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Making Us Jump Through Hoops To Get Cheaper Broadband, Mobile & TV Has Gone On Long Enough

04/11/2016 15:04

What if I told you that you could double your broadband speed for a lower price, slash the cost of viewing your favourite TV show and get extra channels, or find more reliable mobile reception with more data?

But to do that you might have to wait in a telephone queue for half an hour, defend your desire to quit with a master of retention and/or get hold of a secret code. You might have to pay two different providers for the same service to avoid loss of service while you switch over, but I can't tell you how long for.

Sound like a hassle? You're not wrong. And, in a worst-case scenario, this is what some companies will put you through if you want to leave.

The good news is that, for most, switching services is far easier than expected and the potential savings are well worth the admin - up to £165 a year for moving broadband and home phone provider and £187 a year for switching mobile networks.

And it's no secret that companies save some of their best rewards for new customers. Loyalty doesn't pay so you have to be fickle to save cash.

Where it's all going wrong is that, in the telecoms market, the switching process is hit and miss depending on which provider you're with and what service you're quitting, which means not everyone is reaping the benefits of disloyalty.

Case in point, if your broadband service uses the Openreach network , the provider you're moving to handles the switch but, if you're moving to or from Virgin, you must also deal with provider you're leaving. In mobile, it's a customer-led process - you have to call up and run the retentions gauntlet to get your unique code, called a PAC, to pass it on to the network you're moving to.

And in TV, if you're signed up to Netflix you can literally cancel with one click but, if you're with Sky, TalkTalk, BT or Virgin, customers have to make contact an average 4.9 times, spending an average of 28 minutes on the phone or live chat plus 30 minutes on hold.

Why, in the digital age, are we still having to cancel via telephone and why are we, as customers, being made to do all the legwork? How is it fair that providers are given the opportunity to make us jump through hoops if we want to exercise our right to leave, especially if we're really unhappy with their service?

What's more, a system where the operator losing the business handles the cancellation (like mobile) is fundamentally flawed, because they have little incentive to make it quick or easy. If you're leaving, you're hardly going to be a priority.

We shouldn't accept that these needlessly complicated processes are set in stone, particularly when current accounts have an established system to redirect all payments and direct debits automatically, and the energy market has a switching process driven by the companies gaining the business. These are also complex sectors where a solution has been implemented.

It's bitterly ironic that it's communications - which should be our more technologically advanced and innovative sector - that is lagging behind.

And there's never been more urgency with the rise of 'multiplay' deals, where all your telecoms services are bundled together with one provider. We're likely to see more of these, with Vodafone launching a new pay TV offering and Sky venturing into mobile. But there are obvious drawbacks. If your broadband connection is patchy and slow, or you can't get mobile signal at home, you might find it harder to cancel just one part of the bundle.

Fortunately, the regulator Ofcom has now laid out two options to solve this:

1. Place responsibility for switching mobile, landline, pay TV or broadband supplier entirely in the hands of a customer's new provider
2. You'd still have to cancel via your existing provider, but you wouldn't have to do it over the phone

The right solution is the first one. It means less administrative hassle for the customer and, crucially, it's in the gaining provider's interest to speed things up, as they are financially incentivised.

The Government is also helping smooth the way now with the Digital Economy Bill, which would give Ofcom more authority to push positive change through.

This cannot come soon enough as Ofcom's strategic review of consumer switching was nearly six years ago, and the latest proposal marks its eighth consultation on switching since then. Billpayers have been waiting long enough.

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