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When should I switch broadband? How to avoid an expensive price hike

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If the latest broadband deals tempt you, this guide will help you find out when you can switch. Plus, how to avoid paying an exit fee.

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The broadband market is very competitive and new offers appear all the time. Just because you got a good broadband deal initially doesn’t mean it’s still the best option today.

So, when and why should you switch broadband and how can you upgrade your current broadband services without paying a penalty?

Usually, the best (and cheapest) time to switch broadband is when your contract has come to an end.

Paying too much is the main reason customers switch their broadband deal, according to a Uswitch customer satisfaction survey. Most broadband deals include an annual inflation-linked price increase, which usually happens at the end of the financial year in April. Even if you’re on a fixed-term contract, you could still be affected.

This makes February and March good months to start comparing broadband deals before your current broadband contract prices go up. But keep in mind: if you’re thinking of leaving your current provider before your contract has officially ended, you might end up paying more.

You can leave your broadband contract whenever you want, but if you’re still within your minimum contract period, there may be a charge. This is because your contract is a legally binding agreement for a particular length of time. If you’re unsure whether you’re still in contract, log on to your account or talk to your provider.

Contracts are usually for 30 days, 12 months, 18 months or 24 months. With 30-day contracts, you only need to provide one month’s notice. With the others, you need to complete the full term.

If you want to leave your broadband deal mid-contract, you’ll normally be charged an early exit penalty. Typically, this is the total amount that’s left to pay on your contract. In the long term, it may be cheaper to pay this fee and switch provider, depending on how much time is left on your contract. But usually, it’s more sensible to wait until you’re out of contract when exit fees no longer apply.

There are certain situations when this charge may be waived, even if your broadband contract hasn’t run its full term. For example:

  • You’re still in the cooling-off period. After you first sign up, there’s a period when you can cancel and leave without an exit fee. This is usually 14 days, but check with your provider.
  • You want to upgrade to a more expensive contract with the same provider. It’s in their best interests to get you on a higher tariff, but this of course wouldn’t save you any money.
  • You’re not getting the speeds promised. According to Ofcom regulations, your broadband provider should give you a minimum guaranteed speed when you sign up. If the speeds you’re getting are slower, contact them. If the fault is on their side and they can’t fix it within 30 days, you can leave the contract, and no fees apply.
  • Your provider violates or changes the contract T&Cs without following Ofcom rules. If they amend the terms and conditions of your agreement, your provider should give you at least a month’s notice. They should also give you the chance to leave for free if the contract change doesn’t benefit you.
  • You’re moving house and the same service isn’t available at your new address. This could be because: your current provider doesn’t cover your new postcode you currently have full fibre broadband and you’re moving to an area that doesn’t offer it yet

Some providers, including Sky, Hyperoptic and EE, sometimes pay a broadband switching credit if you start a new deal with them. If you switch to them before your existing contract has ended, they may help cover your exit fees. You may have to show you’ve paid the exit penalty before your credit is activated, and other conditions may apply.

Price increases are one of the most common reasons for switching broadband providers. You might also want a better deal if you’re experiencing…

  • slow internet speeds
  • a poor Wi-Fi signal
  • an unreliable connection
  • poor customer service
  • inaccurate billing
  • a bad mobile app or website experience

The reputation or conduct of a broadband provider may also have an impact on whether you want to stay or switch. For example, it’s now important for broadband providers to show they’re taking action to benefit the planet.

This could involve…

  • a commitment to being carbon neutral - for example, Zen Internet, which is already carbon neutral
  • using sustainable materials
  • focusing on renewable energy sources
  • partnering with organisations aimed at reducing carbon emissions
  • having eco-friendly company policies

If you’re unhappy with your broadband, review your contract terms and discuss options with your provider.

This may help any early termination conversations go smoothly. It may also help to compare broadband deals beforehand to know what else is out there.

It’s currently normal for broadband costs to increase annually due to inflation. However, Ofcom, the UK broadband regulator, is proposing to ban mid-contract inflation-linked price rises. Ofcom says they make it harder for customers to work out what they can expect to pay.

BT is planning to end its inflation-linked increases from summer 2024. However, BT customers will see price rises of up to 7.9% at the end of March 2024. Until Ofcom enforces a ban, always read the terms of your agreement if you’re comparing broadband deals.

Another time prices are likely to increase is when your broadband contract comes to an end. If you stick with the same provider and don’t switch to a new broadband deal, your monthly payments are likely to go up dramatically. This is because the fixed term has finished.

Your provider no longer has to charge the rate you agreed on for the duration of your contract. Most providers will take advantage of this and put up your fee, but they must give you notice before your contract ends.

For annual inflation-linked price increases, the amount charged by providers varies considerably.

In 2024, providers including EE, iD Mobile, O2, Plusnet, Sky, Talkmobile, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone announced increases of up to 8.8%. Other providers chose not to increase their monthly costs, among them Hyperoptic, Trooli, Utility Warehouse and Zen Internet.

These increases include the additional amount that providers charge to cover rising business costs. This is usually between 3-4%.

If your broadband contract ends, you’re considered to be ‘out of contract’, but will still pay a monthly rate on your broadband services. According to Ofcom, the average increase is 20% for customers who stay with their existing provider and don’t take any action. However, you could see your monthly bill for selected products increase by as much as 90% depending on the provider.

As your broadband contract end-date approaches, you should get an ‘out-of-contract’ notification from your provider by text, email or letter. According to Ofcom regulations, this must arrive 10 to 40 days before your contract ends. The notification should make it clear that you’re free to switch to a new broadband deal.

The end-of-contract notification is designed to support the many customers who don’t know when their contract ends or missed the end date. It should also tell you:

  • when your broadband contract ends
  • how much you’ve been paying, and what you’ll pay when your contract ends
  • the notice period for leaving your provider
  • details of your provider’s best deals, including prices only available to new customers
  • details of other contracts that are included as part of a bundle, with the end dates for those contracts

If you decide to stay with your current provider, you should get a message every year with details of their best prices.

Once your broadband contract ends, you have two options. Both will save you from paying more if your provider puts up their prices.

  • Switch to a new broadband deal with a different provider. This allows you to take advantage of some great new customer offers. Make sure you do your research and compare quotes, so you switch to a broadband deal that’s right for you. The cheapest isn’t always the best. You need to give your broadband provider 30 days’ notice if you want to switch. To avoid paying more than you should, act before ‘out-of-contract’ charges start.

Here's our guide to switching broadband provider for a few more details.

  • Renegotiate a cheaper broadband deal with your current provider. This makes sense if you’re happy with the service you’re getting. Just make sure you do it before you start paying the ‘out-of-contract’ tariff by giving at least 30 days’ notice. Your end-of-contract notification should include details of their best prices, but it’s also worth negotiating. You don’t have to settle with the first option they give. If you’re out of contract, the provider wants to keep your business, and you have the bargaining power.

Make sure you compare broadband quotes before you speak to your provider so you have examples of better deals. They may be willing to match or beat them.

According to Ofcom, millions of households in the UK could save around £200 a year by switching to a broadband social tariff. If you’re on low income and getting universal credit or another government benefit, you could be eligible for a reduced broadband rate.

Read our expert tips to help you find a cheaper broadband deal

If you’re nearing the end of your contract and you find a great broadband deal, it may be worth paying the exit penalties. You might save more overall by switching.

Even if you’re out of contract, broadband providers usually want 30 days’ notice if you’re leaving. If you decide to move to a new provider, get your new contract set up in advance so you’re not left without internet.

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