We've all got horror stories about bad customer service. But it's people with health, financial or emotional problems that are still having the most inconsistent experiences when they contact their broadband provider's customer service team.
That's the big finding from research by Ofcom, which looked at the progress the industry has made since the watchdog last year published its guidelines for treating vulnerable customers fairly.
They found that while some users received extra support due to their circumstances, and others reported positive experiences despite the provider not knowing about their vulnerability, the overall service was still patchy.
It suggested that people's experiences were heavily dependent on the member of staff they spoke to, with no guarantee they would get to deal with the same person twice.
It suggests there's still plenty of room for improvement in the training of customer support teams.
What makes a customer vulnerable?
Vulnerabilities come in many forms. They include physical and mental health problems, debt or unemployment, bereavement, or even becoming a victim of crime.
Unsurprisingly, the number of vulnerable customers has increased during the pandemic and its subsequent economic fallout.
While Ofcom rules require all providers to have policies in place for helping vulnerable customers, it isn't always easy for them to automatically tell if someone needs extra support. If you regard yourself as being in a vulnerable group, or if your circumstances have recently changed (you might have lost your job, for example), you should contact your broadband supplier and let them know.
They'll add that information to your account, and it should inform any relevant future interactions you have with them.
What kind of support can you get?
With the definition of vulnerable being quite broad and varied, the types of support you can get are also broad and varied.
You should have access to a range of communications channels to speak to customer support. This could include text relay services or support in different languages.
You should be given the time to get help, support and advice on managing debts without the threat of enforcement action.
Providers could consider giving you a payment holiday to help you manage cashflow issues.
Broadband providers should regard disconnection as a last resort.
Broadband providers' vulnerability policies
Ofcom's guidance expects a number of things from broadband suppliers. They should train their staff to be able to recognise the characteristics, behaviours and verbal cues of someone who might be vulnerable, so they can be proactive in offering support. They should identify vulnerable customers and record their needs. And they should make all of their customers aware of the kinds of support and services that they offer.
Many providers publish vulnerability policies. Some have specific support teams in place for vulnerable customers, and some make it easy for you to register your vulnerable status with them. This information will be treated in confidence, and is subject to all the usual data protection legislation.
Here are the relevant pages for many of the leading providers:
Some of the things you can expect include ways to improve access to support via text relay and NGT services or braille guides; simple instructions on using accessibility services like subtitles on TV; and specific policies and help for dealing with financial issues. Naturally, what's promised and what's delivered are not always the same thing, so check our user reviews to see our customers' experiences of their providers' tech support.
If you want to read the full Ofcom report, click here. Or if you want to compare the best broadband deals in your area today, use our postcode search tool to get started.
You know how it goes. Whenever you start shopping for a new broadband deal, you find yourself being steered towards the faster, flashier and more expensive services.
The thing is, not everyone needs an upgrade. Some of us are happy with what we've already got, and some don't even need that.
If you don't have a house full of kids who are all online 24/7, or if you live on your own, or are part of the generation that's less computer-reliant, then you may be able to get away with a much more basic broadband service. It could even save you some money in the process.
Let's take a look at your options.
How light is light use?
First of all, you need to work out how much you actually use the internet, to make sure your usage is as low as you think it is.
If your usage is mostly things like web browsing, shopping and bill paying then that's definitely light use. TV streaming counts as well, so long as there's only one person in your house doing it at any given time, and that you don't want to watch in the highest quality on your massive 4K TV.
But there are lots of other things as well that you don't tend to think about: Windows updates on your laptop that happen in the background, downloading movies and TV shows to your Sky Q box, playing games, and sharing large files for work. And all those other little devices you've got connected to your Wi-Fi. Some of them won't be downloading much, but it all adds up.
Chances are that you do use more bandwidth than you realise, so do make sure that you buy a broadband service that's right for your needs.
Broadband for light use
The slowest broadband you can get is standard broadband. This is the old pre-fibre service that runs entirely on the copper phone network. It offers average speeds of around 11Mb, which is enough for general web use or for one person to watch Netflix in HD.
