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Making it easier to change telecoms provider

February 9, 2012

Ofcom today proposed a set of measures to make changing broadband and landline providers simpler and more reliable, while protecting consumers from being switched without their knowledge or consent.

Enabling consumers to switch providers easily is important to ensure they can choose the broadband or telephone service that best suits their needs. But Ofcom’s research shows that consumers can face a number of problems when changing their service provider.

Ofcom analysis shows that one in five consumers switching their broadband lost their service for about a week*. And approximately 130,000 households have faced problems with the wrong telephone line being taken over during the switching process or when moving house during a twelve month period**.

An estimated 520,000 households had their landline or broadband services ‘slammed’ (switched without their consent) in the last year**.

Ofcom has proposed a number of options to help consumers change supplier.

Ofcom’s preferred option is a process where the new provider would manage the switching process, including the transfer of services from the old provider. To guard against slamming, the switch would be checked and verified by an independent third party.

Delivering benefits for consumers

Ofcom’s proposals are designed to benefit consumers in a number of ways by:

  • ensuring that switches are verified by an independent third party to protect consumers from slamming;
  • simplifying the process so that consumers are not confused by different methods of switching;
  • ensuring that all providers can compete so consumers can continue to benefit from innovation, choice and value for money;
  • addressing technical problems when switches take place, which currently can lead to the wrong line being switched and consumers losing service;
  • ensuring that consumers have accurate information on the implications of switching so that they can make informed decisions on whether to change providers; and
  • simplifying the switching process so consumers do not have to contact  different providers when moving to a bundle.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards said: “Smooth switching processes are essential to ensure that consumers can change providers with confidence. Many people think that the current systems are too difficult and unreliable which is why we have made it one of our priorities to tackle this problem.

“Ofcom has improved consumer information on broadband speeds and enhanced competition in the market but it is also essential that people are able to switch easily to exercise their choice. Today’s proposals are designed to make the process easier, more reliable and safe from slamming. We believe that the proposals would improve consumers’ experience of switching and ensure that they continue to benefit from competition.”

Ofcom’s switching consultation and plain English guide can be found here.

An illustrative example of Ofcom’s preferred option is attached.

Price comparison websites

Effective choice is important for consumers, and Ofcom’s work on switching is one way in which it is working to ensure that consumers can exercise choice. Ofcom is also committed to ensuring consumers have access to information to help them choose effectively, and has accredited a number of online price comparison calculators that help consumers to select the best deal for them.

The Ofcom price accreditation scheme logo is awarded to websites that have had their price comparison services put through a rigorous independent audit. The audit checks whether the information provided to consumers is accessible, accurate, transparent, comprehensive and up to date.

Ofcom has accredited Homephone Choices, SimplifyDigital, Cable.co.uk, Broadband Choices and Broadband.co.uk.

Homephone Choices compares landline services, Simplifydigital and Cable.co.uk compares landline and broadband services, while Broadband Choices and Broadband.co.uk compare broadband services.

Notes to editors

1. *The research used in this analysis interviewed consumers that had changed provider between March 2010 and March 2011. ** Survey conducted in the first week of September 2011.

2. Ofcom’s third party validation switching option is a similar approach that is used in the US and Ireland.

3. Ofcom research reveals that UK consumers find switching other services – such as utilities or insurance – easier than signing up to a new broadband provider. Some 23% of those switching a bundle of communications services during the last 12 months thought that switching was difficult, compared with 4% for car insurance or gas supplier.

4. Ofcom’s proposals are not intended to apply to cable customers at the moment but it intends to consider this after it has concluded this part of its switching review.

5. Over time, various switching processes have been developed for different communications services:

  • Most landlines and some bundles of landline and broadband may be switched using a Notification of Transfer process where the consumer contacts their new provider. The consumer will receive letters from both their old provider and their new provider and the consumer then has 10 days to stop the process if they change their mind.
  • Currently, to switch broadband services the consumer contacts their current provider to obtain a Migrations Authorisations Code (MAC). The consumer must then contact their new provider to give them their MAC within 30 days to allow the switch to proceed.
  • Some bundles of landline and broadband may be switched using a Cease and Re-provide process where there are no agreed industry switching processes in place. The consumer ends their contract with the old provider and requests a service from the new provider. This requires the consumer to manage the start and end of their services and they may incur charges.

6. Research that Ofcom published in September 2010, found that nearly half (45%) of consumers with broadband or a landline think that switching communications provider is too much hassle.

7. Under section 3 (1) of the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom has a duty to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets where appropriate by promoting competition.

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