Once a customer is 'out of contract', or beyond their minimum term period, it's straightforward to switch to another broadband deal or cancel the service entirely.
Customers who are still within their minimum terms however, can cancel or switch early, but they'll often have to pay early termination fees to do so.
Cancelling broadband entirely will mean contacting the provider in question, although for some switches the customer simply needs to place an order for a new broadband deal.
How to cancel broadband
Before cancelling a broadband contract, customers should check a few facts about the deal they're on, and then follow a few simple steps to end the contract.
Here are those steps:
- Check to ensure you're outside of any minimum term contract period. It's worth being aware if you've previously accepted a new offer, price, or changed services, for example adding an extra service, these could have resulted in an extension of your original minimum term period.
- Customers definitely out of contract can switch or cancel broadband without any additional charges being applied. However, if a minimum term still applies to any services then early termination charges may need to be paid.
- Customers switching broadband providers on the Openreach network, this includes to and from BT, Plusnet, EE, Sky, NOW, TalkTalk, Vodafone, can benefit from the new provider-led switching process, which means customers only need to place an order for a new broadband deal and the new provider will handle the switch and cancel their existing service for them.
- Customers who are switching to and from different networks, for example BT to Virgin Media, will need to contact their existing provider to cancel their service.
- Finally, customers who want to cancel their broadband service entirely without switching also need to ensure they contact their provider directly.
Where customers need to contact their existing provider directly, this will usually be by telephone. This is because:
- Providers will want to go over any steps required to end the contract, such as returning equipment like routers, and calculating any money owed or due as part of the final bill.
- Providers also often run retentions departments, where leaving customers are talked into staying by offering them better deals for signing a new contract.
While it can seem time consuming to go through this process, providers must let you cancel if that's what you want to do.
One Touch Switch was meant to be operational by April 2023, which means customers can switch between different broadband networks without having to contact their existing provider to cancel. However, delays from providers failing to implement an industry wide system has meant this isn't available to customers just yet.
Once a broadband contract has been cancelled
After a broadband contract has been ended, either through switching or telling our existing provider we want to leave, there are sometimes a few things to do.
- Make a note of the date the service is due to end. If we're switching to a new broadband provider we should hopefully have a switch-on date for the same day, but either way it's useful to know when our existing service ends.
- Package up the router for returning to a provider if they request it. This could also include a TV box if you had a broadband and TV package. The previous provider will always let you know if equipment needs to be returned, and will often send out a postage label to do so. It's worth knowing providers aim to meet electronic recycling targets, so even if the router is old sending it back can be good for the environment.
- Pay the final bill, which may include any unpaid service fees as well as any early termination fees if applicable. Sometimes the final bill may actually have a credit balance, though most providers now refund this automatically.
Switching and cancelling services should be straightforward, and Ofcom has regulations in place to make sure providers follow certain processes.
If problems do arise customers will need to raise a complaint with their provider first and foremost, which can then be escalated to an alternative dispute resolution scheme. Read more about how to make a broadband complaint.
Reasons why you may want to end a broadband contract
Broadband contracts are often ended for various reasons. Usually a customer will be switching to another provider, but sometimes we just need to end the service.
However, different reasons for cancelling broadband can change the process and what to be aware of slightly, so here are some reasons and what you may want to consider if these apply to you.
1. You changed your mind
Broadband customers have at least 14 days to change their mind after signing up to a broadband deal under the Consumer Contracts Regulations.
The new regulations came into force back in June 2014, and cover anyone who purchases goods or services when they're not face-to-face with their supplier. That means customers who order broadband online or over the phone are covered.
This 14-day period starts from the day after we agree the contract, so if we put in an order for broadband on the 1st of the month, we've got until the 14th to change our minds.
Some providers will have their own cooling-off periods - 14 days is a minimum, not an absolute. For instance, TalkTalk broadband give their customers 30 days under their Great Connection Guarantee, and Sky broadband give customers 31 days to cool off.
Where broadband providers may have sent out equipment like routers, they will need to be returned or we may have to pay for it. This also goes for any broadband service received, or calls made, during the 14-day period - as this will be charged on a pro rata basis.
Being able to cancel within the cooling-off period of 14 days means customers can get out of a contract if they realise it isn't the right one for them, but it shouldn't be used as a get-out-of-jail free card and we'd always recommend comparing broadband deals to make sure you choose the right one first time.
2. Broadband has become too expensive
The cost of living crisis has left around 1.4 million households struggling to afford their broadband bill, according to research by Ofcom.
Rising prices and affordability issues meant approximately 234,000 homes disconnected their fixed line broadband service altogether in January 2023.
Customers looking to cancel their broadband because they can no longer afford it, should first check to see if they're eligible for a social broadband tariff, which can provide a fixed line connection for as little as £12 per month.
Most people will need to be in receipt of means-tested benefits like Universal Credit, but those living in London may be able to access Community Fibre's Essential plan which is open to anyone struggling to afford a broadband service.
It's also now the case that 85% of broadband customers should be able to access a social tariff through their existing provider without having to pay any early termination charges if they're still within a contract period. So, before cancelling altogether, first ask to see if your provider can offer you a cheaper social tariff.
3. The price has gone up
If the price of your broadband service goes up or changes during a contract period you may be able to leave penalty free.