Standard broadband is old tech and is set to be phased out in a few years, but you can still get it right now. It doesn't offer huge savings - standard broadband will typically save you a couple of pounds a month, but over the course of a year they do amount to the cheapest deals you can get.
If you don't want to go quite that slow, the most basic fibre deal you can get is from Onestream. Their 17Mb service is the cheapest widely available fibre broadband package.
Most suppliers' entry-level fibre offers more than double that speed, at around 36Mb. Almost every broadband company has a deal at this level, so there's bags of competition on price and service. TalkTalk, Vodafone and EE all have deals around the same price point for the same speed services.
36Mb is ideal for light use - it's affordable but not too restrictive. It can handle many people online at the same, with even two or three streaming movies simultaneously, so has plenty of headroom for when you have guests round.
You could also consider some specialist providers. Hyperoptic and Community Fibre have great value full fibre packages - at 30Mb and 50Mb respectively - but they're both available in only very limited areas. Or you could go for a mobile broadband deal, running on the 4G network (or 5G in some areas), such as the 18Mb plan from Three.
You don't always have to buy the best or fastest broadband deal around. Pick what you need, and if you only need something basic then you've got plenty of choices.
Ready to start shopping for a new broadband deal? Just enter your postcode into our postcode checker and you'll be able to see exactly what offers are available in your street right now.
When you're shopping for a new broadband deal one of the main things you will need to decide is what length of contract you want to sign up for. In most cases this means a choice between a 12 month, 18 month or a maximum two year deal. But there is another option: the short-term plan.
Some broadband suppliers offer 30-day deals that come without a contract. They work more like a subscription service - it automatically renews each month, then when you no longer need it you just cancel and move on.
Not every provider offers these kinds of deals. In fact, most don't. But they aren't just limited to niche suppliers and you can find them at a whole range of speeds.
They aren't right for everyone, so let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of short-term and no-contract broadband.
Benefits of no-contract broadband
The main benefit to no-contract broadband is that it gives you the ultimate flexibility - no strings, no long-term commitment.
This makes it ideal for anyone who is not in a position to sign up for a long contract, such as those living in a short-term let or student housing. Students, for instance, will only be living in their digs for nine or ten months, so even a 12 month deal might not be ideal, let alone anything longer.
The same applies if you're planning to move house. While it's easy enough to take your broadband with you when you move, you do still have to move somewhere where your broadband provider is both available and delivers good performance. If either of those things aren't true, too bad. So if you're moving soon and your current broadband is coming to an end, you might be better off taking a 30-day deal for now, and then buying a new plan from scratch when you settle in to your new home.
Because there's no contract with a short-term broadband deal, there are no penalties when you decide to cancel and switch providers. You can do it any time you like.
No-contract deals also make it easier to upgrade if your needs change, or if better services become available in your area. While providers will be happy to let you upgrade to a faster plan before your contract is up - if you sign a new deal - you can't switch to a different provider without paying a penalty.
If you're waiting for faster technologies to be rolled out where you live, a short-term deal could be just the thing in the meantime. And to make sure you're fully up to date with what broadband services are available in your area, sign up to our free Broadband Autopilot service. It constantly scans for the best and fastest deals you can get, so you'll never miss out.
One final thing to note about short-term broadband is that even though the contracts are different, the performance isn't. Whether you're choosing a basic fibre-to-the-cabinet deal or a cutting edge full fibre service, the speed and everything else will be exactly the same as it would be if you'd signed up for two years.
Downsides to short-term broadband
There are some downsides to choosing broadband without a contract, the main one being that you will have to pay a little more than you would for a comparable long-term deal. Typically, you can expect to pay around £5 to £10 a month extra compared to the lowest price alternatives. And while this can add up over time, remember that most short-term deals aren't really intended for long-term use anyway.
You'll also have to pay a higher setup fee, sometimes as much as £60. This covers the activation fee and the router that you'll be sent to get online.
The best thing you can do before you sign up is to ignore the monthly price and calculate the total price you'll pay instead. So, if you want the service for nine months, work out how much that will cost, factoring in the monthly payments and the setup fees. Then compare it to the total price you'd pay on a 12-month contract. This can easily cancel out a lot of the price difference.
