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Ofcom and Which? warn UK telcos to up their game

Bad Customer experience

Fixed broadband remains the most griped-about comms service in the UK and complaints are on the up, albeit only slightly, according to new data from regulator Ofcom.

But while the trend is fairly stable at present, next year’s price hikes could change the overall picture quite considerably; people with less money to spend who are also being hit with significantly higher bills are surely more likely to hit out at any Internet provider perceived to be failing to deliver.

Incumbent operator BT is arguably the most at risk here.

The telco performed pretty well in Ofcom’s latest league table of broadband complaints, racking up just eight per 100,000 customers in the three months from April to June. That’s below the industry average of 11 per 100,000 and significantly fewer than the 31 claimed by Shell Energy, which has plummeted to the bottom of the broadband complaints league table since its inclusion just a year ago, and is now leaving clear daylight between itself and its better-performing competitors.

But while BT is outperforming most of its rivals ar present – only Sky and the incumbent’s own mobile arm EE rank higher in the latest Ofcom broadband table – its customers will be among the most affected by next year’s price rises.

According to data shared by consumer group Which? at the weekend, the average BT customer will see a potential price increase of £113.07 next year, compared to the price they were originally paying for broadband at the start of this year. EE customers also face a £100-plus hike, their average bills rising by £105.46.

It’s important to point out that Which? only shared data from five providers, the other three being Vodafone, TalkTalk and Plusnet; customers of the first two could see prices go up by north of £90, while Plusnet fares better at £87.15, although its broadband packages are cheaper to begin with.

Which? claims that two years of price hikes – many customers in the UK have two-year contracts – could see BT customers paying an additional £156 per year after the 2024 price hikes, again followed by EE at £145.50.

Which? said it is calling on telecoms firms to let customers leave without penalty if prices are hiked mid-contract and is asking them to “carefully assess” what level of price hikes they can justify in the current economic climate.

“It is unacceptable that many broadband customers are facing price hikes of up to £113 to their bill during an unrelenting cost of living crisis,” said Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy. “Customers should be allowed to leave their contract without penalty if prices are hiked mid-contract – regardless of whether or not these increases can be said to be ‘transparent.'”

The use of the word ‘transparent’ feeds into the narrative being shared by a number of UK alnets, including Hyperoptic, which recently warned of next year’s inflation-linked price rises from many of the big broadband firms while also noting that many consumers are not aware the increases are coming.

Ofcom responded by essentially appealing to telcos’ better natures, asking them to consider whether such moves are really justifiable, but as yet the telcos themselves have had little to say on the matter.

Those named in the Which? report had comments to make, funnily enough, with BT making the usual noises about keeping customers connected and helping those who need it most, while a spokesperson for TalkTalk hit out at the consumer group for releasing “inaccurate findings.”

Vodafone’s statement was probably the most telling though.

“We know no-one wants to see price rises. But we also face rising operational costs, including energy, staffing, logistics and transport, as well as the ongoing need to invest in our network and services, particularly with the roll-out of 5G and our customers’ ever-growing data usage,” the telco said.

Essentially, operators’ costs are going up, so consumers’ bills are too, cost-of-living crisis or otherwise.

Vodafone and TalkTalk were tied for second-bottom place in Ofcom’s broadband complaints table, with 18 complaints per 100,000 customers.

“Overall complaint numbers are stable, but these figures show some providers need to step up. And with household budgets being squeezed during the cost-of-living crisis, people will be taking a closer look at their provider to make sure they’re still the right one for them,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Group Director for Networks and Communications, in a statement accompanying the complaints data.

Whether UK consumers will still have the energy – no pun intended – to either complain to the regulator or switch Internet provider in 2023 will probably have the greatest bearing on how the tables look next year.

 

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