However, since the beginning of 2021, increasingly broadband providers are adding price rise clauses to their contracts, which stops a customer leaving early without penalty.
As we explain in our guide to mid-contract price rises, most providers now say that prices will increase during a contract period by Consumer Price Index (CPI) + X%.
If a provider then increases their prices by that inflation + X amount, customers won't be able to exit their contracts early without penalty, because the price rise was included in the contract itself.
However, if a provider makes changes to the terms of a broadband contract in a way that wasn't specifically mentioned when the contract was taken out, then customers can usually leave their contract early.
For example, when TalkTalk switched to using mid-contract price rises in early 2021, existing customers were given the option to exit penalty free within 30 days because it constituted a major pricing change that wasn't covered by the existing terms and conditions.
Likewise, up until April 2023, Virgin Media contracts didn't include a mid-contract price rise clause, and so any price rises gave way for customers to be able to give 30-days' notice and leave. However, since this year they've now changed their policy on this.
Overall though, if a broadband provider increases their prices, or makes changes to the service or terms, they should let you leave without paying any cancellation fees. In these cases, customers are given a 30-day window period in which they need to let the provider know if they want to end their contract.
4. Broadband is below the minimum guaranteed speed
Customers who aren't receiving a good broadband connection, where the speed falls below a certain minimum level and the provider doesn't fix the problem, may be able to leave their contract early without penalty.
However, it largely depends on whether the provider is signed up to Ofcom's Voluntary Code of Practice on broadband speeds.
The providers signed up include:
- NOW Broadband
- Utility Warehouse
- Virgin Media
- Zen Internet
Providers signed up agree to give customers a personalised minimum guaranteed speed at the point of sign up.
Should the connection fail to deliver this speed, and the provider can't or doesn't fix it within 30 days, the customer is entitled to leave their contract early and without penalty.
The ability to exit the contract covers any other services taken out at the same time, including a home phone or TV package.
Note: Plusnet are signatories but have yet to implement personalised estimates.
Some broadband providers, such as Sky, go beyond the voluntary code and offer customers a refund as well as the option to exit the contract if they don't meet the minimum guaranteed speed.
It's worth noting these minimum speed guarantees are different to wireless broadband speed guarantees, which are often provided as an 'add-on' service, and generally don't give customers the right to leave if their broadband is performing poorly.
Read more about whether you can pay less for slow broadband in our guide, and we've also got information on how to complain about your broadband provider if you feel the service really isn't up to scratch.
5. You're moving home
Moving home can sometimes mean moving to an area a provider isn't available, which means you can't take your broadband package with you.
Usually, it's easiest for customers within a minimum term period to notify their provider of their home move and take their package with them. While some providers may charge admin fees for moving home, they won't charge early termination fees, which would often be much higher.
However, where a customer moves to an area that's not yet served by their provider, they have no option but to end their service early.
Some networks, including Virgin Media since early 2022, will waive early termination charges for customers who move outside of their network area, but many may not be so generous.
Moving home is seen as a choice by broadband providers, and as such early termination fees will often apply where a customer is moving outside of a network area. This is particularly worth being aware of as more independent fibre broadband networks cover different areas of the country.
6. The initial minimum term period has ended
Finally, the most common reason to leave a broadband provider is that the minimum term period has ended and a customer wants to switch to a cheaper deal.
If customers don't switch away or re-contract at the end of their minimum term their broadband price is likely to go up as the customer moves onto a monthly rolling contract and 'out of contract' prices, which can be expensive.
Once the minimum term is up, we have a few options:
- Contact our current provider and ask for a new deal, we may be offered a lower price if we agree to sign a new minimum term period
- Sign up to a broadband deal with another provider. Where both providers are on the Openreach network the new provider will handle the switch, otherwise we'll also need to cancel the older service with the provider directly.
- If a customer doesn't want broadband anymore at all, they can just cancel by contacting their provider directly.
Since 2020, broadband companies have had to warn customers when they're coming to the end of their broadband minimum term, so this gives us plenty of time to decide whether we want to end a contract or switch to a new provider.
As long as we're no longer within our minimum term, we won't have to pay any early termination fees, but we will usually still need to return our router and there may be charges if we don't.
Learn more about how to switch your broadband provider.
Summary: ending a broadband contract has become easier
Ending a broadband contract used to be far more complicated and customers routinely complained the processes favoured the companies rather than them.
No doubt some customers will still feel frustrated by the rules and guidance we've detailed in this guide, but it's true to say things are more straightforward than they used to be.
Customers switching between broadband providers on the Openreach network currently have one of the easiest experiences of ending a broadband contract - they just have to sign up to their new provider and let them do all the hard work.
While One Touch Switch is currently delayed, soon customers switching between providers on all networks should have this option available to them as well, which will end frustrations about having to speak directly to providers.
The system isn't perfect, but there are processes in place to protect customers such as the 14-day cooling off period and Ofcom's code of practice to help customers escape from contracts where broadband speeds aren't up to scratch.
Providers including Virgin Media have also become fairer about waiving early termination fees where customers move home to an area they've not yet expanded to.
With fairness for customers a key concern of Ofcom's over recent years, we've seen numerous improvements to processes and we're likely to see more initiatives to protect customers when they're ending their broadband contracts or dealing with their broadband providers.