Other downsides to short-term broadband? You get less choice, inevitably, although there are some big name providers and even gigabit options that you can choose from. And you also miss out on any introductory offers like free gifts, bill credit, shopping vouchers and so on.
It's the time of year where students around the country are heading to university, either to start their studies or return for a new academic year.
Whether you're heading to uni for the first time, returning to your student accommodation or about to start out in a new student house share, now's the time to look for a good student broadband offer to keep you online over the next 9 months.
Both of those option mean that you can avoid paying for broadband costs should you head home or go off on travels in the 3 months between academic years. But of course you don't need a special student exclusive offer to get short contract broadband from other suppliers, for example NOW Broadband, Plusnet and Hyperoptic also have competitive 1 month rolling contract offers that even undercut BT and Virgin's prices.
Is it better to get your broadband, TV and phone services as part of a single bundle from the same provider, or should you shop around for the best standalone deals?
Is it simply a question of convenience versus flexibility? And does one work out cheaper than the other?
Let's take a look.
What kind of bundles can you get?
There are three types of broadband bundle. Where providers offer more than one you might see them described as triple or quad-play providers.
Broadband and call bundles
Most broadband services need you to have a traditional phone line, the price of which will be included in your broadband bill. Many providers - even some of the smaller ones - make the most of this requirement by offering you a call plan as part of a bundle. You can add off-peak, Anytime or International calls for a few extra pounds a month. If you don't add a plan the price for any calls you make just gets added to your bill.
Even some providers who don't require a landline will still offer you call bundles, and that can work out cheaper even if you don't intend to use them. For example, Virgin Media's broadband with phone options are cheaper than just standalone broadband for the offer introductory period of. After this, it goes up by £2 a month, but you always have the option of ditching the phone portion at the end of your minumum contract, or some people might consider the extra £2 worth it for extra piece of mind in an emergency. Of course, this isn't always the case, as with Hyperoptic who charge more for a phone bundle than they do for a standalone product. But it's worth investigating to see whether a potential provider requires a landline or not, and if you can make a saving by getting calls bundled in.
Broadband and TV bundles
Broadband and TV bundles are the next most common types of deal. These are generally restricted to the bigger name providers like Sky or BT, and can give you access to premium TV channels that show Premier League football or the latest movies. But beware, they aren't all like this. Some TV bundles, such as the basic TalkTalk or Virgin TV deals, don't offer many more channels than you can get with Freeview. You get a set-top box that lets you record or pause shows, but doesn't include any pay TV channels unless you choose to upgrade. Take a look at our guide on the cheapest ways to get pay TV for the full lowdown.
Broadband and mobile bundles
The other type of deal you can get is a broadband and mobile bundle. Again, these are rarer. Your options are split into two groups: either money off your bill, or a bonus added to your mobile plan, usually in the form of a bigger data allowance. The good thing about the latter is that you can add it to an existing plan if you're already a customer, without needing to take out a new deal.
How do the prices compare?
So how do the prices of bundles compare to buying all your services separately? And do they work out cheaper? Well, it's complicated. When you compare like-for-like services, bundles will usually give you a decent saving. But if you're willing to make compromises on what you need, they might not be the best option.
Here's an example. Let's say you want to sign up to Sky TV.
As of April 2019 you can get Sky Entertainment with 63Mb Fibre in a bundle from Sky for £42 a month. By contrast, if you took the cheapest fibre deal with an average 63Mb speed, from TalkTalk, plus the same Sky Entertainment package from Sky it would cost you a total of £47 a month. It's the same story for different speed broadband, and when you add more TV channels the gap increases further.
Bundles are cheaper when you compare like-for-like services. But - and there's always a but - it isn't quite as simple as that.
If you take that 63Mb TalkTalk Fibre plan and add a NOW TV Entertainment Pass instead of the Sky subscription, the monthly price plummets to just £33. In fact, add the NOW TV plan to Sky Fibre and it works out £7 a month less than the Sky bundle.
