A Virgin Media van parked on a residential street

Ofcom investigates Virgin Media over customer difficulties cancelling contracts

Published: 5 January 2024
Last updated: 5 January 2024
  • Investigation will probe Virgin Media’s compliance with contract termination and complaints handling rules
  • Ofcom publishes cost-of-living action plan update on broad range of work to support hard-pressed households
  • Dame Melanie Dawes tells telecoms chief execs to step up on social tariffs, as regulator to publish take-up by provider for first time

Ofcom has today opened an investigation into Virgin Media following complaints from customers that the company is making it difficult for them to cancel their services.

Being able to switch provider easily is an important part of a competitive market. Telecoms customers can choose from a wide range of providers, services and packages, and can often save hundreds of pounds by switching to a new deal. This ability for customers to shop around, switch and save is particularly important given the current cost-of-living crisis facing UK households.

Our rules – known as General Conditions – are clear that the conditions or procedures telecoms providers have in place must not act as a disincentive for customers who wish to cancel their contract.

Ofcom is concerned about the number of complaints it has received from Virgin Media customers who have tried to leave, but said the company had made it difficult. Some struggled to get through to an agent on the phone. Some found their call was dropped mid-way through or they were put on hold for long periods. And many said they had to make lengthy and repeated requests to cancel, as their initial instruction was not actioned.[1]

As well as probing whether Virgin Media has complied with our contract termination rules, our investigation will also look at whether it has failed to meet our requirements on complaints handling. This will include whether customers were appropriately informed of their right to escalate their complaint to an independent ombudsman.[2]

We will gather further information and provide updates as our investigation progresses. If we find that Virgin Media has breached our rules, we have the power to issue a fine and direct the company to take remedial action or change its procedures, where appropriate.

Supporting customers through the cost-of-living crisis

Ofcom has also today published an update on its action plan to support telecoms customers through the cost-of-living crisis.

This includes renewed pressure on the major telecoms providers from Ofcom’s Chief Executive, Dame Melanie Dawes, who – in a letter to their chief executives (PDF, 221.7 KB) – calls for immediate action from them on social tariffs.

Social tariffs are cheaper broadband and phone packages for people claiming Universal Credit, Pension Credit and some other benefits. Dawes urges providers who have yet to introduce a social tariff to do so as soon as possible and, for those providers that do offer them, to step up their efforts to raise awareness – for example, through social media campaigns.

Ofcom is summoning representatives from the providers to update on the progress they are making, and will, for the first time, publish take-up of social tariffs by provider in its annual pricing trends report, due later this year.

Ofcom’s cost-of-living action plan update also includes preliminary research findings into customers’ awareness and understanding of inflation-linked in-contract price rises. By December, we will publish the findings of our review of inflation-linked price rise terms, alongside further research on customers’ experiences, and seek views on whether we need to change our rules.

Other Ofcom work to support customers to be completed this year includes:

  • October 2023: publishing our conclusions under our enforcement programme examining whether phone and broadband providers made price rise terms sufficiently clear to consumers at the time they entered into their contract, between March 2021 and June 2022; and
  • December 2023: concluding our investigation into BT’s compliance with its obligation to provide customers with contract information and a contract summary before they enter into a binding contract.

Our rules are there to protect people and make sure consumers can take advantage of cheaper deals that are on offer. That’s particularly important at the moment as households look for ways to keep their bills down.

We're taking action today, on behalf of Virgin Media's customers, to investigate whether the company is putting unnecessary barriers in the way of those who want to switch away.

We're also expecting more from the industry as a whole in helping to support customers through the cost-of-living crisis. That means no more excuses when it comes to offering and promoting social tariffs to eligible customers who could switch and save today.

Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s Chief Executive

Notes to editors

  1. In our latest annual customer satisfaction report, people told us that getting through to the right person on the phone quickly and having their complaints dealt with first time was particularly important to them when they need to contact their provider about an issue. Virgin Media scored below average for average call waiting times and satisfaction with complaint handling.
  2. If a customer is unhappy with the outcome of their complaint, or it remains unresolved after eight weeks, the provider must issue a ‘deadlock’ letter so the customer can escalate their complaint to an alternative dispute resolution scheme, who will make a judgment on the case.

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