A summary of Ofcom's rules for phone and broadband providers
This page explains some of Ofcom’s most important telecoms regulations, guidance and voluntary schemes – ones that every phone or broadband provider should know about.
The page does
- summarise the main regulations that apply to phone and broadband providers; and
- point to where you can find more information on our website.
The page does not
- constitute advice or guidance from Ofcom as to our interpretation of certain rules, nor how we expect providers to comply with their obligations; or
- include every requirement that may apply to you. There may be other requirements you need to consider and comply with. As a provider, you are responsible for making sure you comply with all of your obligations. You might wish to seek independent legal advice.
Subscribe to email updates to hear about Ofcom's latest decisions, policies and rule changes.
Go straight to:
- Regulations and guidance
- Monitoring and enforcement
- Administrative charges payable to Ofcom
- General consumer law
- Voluntary schemes
- Trade associations
Regulations and guidance
General Conditions of Entitlement
The General Conditions of Entitlement (General Conditions) are the regulatory conditions with which all providers of electronic communications networks and services must comply if they want to provide services in the UK. Some General Conditions apply to a wide group of providers, while others apply to providers of specific services. To check which General Conditions apply to you, please read the ‘Scope’ section at the start of each General Condition.
The rules contained in our General Conditions are generally structured around the type of service being provided (mobile, fixed, etc.) and the type of customer that is receiving the service (residential, small enterprises, etc). The scope and application of each General Condition is set out at the start of each condition, with the definitions and version history at the end of the General Conditions. Each individual provider must establish which General Conditions apply to the services they provide to their customers to make sure they comply.
- Read the General Conditions and associated guidance
- Read our summary of how the General Conditions protect business customers
Recent and upcoming changes to the General Conditions
Implementing the European Electronic Communications Code
The European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) contains a package of measures designed to protect customers of electronic communications services including broadband, mobile and landline services. The new protections cover a range of areas, including:
- provision of information in contracts;
- transparency, comparison tools and publication of information;
- quality of service;
- contract duration and termination;
- protections for end-users with disabilities;
- switching and porting; and
- bundled offers.
Ofcom implemented these new protections through changes to the General Conditions in December 2021 and June 2022. You can read a high-level summary of some of these changes (PDF, 338.9 KB).
New rules for switching and porting will come into effect on 3 April 2023. Providers will be required to put in place a new ‘One Touch Switch’ process, where residential landline and broadband customers only need to contact their new provider to switch. We confirmed the changes relating to One Touch Switch in our statement on quick, easy and reliable switching.
Handling complaints and alternative dispute resolution
Any provider that offers services to individuals, small businesses (with up to 10 employees) and not-for-profit organisations (where up to 10 individuals work, not including volunteers) must:
- have and comply with complaints procedures that meet certain minimum standards, as set out in the annex to General Condition C4 called ‘Ofcom approved complaints code of practice for customer service and complaints handling’; and
- belong to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme, which customers can use free-of-charge.
For more information, see General Condition C4: complaints handling and dispute resolution.
There are two ADR schemes:
You should contact the ADR scheme you want to be a member of, and pay the membership fee to join. You can apply to join CISAS online or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can apply to join Communications Ombudsman online or email email@example.com.
In its Customer Complaints Code, a provider must set out clearly the name and contact details of the ADR scheme to which it belongs. It must also explain a customer's right to take their complaint to an ADR scheme. You must also include this information on every bill you send to customers.
- Read our advice on how consumers can use ADR schemes
Supporting disabled people and consumers in vulnerable circumstances
Providers should offer good customer care, especially to people in vulnerable circumstances.
We have rules (General Condition C5) requiring all communications providers to have clear, effective policies and procedures for treating vulnerable customers fairly and appropriately. Our rules also require providers to offer specific services for their disabled customers; rules like priority fault repair, text relay and free directory enquiries.
We have published a guide of measures (PDF, 1.3 MB) providers could take to help make sure they treat vulnerable customers fairly, and give them the support and services they need. This includes steps we expect providers to take to fairly treat customers who are in debt, or struggling to pay their bill.
- Find out more about how you can support vulnerable and disabled customers
Access to emergency services in a power cut
Any provider of a voice communications service must make sure that customers have uninterrupted access to emergency organisations. For more detail, see General Condition A3.2(b).