What gives? The important thing here is to compare the small differences in the services you're getting. NOW TV is cheaper and gives you the same channels you get through Sky, but it's also a far less premium service. You can't use it to record shows, access red button services, watch 4K broadcasts, or plenty of other things.
In summary: if you want the full monty, a bundle will almost always be cheaper. But if you're willing to shave off some of the extras, you might be able to make savings by buying separately.
Are bundles right for you?
Money aside, the big selling point of bundles is convenience. A bundle gives you one contract, one bill, and one customer service department to deal with. In most cases you'll be able to renew at the same time, too. And you could argue that getting all your services from the same provider will give you more leverage when it comes to negotiating the best deal. The more you pay, the keener they'll be to keep you.
But buying standalone deals has its merits, too. You get more choice, for a start, since there aren't many triple or quad-play broadband providers. And more flexibility, which lets you pick up a faster broadband package than your chosen TV provider can offer, for example. Plus, there's the possibility of taking shorter deals. Sky TV comes with an 18 month contract, Virgin 12 months, and NOW TV just 30 days.
Call plan bundles are the easiest to decide upon. Lots of us don't even have phones plugged into our landlines anymore, so don't need them. But if you make a lot of landline calls - especially international calls - then go for it.
For TV, make sure you know what you want before you sign up. For the full pay-TV experience a Sky or Virgin Media bundle will work out cheaper. If you just want a few extra channels, like from NOW TV or the handful of premium channels offered by BT, a standalone deal might actually work out better.
And as for mobile, keep an eye out for indirect savings. Sky TV customers, for instance, are automatically eligible for unlimited free calls and texts, which means they only need to pay for a data plan. The cheapest they offer is just £6 a month - almost certainly less than you're paying at the moment. EE give 5GB of mobile data to their broadband customers each month. This won't show as a saving on your broadband bill, but is likely to enable you to switch to a much cheaper mobile plan and make your savings there instead.
The main thing is to know what you need and how much it will cost you separately. The you can compare it to how much an equivalent bundle will set you back. Use our comparison tool to find your perfect broadband bundle to get started.
A new voluntary code introduced by Ofcom goes into effect today. This scheme means that the broadband providers who have signed up will have to reimburse customers in the event of their broadband or landline phone service being down for longer than two days. Here's what you need to know.
The compensation you can expect
Delayed repair following loss of service - if a fault takes longer than two days to fix, you can expect £8 for each day after that period that your broadband is not repaired
Missed appointments - if the engineer does not turn up or your appointment is cancelled with less than 24 hours of notice, you can expect £25 per missed appointment
Delays with the start of a new service - if your broadband does not go live on the agreed date, you can expect £5 for each day of delay, including the missed start date
Homes and small to medium businesses who choose to use residential broadband are eligible for compensation on this scheme, and you should only need to report the fault for compensation to be paid out automatically.
To qualify for compensation, faults must not be of your own making (for example, your problem is down to your own wiring and equipment, you shove a spade through a vital cable on your property, or you're not at home for an engineer visit). You're also due compensation in the event of extreme weather causing problems and third-party incidents that contribute to the delay of repairs.
The providers taking part
Originally BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Zen signed up to the agreement back when it was proposed in 2017. Since then EE, Hyperoptic, Plusnet and Vodafone have also signed up, accounting for more than 95% of broadband and landline customers in the UK. While most of these providers will be participating in this scheme from today, Hyperoptic and Vodafone will start automatic compensation later this year, and EE should be ready to do so next year.
If you're switching broadband and plan to take advantage of a Black Friday offer, then let us help you with a round-up of the home broadband deals that are available to you over this sale weekend (and beyond).
The availability of some of these deals will depend on where you live, so be sure to use our postcode checker to see what's available in your area.
BT's Black Friday offerings include reduced-price broadband and reward vouchers ranging from £70 to a whopping £140, depending on the package you opt for. Packages are on an 18 month contract with truly unlimited broadband and weekend calls on most deals. There are various broadband and TV combinations, with offered speeds averaging at 10Mb for standard broadband up to 67Mb on Superfast Fibre 2. Offer ends at midnight on the 26th of November.
