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How will Ofcom’s new rules affect your phone and broadband switch?

Communications industry regulator Ofcom is introducing new rules designed to provide Britain’s microbusinesses with greater protection from phone and broadband suppliers.

Times are changing in Britain’s telecommunications industry. Regulatory body Ofcom has taken a series of steps to protect households and microbusinesses (SMEs with ten employees or less) from some of the questionable policies suppliers have been adopting in recent years.  

As part of the latest round of changes, a fresh set of rules will come into force on Saturday 20th September that make it easier for consumers to switch to a better deal - namely by stopping providers from putting unnecessary obstacles in the way.

The need for change

In the past, suppliers have occasionally been guilty of deliberately confusing the cancellation process, as well as charging extortionate exit fees and leaving customers without access to phone or broadband services while switches take place. These issues have effectively served as a deterrent for small business owners who would otherwise look to get a better deal elsewhere.

When Ofcom’s new measures kick in, the hope is that this kind of behaviour will be reduced as providers move to comply with the regulator’s rules. So, how are things going to change?

These are updates that consumers should notice almost straight away – but there are other plans in place that should make switching even easier in the future.

Sensible switching

Firstly, Ofcom’s rules will mean providers have to ensure their customers are presented with clear, relevant information about termination fees when they’re trying to switch.

This should put businesses in a far better position to make informed decisions as they’ll be aware of any potential charges they might incur for changing provider. It’s all about limiting the power of suppliers in order to protect the customer, and should act as an added incentive to explore the savings - typically in excess of 20% - that are available through switching.

Ofcom has also ruled that any switches involving both landlines and broadband should be completed at the same time. In the past, these have not always been coordinated and have left businesses without connectivity, compromising their ability to operate until services are restored. However, when the fresh measures come into force, any such disruptions will be minimised and the risk of downtime will be reduced.

Next steps

These are updates that consumers should notice almost straight away – but there are other plans in place that should make switching even easier in the future. Within the next nine months, for instance, the industry is expected to reach a point where microbusinesses will no longer have to notify their existing supplier when they want to switch to a new provider.

Previously, suppliers have insisted that customers talk to them directly if they want to cancel their contract. This has been one of the triggers for providers to adopt aggressive tactics to keep their customers, typically by threatening excessive cancellation fees.

What does this mean for you?

In short, it will be easier for microbusinesses to switch to a better deal for their phone and broadband from 20th September – and the process will get even smoother in the near future.

Customers should be able to avoid any unwanted confrontations with their existing supplier when trying to switch – and not be railroaded into doing something they don’t particularly want to do.

Our advice is to make sure you know your contract end date when you’re switching – you can find this out from your supplier, often over the phone or via a web chat – and also to challenge any excessive cancellation fees, especially if they’re applied after your switch. 

All things considered, Ofcom's latest efforts suggest that the balance of power is continuing to shift in favour of consumers - and long may that continue.