Own-initiative monitoring and enforcement programme into cancellation and termination arrangements

10 June 2016

Complainant: Ofcom own-initiative monitoring and enforcement programme
Investigation against: Communications Providers (CPs) offering fixed line telephony, mobile, broadband and PayTV services to consumers.
Case opened: 10 June 2015
Issue: Difficulties experienced by consumers trying to exit their communications service contract.
Relevant instrument: General Condition 9.3, 11 and 18 (and others where appropriate) in addition to other relevant provisions such as the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations (‘UTCCRs’), the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (‘CPRs’) and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Update note: 10 June 2016

Under this programme to date Ofcom has gathered and assessed information from a number of CPs about their cancellation and termination arrangements, including, in some cases, porting authorisation code (PAC) and porting procedures. We have reviewed this evidence, which included call recordings and data on internal procedures, alongside our continued assessment of consumer complaints to inform our assessment of compliance in this area.

We have also analysed responses to our online consumer questionnaire on cancellation issues (which we published at the end of last year.  We received over 2,000 responses to this questionnaire and the responses highlighted a number difficulties experienced by consumers in cancelling their contracts. The main issues consumers reported were long wait times and difficulties getting through to CPs, charges for cancelled services and CPs failing to action cancellation requests; we have taken account of this data in considering next steps under this programme.

Ofcom has decided to extend this programme for a further six months. This will enable us to continue our engagement with a number of CPs to secure improvements to cancellation and termination procedures (including, in some instances, PAC and porting procedures) to ensure consumers are able to exit their contracts quickly, conveniently and without error. We will also continue to monitor complaints, and CPs’ progress, in this area and if we decide to take any formal enforcement action, we will publish separate Bulletin entries as appropriate.

We are continuing to progress our own-initiative investigation into Sky plc (trading as “Sky”). 

With respect to handset unlocking (which we identified as a possible area of focus at the start of the programme), we support the Government’s work on this issue and note that it announced recently that “Consumers will also be able to unlock their phone at the end of the contract for free after agreement has now been reached with major mobile providers” (see the press release).

We have also extended the scope of the programme to include the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which came into force in October 2015 (after we opened the programme).

End of update note.

Update note: 29 January 2016

Ofcom has decided to extend this programme for a further six months to 10 June 2016. We are continuing to gather evidence about CPs cancellation and termination arrangements to inform our assessment of compliance in this area. We are also assessing responses to our online consumer questionnaire on cancellation issues (which has now closed and continuing to monitor consumer complaints on these issues.

We will publish further updates on our work in due course. If any formal enforcement action is taken as a result of the work undertaken in this programme, we will publish separate Bulletin entries as appropriate.

End of update note.

Ofcom has commenced a monitoring and enforcement programme to assess the cancellation and termination arrangements of CPs, and the impact these have on consumers’ ability to exit their communications service contract quickly, conveniently and without error.

Ofcom receives a large number of complaints about the difficulties experienced by consumers trying to exit their communications service contract. Taken together, these suggest that CPs are systematically making it difficult for customers to exit their contract. We consider that this allegation is extremely serious, and, if sustained, may result in significant consumer harm within the market for UK communications goods and services.

We believe that opening a six-month monitoring and enforcement programme, covering cancellation and termination arrangements in general is an appropriate response to our concerns. We will work to prioritise issues according to our ongoing evidence gathering in this area and will provide updates on this work over the coming months.

Areas that we will investigate, and initially focus on will include, but not be limited to:

  • customer service concerns, for example long call centre waiting times while trying to cancel a service;
  • difficulties in securing mobile Porting Authorisation Codes (‘PACs’);
  • billing continuing after a contract has ended; and
  • problems unlocking handsets post-contract.

Within this programme, Ofcom may initiate separate investigations of named providers. Where we do so, these will be announced via our Competition and Consumer Enforcement Bulletin.

Alternatively, we may gather evidence under this programme and take enforcement action where we have reasonable grounds for believing that a CP is contravening instruments related to cancellation and termination arrangements (such as General Conditions 9.3, 11 or 18, or the UTCCRs/CPRs). In that case we will announce our action via an update to this bulletin entry.

Case Leader: Camille Seldon (email: Camille.Seldon@ofcom.org.uk)
Case Reference: CW/01158/06/15