EE's offer drops the monthly price of your broadband, and gives EE mobile customers a boost to their data allowance. The normal offer is 5GB, but for Black Friday that's been increased to a very tempting 20GB of mobile data. Prices start from £20 a month, with average speeds at 10Mb for standard broadband, 36Mb for Fibre and 67Mb for Fibre Plus. All EE broadband deals are on an 18 month contract, come with truly unlimited downloads and no activation fee, and Anytime calls are available for an extra £5 a month. Offer ends at midnight on the 4th of December.
First Utility are offering a discount that makes their packages some of the cheapest on the market. You can get a deal from £16.99 a month with average speeds of 11Mb on standard broadband, 35Mb on Fibre and 63Mb on the fastest Fibre product. All packages are on an 18 month contract with no activation fees, truly unlimited downloads and a range of call packages. Offers end at 2pm on the 6th of December.
If you live in a Hyperoptic-enabled area, then you can get some excellent hyperfast deals from them, and you don't even need a landline (though there are call options available should you need them). Reduced prices start from just £15 a month, and as Hyperoptic are a full-fibre provider then your expected speeds should be pretty close to their advertised average speeds of 30Mb, 150Mb and 900Mb! All of Hyperoptic's offers come on a 12 month contract, are truly unlimited and have no activation fees. Offer ends midnight on the 5th of December, and be sure to use the BLACKFRIDAY code at checkout to take advantage of the offer.
NOW Broadband's sale includes money off your broadband and comes with the Anytime call package for free (which usually costs an extra £8 a month). Prices start at £18 a month, and average speeds are 11Mb for standard broadband, 36Mb for Fibre and 63Mb for Super Fibre. They've also added extra Broadband and TV combos, so you can now get your choice of broadband with a discount on both the Sky Cinema and Sky Sports passes, as well as the existing offer on the Entertainment pass. All offers are on a 12 month contract, are truly unlimited and the only upfront costs to pay are £9.99 for postage and packaging for the inclusive router. Offer ends midnight on the 6th of December.
Plusnet have a £75 reward card available on their broadband plus phone bundles, as well as reduced monthly prices. Grab a deal from £18.99 a month with average speeds of 10Mb on standard broadband, 36Mb on Fibre and 66Mb on Fibre Extra. All of their Black Friday deals are on an 18 month contract with a fixed price guarantee, are truly unlimited with no activation fees and offer a choice of phone packages. Offer ends midnight on the 27th of November.
TalkTalk have reduced the price of all their packages for Black Friday, with prices starting from just £17 a month and TV packages are available. Average speeds are 11Mb for standard Fast Broadband, 36Mb for Faster Fibre, and 63Mb for the Faster Fibre speed boost. Fast Broadband packages come on a 12 month contract, with the rest on 18 months, and all come with fixed price broadband. Some packages have no activation, while others do come with TV box costs. Offers end at midnight on November the 29th.
Virgin Media have some select offers on for Black Friday, with their lowest ever prices for VIVID 100 plus phone package at only £25, the Full House TV bundle with VIVID 100 at £45 a month, and the VIP TV bundle (that has all the bells and whistles) with VIVID 350 at £75 a month. As Virgin provide their services over cables installed to your building, average speeds can surpass their advertised speeds. Virgin's deals are all unlimited, on a 12 month contract and come with Weekend calls included. There's also a £25 activation fee. Offers end midnight on the 26th of November.
Each month hundreds of thousands of broadband customers test their speeds with our broadband speed test. Since the end of 2015 there's been little change in average speeds from home broadband with average download speeds for March 2016 coming in at 20.41Mb and average upload speeds at 3.73Mb.
However, our test also supports users testing on tablets and smartphones, meaning we can report on mobile broadband speeds from 4G and 3G networks. While home broadband has been stable, mobile broadband average download speed has risen by a full 2Mb since December and upload speed by 1.6Mb, the average mobile broadband speeds for March 2016 were 15.31Mb download and 3.71Mb upload.