Ofcom has published guidance on how we expect providers to meet this requirement when there is a power cut. The guidance has four main principles, namely that providers should:
- take steps to communicate effectively with customers;
- identify customers’ needs;
- have a solution in place to enable access to the emergency organisations for at least one hour; and
- have a process to make sure customers who move to a new house or whose circumstances change in some other way, are aware of the risk and protection solution available.
Providers should offer this solution free-of-charge to customers who depend on their landline to call emergency services during a power cut.
- Read our guidance on protecting access to emergency organisations when there is a power cut at the customer's premises
Moving to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
Landline phone calls have traditionally been delivered over a network known as the public switched telephone network (PSTN). This network is old, and becoming harder and more expensive to maintain, so it needs to be replaced. At the same time, the broadband network is being upgraded, notably with fibre-to-the-premises, which does not support traditional telephone services. This means that in future, landline calls will be delivered over digital technology, called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or sometimes ‘digital phone’ or ‘digital voice’.
While the transition will be straightforward for most customers, some customers might require additional support, for instance if they use telecare devices, or rely on their landlines to make emergency calls.
Providers are already required to treat vulnerable consumers fairly (see above), and to enable access to emergency services (see below). This applies during the migration to VoIP.
We have also set out specific expectations of providers to support their customers during the migration to VoIP. In particular, we expect providers to give adequate notice of changes, to make sure communications on the migration are clear, timely and in a format that reflects the needs of the customer, and to assess customers’ needs and offer help where required.
- Read our expectations in full on the future of fixed telephone services
- Read our advice on what the move to digital technology means for customers
Unwanted calls and messages (including scams)
Ofcom is concerned about scams facilitated by calls and texts, and we have several measures to help stop them. More information about our work to stop scam calls and messages is available on our website. We also have older information on nuisance calls and messages.
Metering and billing
Ofcom has rules (see General Condition C3) to make sure customers can rely on their bills, so they can control how much they spend. The rules also seek to make sure customers are treated fairly when they have not paid their bills. Among other things, these rules require providers to make sure that:
- all bills are accurate;
- customers have access to free, adequate and up-to-date billing information;
- customers are charged no more than a reasonable fee for receiving a printed bill;
- calls and text messages to emergency services (such as 999 and 112) and ‘free to caller’ services (such as Childline, advice helplines) are not included on bills or other records that may be made available to customers;
- steps taken to claim unpaid bills are proportionate with customers being warned before any service interruption;
- customers are notified if they have used up any allowance included in their tariff and told how much they will be charged if they continue to use those services.
Metering and billing approval bodies
In addition to the general billing requirements, providers with a relevant annual turnover of over £55m are required to seek and obtain approval of their metering and billing systems from independent third-party assessors (approval bodies). The Ofcom Metering and Billing Direction (PDF, 364.3 KB) sets out the requirements for gaining approval under the condition and is essentially a technical standard intended to make sure compliant systems will deliver accurate bills.
Approval bodies approve and audit a provider's metering and billing systems and monitor compliance with the requirements of the Ofcom Metering and Billing Direction. There are three approval bodies:
Find out more about billing approval bodies.
Mobile bill limits
Section 124S of the Communications Act 2003 requires providers of mobile phone services to give customers the ability to limit the cost of their bill, and to notify customers when that limit is likely to be reached.
For more information, read the Communications Act 2003 (legislation.gov.uk) and our letter to providers of mobile phone services (PDF, 231.6 KB).
Providers also have various record-keeping obligations under the General Conditions. These include written records of complaints (General Condition C4), switching records (General Condition C7) and records of sale of mobile services (General Condition C8).
Monitoring and enforcement
In accordance with our duties under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom is responsible for ensuring compliance with the General Conditions and other regulatory requirements. We carry out investigations into providers’ compliance with these rules in accordance with our Enforcement Guidelines (PDF, 754.9 KB). We take an evidence-based approach to enforcement, and any action will be transparent and proportionate, taking account of all the relevant circumstances.
Consumer protection monitoring and compliance programme
Ofcom has recently set up a consumer protection monitoring and compliance (CPMC) programme. It is a combined team of policy and enforcement colleagues that seeks to engage with providers through formal and informal means to resolve issues quickly. The programme seeks to understand how providers are implementing our rules and voluntary agreements, and promotes effective compliance and best practice while also monitoring how the interventions are working for customers.
- Find out more about the work the CPMC team does
- Get in touch with the team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Learning from enforcement decisions
Every Ofcom enforcement decision contains potential lessons for providers. It might clarify how Ofcom interprets the regulatory or legal framework, or suggest how providers comply with certain rules.
