Clingy Virgin Media won't let us leave, customers complain

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Virgin Media, which provides broadband, telephone and TV services successful nan UK, is successful basking h2o pinch regulators complete allegations that nan institution is making it difficult for customers to cancel their contracts.

Ofcom announced that it had opened an investigation into nan broadband supplier coming aft receiving a number of akin complaints.

"Being capable to move supplier easy is an important portion of a competitory market," Ofcom said. "Telecoms customers tin take from a wide scope of providers, services and packages, and tin often prevention hundreds of pounds by switching to a caller deal. This expertise for customers to shop around, move and prevention is peculiarly important fixed nan existent cost-of-living situation facing UK households."

The communications regulator's General Conditions of Entitlement stipulate that telecoms providers must not enactment successful a measurement that discourages customers from canceling services.

If a institution breaches these conditions, nan agency tin good it for up to 10 percent of applicable turnover, though violations are wished connected a case-by-case basis. For 2022, Virgin Media revenues [PDF] were £10.36 cardinal ($13.5 billion). At nan extremity of past year, it had 5.8 cardinal fixed-line customers and a 44.7 cardinal mobile base, but did not break retired TV figures. Virgin Media merged pinch mobile web O2 successful 2021.

Ofcom expressed interest astatine nan number of complaints it had received from subscribers who tried to time off but claimed nan institution made it difficult.

"Some struggled to get done to an supplier connected nan phone," nan regulator said. "Some recovered their telephone was dropped mid-way done aliases they were put connected clasp for agelong periods. And galore said they had to make lengthy and repeated requests to cancel, arsenic their first instruction was not actioned."

The investigation launched coming will look astatine whether Virgin Media is complying pinch Ofcom's statement termination rules and whether nan institution has grounded to meet its requirements connected complaints handling, including informing customers of their correct to escalate their title to an independent ombudsman.

Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom main executive, said: "Our rules are location to protect group and make judge consumers tin return advantage of cheaper deals that are connected offer. That's peculiarly important astatine nan infinitesimal arsenic households look for ways to support their bills down.

"We're taking action today, connected behalf of Virgin Media's customers, to analyse whether nan institution is putting unnecessary barriers successful nan measurement of those who want to move away.

"We're besides expecting much from nan manufacture arsenic a full successful helping to support customers done nan cost-of-living crisis. That intends nary much excuses erstwhile it comes to offering and promoting societal tariffs to eligible customers who could move and prevention today."

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A Virgin Media spokesperson told The Register: "We are committed to providing our customers pinch fantabulous service, supporting them pinch immoderate issues and giving clear options should they wish to leave. Complaint rates relating to 'difficulties leaving' person halved complete nan past year, showing nan advancement we're making, and we will support moving pinch Ofcom passim its investigation, while making further improvements successful really we grip customer complaints to supply a amended wide experience."

Alex Tofts, broadband master astatine value comparison website Broadband Genie, said that an Ofcom probe pursuing mid-contract value rises and a bid of embarrassing outages was not a bully look for Virgin Media.

"With its attraction connected high-speed fibre broadband, Virgin Media packages are among nan astir costly connected nan marketplace and, arsenic households look to trim their bills, nan institution is apt to beryllium astatine greater consequence from consumers wanting to downsize than galore rivals," he told The Register.

"Regular cases of broadband outages involving Virgin Media this twelvemonth are besides apt to person boosted complaints and requests to cancel. Customer retention is apt to beryllium nan provider's apical priority, but location is ne'er an excuse for immoderate lapses successful service.

"Latest figures connected telephone handling showed that Virgin Media customers still had to hold longer than nan manufacture average. Their website's thief conception connected billing and payments is besides reliable to navigate pinch nary unrecorded chat aliases telephone number.

"If Ofcom's investigation finds nan institution successful breach of its rules nan harm to its estimation is apt to acold outweigh immoderate fine. Hopefully erstwhile nan long-awaited One Touch Switch process is launched later successful nan twelvemonth it will mean an extremity to out-of-contract customers having to denote their volition to time off their existent supplier earlier moving to a caller one. In nan meantime, immoderate Virgin Media customers wanting to cancel should persevere and make judge they don't overpay by staying connected a rolling deal."

"One Touch Switch" refers to caller Ofcom rules designed to make it easier for customers to alteration telecoms providers. The regulation, which is overmuch for illustration nan mobile arena's text-to-switch rules enforced successful 2019, was expected to beryllium implemented by April 3, but Ofcom noted that industry missed nan deadline.

In April Virgin Media suffered a nationwide broadband blackout lasting hours.

Last period users of its email work complained that they had been unable to entree their messages for days. While Virgin Media said connected June 21 that it had "restored nan expertise to nonstop and person emails for each affected accounts," The Register hears that nan rumor was only afloat resolved astir 4 days ago. ®