Use distance selling rules to cancel broadband

emily gorton
By Emily Gorton

cancel contract©

JUST moved broadband provider and spotted a better deal, miss a quirk of your old service or have simply found an unexpected element in your new contract? The Consumer Contracts Regulations could help.

These rules, previously known as the Distance Selling Regulations, are designed to give people the opportunity to cancel their contracts during a 14-day cooling off period.

If the service was sold at a distance - over the phone or on the internet, for example - they might well be the best method to swiftly change your mind and get a refund.

Please note, however, that what follows is just a general guide to the Consumer Contracts Regulations as they relate to broadband service.

It doesn't constitute, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. We'll give full details on where you can go for detailed help throughout this guide.

Consumer Contracts Regulations

The Consumer Contracts Regulations came into force in June 2014, replacing the Distance Selling Regulations 2000, providing protection to protect people who purchase goods or services when they're not face-to-face with their supplier.

Under the rules, those shopping this way have protection against the fraudulent use of a credit card, a right to clear information and, most relevant here, and a minimum cancellation period of 14 days from entering into the contract.

Right to cancel takes up the whole of Part 3 of the regulations (available here [pdf]).

Suppliers can, at their discretion, offer longer cancellation periods than the minimum, so do check the broadband contract documents before proceeding.

What's covered?

A "distance contract" covers a wide range of buying methods.

The regulations state that relevant transactions must be a sale of goods or services between a supplier and consumer - business to business transactions don't count.

The sale must also be made through "an organised distance sales or service-provision scheme without the simultaneous physical presence of the trader and the consumer, with the exclusive use of one or more means of distance communication".

That means sales through the following channels are covered:

When can you cancel?

Under the old regulations, the cancellation period was a minimum of seven working days.

However, under the new rules, the right to cancel starts from the moment you place your order until 14 days from the day after which you agree the contract.

The important point is the agreement of the contract. Previously, the clock didn't start ticking until the final piece of paperwork was provided.

So, for example, if written confirmation and additional information about the broadband service were supplied on or before the day the contract is concluded (i.e. you confirm your broadband order and get the paperwork all at once) the cancellation period began the day after that.

But if the paperwork was supplied after the contract was agreed, the cancellation period began the day after the paperwork arrived.

Now, it doesn't matter how long it takes for the paperwork to be provided. It's your acceptance of the contract that matters.

However, if your provider fails to provide you with all the information required - including that about your right to cancel - the cancellation period can be extended by up to a year.

Broadband up and running within days

Under the Distance Selling regulations, customers waived their right to cancel within the cooling off period if they requested their broadband service began within that time.

But now the rules have been tightened in favour of the customer. Even if you ask for the service to start immediately, you still have 14 days from contract to change your mind. You are still liable for any charges incurred during that time - for example, call charges, line rental and the pro rata cost of receiving a broadband service for the length of time you had the service.

What about hardware?

Where you have a joint contract involving goods and services - with broadband we're thinking about the hardware and equipment the ISP sends and broadband service itself - things are once again different.

Here, there are usually two contracts involved: one for the goods and one for the services.

These can run at different times so even though you may have received your router and other broadband paraphernalia, you could still have time to cancel the services contract.

In the case of hardware, the 14 day period begins at the point at which the goods are delivered.

You should be entitled to a refund for return delivery costs up to "the least expensive common and generally acceptable kind of delivery offered by the trader".

Providers are perfectly entitled to request that any equipment they provided be returned in pristine and resalable condition - in its original, unopened, packaging. This is the only way you're guaranteed a full refund.

If, for example, you asked for the service to start sooner, it's reasonable to assume you opened and used the equipment. But the regulations state that:

If... the value of the goods is diminished by any amount as a result of handling of the goods by the consumer beyond what is necessary to establish the nature, characteristics and functioning of the goods, the trader may recover that amount from the consumer, up to the contract price.

In short, you could be liable for a large amount of money if you've used the kit.

How to cancel

Part of the information providers are obliged to provide you with when you sign up is a notice giving you your rights of cancellation - which should include a current postal address, phone and fax number, and email address.

This should be the contact information you need to inform the provider of your decision to cancel, by sending "a clear statement" - a letter sent by post, fax, or email. They may also provide a cancellation form, but there's no obligation for you to use it.

The regulations state that it's enough for you to send your notice of cancellation before the end of the cooling off period - but it goes without saying that you should keep a record of your letter, and when you sent it (for example, by requesting proof of postage), should the company fail to receive it or continue charging you for their service.

At this point, the ISP you tried to move to should inform your previous provider that you've cancelled the switch.

To avoid loss of service, however, it may be necessary to confirm this with your old supplier for yourself.

If you moved using a MAC key, you may need to get another code in order to try switching again.

For more on MAC keys and switching broadband providers see our article on broadband switching.

Any money you paid for the service up front should be refunded to you within 14 days of cancellation.

However, broadband providers usually take setup fees alongside the first month's broadband bill, so this is unlikely to apply.

Mis-selling and service faults

Too late to use Consumer Contract Regulations to your advantage, but have a serious complaint about your broadband service?

There is another way out.

If you have a serious fault or have been mis-sold your broadband, you could escape from the contract by complaining in writing to the supplier.

If your supplier refuses to cooperate, you can also complain to an independent adjudication body.

For more detailed information on this see our full article on broadband complaints and there is further information on broadband contracts here.