When the big mobile broadband and home broadband providers' average speeds compete on the same table, it's only Virgin Media's DOCSIS 3 cable broadband that outperforms mobile broadband, clocking in 46.95Mb, with upload speeds at 5.9Mb.4GEE is ahead of BT Broadband with download speeds clocking in at 18.71Mb, faster than BTby 1.07Mb. 4GEE and Vodafonemobile broadband sit in overall 2nd and 4th places beating all home big broadband providers' averages bar Virgin Media, with Vodafone's 16.26Mb average mobile download speed only 1.38Mb behind BT.
Of the home broadband providers Post Office Broadband still has the UK's slowest broadband speed overall with only 4.38Mb average downloads and 1.67Mb average uploads, well below the average speeds expected for copper phoneline broadband. Three tested with the slowest mobile broadband at 12.09Mb downloads, but this still beat home broadband offerings from Sky and EE.
When the supplementary broadband providers table (see page 4 of the report) is included we can see that fibre to the building provider Hyperoptic tested as the fastest broadband overall with 91.7Mb average downloads and 77.3Mb uploads.
December 2015 saw average download speeds for fixed line providers recorded by users of our broadband speed test remain stable in comparison to the results from November, coming in at 20.56Mb. Average upload speeds saw a 0.15Mb drop to 3.68Mb.
Of the big 5 home broadband providers, Virgin Media remained in first place but their average download speeds appear to have levelled out since rolling out their 200Mb service, remaining stable at 46.57Mb, with upload speeds at 5.66Mb. BT Broadband retain second place with average download and upload speeds steady at 17.58Mb and 4.42Mb respectively. TalkTalk move up to third place, with download speeds stable at 12.8Mb and upload speeds dropping by 0.21Mb to 1.86Mb. Plusnet drop into fourth place, dropping by 0.59Mb to 12.6Mb for average download speeds with a 0.39Mb decrease to 2.85Mb for average upload speeds. Finally, Sky remain in fifth place with a 1.1Mb fall in download speeds to 10.92Mb, while their upload speeds decreased by 0.41Mb to 2.47Mb.
Results from users testing with mobile-enabled devices including phones and tablets suggests that mobile broadband speeds saw an overall rise since November. Taking mobile broadband separately from home broadband, EE Mobile retain first place, with download speeds increasing by 1.1Mb to 17.55Mb and upload speeds holding at 3.87Mb. Vodafone are in second place, seeing download speeds fall slightly by 0.19Mb to 13.76Mb and upload speeds steady at 2.82Mb. O2 are in third place with download speeds at 11.78Mb - a respectable 1.4Mb increase over last month - and upload speeds at 2.53Mb. Three are still in fourth place, with average download speeds of 9.84Mb and upload speeds of 2.56Mb.
When mobile broadband and home broadband average speeds compete on the same table, 4GEE is head-to-head with BT's second place with a difference of only 0.03Mb. 4GEE and Vodafone mobile broadband sit in overall 3rd and 4th places beating all home broadband providers' averages bar Virgin Media and BT. This suggests that 4G broadband may have higher uptake levels relative to 3G compared to uptake of the fastest possible fibre broadband products relative to cheaper options.
This month's supplementary broadband providers table (see page 4 of the report) found Post Office Broadband had the UK's slowest broadband speed overall with only 2.55Mb average downloads and only 0.33Mb average uploads. Hyperoptic was fastest overall with 102.1Mb average downloads and 92.13Mb uploads.
Despite not having celebrated a family holiday yesterday, Britain still gets to enjoy America's traditional equivalent to the January sales, Black Friday, with headline grabbing special offers available not just today, but all weekend and on Monday too.
This year several broadband suppliers have jumped onto the Black Friday bandwagon and are offering some record breaking special offers, some of the best we've ever seen.
Offers only apply to new customers of the relevant broadband provider who sign up online who do not need a new telephone line or number. Minimum contracts apply for all deals. Line rental required on all but Hyperoptic's deals. Setup costs and additional charges may apply. Offers may be restricted to particular coverage areas. Rewards must be claimed online after activation. One reward per household. Unless otherwise stated, offers are valid until the end of 2015-11-30. Offers may be withdrawn or amended at any time. Click through to the providers' websites for further details, terms and conditions and confirmation of eligibility.