile phone deal. Taking the time to read our contracts in full, ask questions, and indeed pull out if we don't like what we see, will be time well spent.