Checklist for new phone or broadband contract

Published: 22 January 2014

If you're thinking of signing up to a new mobile phone, home phone or broadband deal, there are a few things you might want to consider first.

For instance, will the amount you pay each month stay the same over the course of the contract, or do different prices apply at different times?

And if the terms, including the prices, change or increase unexpectedly during your contract, what are your rights?

This guide sets out some factors you might want to consider before signing a new contract and explains what you can do if the price you agreed to increases unexpectedly.

  • Some contracts are offered on a rolling basis where you can cancel month to month, whereas others might tie you in for 12, 18 or 24 months. Always check and think about how long you want to be tied in for?
  • Providers must offer a contract option that is no longer than 12 months for each of the services that they provide. As a residential or small business consumer,  the contract for your service should be no longer than 24 months. Some contracts for mobile handsets may be longer, but if this is the case, the contract for the handset should be separate to the contract for the airtime which cannot be longer than 24 months.
  • If you are signing up to a 12-, 18- or 24-month contract there will usually be a charge if you leave the contract early. These charges – called ‘early termination charges’ shouldn't be more than the payments left on the contract (and in some cases could be a lot less).

The price that you pay each month is likely to be one of the most important factors in your choice of contract. It may be:

  • Fixed - this is a single price which is fixed for the length of the contract term e.g. £20 a month for 24 months.
  • Tiered - where you pay different prices at different times, e.g. £10 a month for the first 12 months and £15/month for the second 12 months. Or £10 a month,  plus an increase of X% in line with inflation.
  • Variable - where your provider reserves the right to increase the monthly price you pay at its discretion.

No matter what type of contract, the amount you will pay each month should be provided clearly to you. If you're unclear as to what you are agreeing to, or are uncomfortable with the type of contract being offered, don't sign up.

If your provider increases the prices that you pay beyond what you agreed when you signed up, it must give you at least one month’s notice and a right to exit the contract without penalty.

Some providers have contracts which set out that the monthly prices you pay will increase at certain times during the contract, for example increasing by inflation each year. This should be made clear to you when you sign the contract so you know what you will have to pay at different points in the contract and is covered in our guidance on contract requirements (PDF, 383.1 KB). If this was made clear at the point you entered the contract, you won’t have the right to exit without penalty when the increase takes place.

  • Exactly what do you get for your money? Does the contract include a usage allowance and what are the charges if you exceed this?
  • Are there any extra costs - e.g. for paper bills, for caller ID, for retrieving voicemails, or if you make payment by means other than direct debit?
  • What happens if there is a fault or service problem? Are there guaranteed timescales for repair? Is compensation and/or other redress available? Are there any charges for engineer visits? When and how much? See if your provider is signed up to the automatic compensation scheme.

A good way to find out what deals are available is to check the price comparison sites accredited by Ofcom.

We’ve gathered together some useful information on the main questions that you might have to help you choose provider. This includes information on customer complaints to providers and overall satisfaction rates.

Your provider must give you key information about the contract before you sign up.

Before you can give your consent to enter into a contract, you should receive a one-page (or three-page for bundled services) contract summary in writing, that includes key information, such as charges, the length of the contract and the process for cancelling. Before you are bound by the contract, the provider must also give you a more detailed set of contract information in writing.

When you buy a broadband service, you should receive accurate information on how fast your broadband will be.  For fixed broadband, your provider should provide you with a clear explanation of the minimum, normally available and maximum and advertised download and upload speed. For mobile broadband, your provider should provide you with a clear explanation of the estimated maximum and advertised download and upload speed.

If you believe that a provider hasn’t properly notified you of a change to your contract or that you have been mis-sold a contract you should contact its customer services department and make a formal complaint. Always ask for a reference number when you make a complaint.

If you haven't reached a resolution with the provider after eight weeks (or earlier if stalemate ("deadlock") is reached), you may have the right to take your case to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme.

The provider must tell you which scheme it is a member of, or you can use our ADR checker.

You can also contact Ofcom. Complaints data helps us to target our enforcement action against companies that may not be compliant with our rules.

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