We encourage providers to review our recent decisions as appropriate, and keep informed of future decisions by subscribing to Ofcom updates. The lessons below are just a few that may benefit providers.
Tell Ofcom when things go wrong
If you become aware of a compliance issue, we encourage you to let us know as early as possible, detailing the steps you are taking to remedy the matter. If you are unsure who to contact, please email email@example.com
We have previously noted such action as having a positive impact on the outcome of our investigations:
"The penalty would have been significantly higher had giffgaff not self-reported the contravention, co-operated closely with our investigation and proactively taken steps to remedy the contravention following discovery of the issue."Paragraph 1.7, Confirmation Decision served on giffgaff Limited (giffgaff) (PDF, 515.7 KB)
Remember your responsibilities if you use third parties
If you use third parties to sell and/or provide services, remember that it remains your responsibility to have appropriate due diligence procedures in place and ensure compliance, including when responding to formal information requests:
“However, irrespective of whether O2 uses a third party to manage part of its business, it remains O2’s responsibility to carefully scrutinise the information it intends to provide in response to our requests and to ensure its accuracy and completeness before it is submitted to Ofcom.”Paragraph 4.38, Confirmation Decision served on Telefónica UK Limited (PDF, 934.5 KB)
Test your metering and billing systems properly
Ofcom has investigated several providers over billing concerns. Where we have found a contravention, our breach decision (and assessment of penalty) has – on several occasions – taken into account that errors occurred, or were not identified sooner, due to inadequate testing conducted by the provider. Providers should regularly review their processes and procedures for testing metering and billing systems to ensure they are adequate, particularly when changes are planned.
Our approach to information-gathering
As an evidence-based regulator, Ofcom regularly requests information from companies to inform all aspects of our work, including making policy decisions, contributing to our research programme and compliance and enforcement activities. We have statutory powers to make these requests and to ensure we receive accurate and complete information from providers in a timely manner.
As a result of the wide range of work we are responsible for, companies can receive a number of information requests from us throughout the year. In 2020, we launched the Information Registry to strengthen the way we collect and manage information from organisations we work with.
Administrative charges payable to Ofcom
Ofcom is funded by fees paid to us by the companies we regulate. For companies providing an electronic communications network, electronic communications service or associated facility, these fees are payable by those with a ‘relevant turnover’ from ‘relevant activities’ of £5 million or more. There is a rolling annual General Demand for Information (GDI) under section 135 of the Communications Act 2003, addressed to every person who is liable to pay such administrative charges under section 38 of the Act. Please refer to the GDI itself, seeking legal advice as appropriate, to understand whether it applies to you.
General consumer law
Providers must comply with general consumer law as well as sector specific rules.
Ofcom has concurrent powers to enforce a range of general consumer protection legislation in the sectors we regulate, including:
- Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs);
- Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (CCRs);
- Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012 (PSRs); and
- Consumer Rights Act 2015.
- Read Ofcom’s guidance on unfair terms in consumer contracts (PDF, 194.0 KB)
- Read the Competition Markets Authority’s consumer protection guidance for businesses, including on unfair terms and unfair practices
- Read the Department for Business, Energy, Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) guidance on the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012
- The Business Companion website also provides information for businesses and individuals about trading standards and consumer protection legislation
Here are some examples of voluntary schemes available to providers.
- Automatic compensation: making sure that landline and broadband customers are compensated quickly and easily for loss of service, missed repairs or provision appointments, and delays to the start of a new service.
- Broadband Speeds Code of Practice: ensuring that customers are provided with realistic information regarding their broadband connection downloads data at both the point of sale and in their contract.
- Fairness Commitments: ensuring people are always treated fairly by their provider – whether they are signing up for a new deal, trying to fix a problem or switching to a new company.
If you would like more information about these schemes, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Trade associations can provide support and compliance advice to providers.
Relevant trade associations include:
- Comms Council UK
- Federation of Communication Service (FCS)
- Mobile UK
- Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA)
- Internet Service Providers’ Association UK (ISPA)
- UK Competitive Telecoms Association (UKCTA)
If you are a registered trade association and would like to be listed here, please email email@example.com
Other things to consider
- The Electronic Communications Code is set out in Schedule 3A of the Communications Act 2003. It is a set of rights that are designed to facilitate the installation and maintenance of electronic communications networks.
- Ofcom regularly monitors people’s experience of communications services, and publishes our findings from research into the affordability of home broadband, mobile phone, landline and pay-TV services.