Use distance selling rules to cancel broadband
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 way of letting us swiftly change our minds 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 about where to go for help throughout this guide.
Consumer Contracts Regulations
The Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 came into force in June 2014, replacing the Distance Selling Regulations 2000. They provide protection for 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 a minimum cancellation period of 14 days from entering into the contract.
The right to cancel takes up the whole of Part 3 of the regulations (available here [pdf]).
Suppliers can offer longer cancellation periods than the minimum, at their discretion, so do check the broadband contract documents before proceeding.
A "distance contract" or "off premises 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:
- Call centres
- Leaflet dropping
- Press advertising (with an order form)
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 we place our order until 14 days from the day after which we 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. we confirm our 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 our acceptance of the contract that matters.
There's one exception to this: if a provider fails to provide us with all the information required - including that about our right to cancel - the cancellation period can be extended to 12 months.
Note, however, that their failure to provide us with that information straight away doesn't give us a year-long get out of jail card: as long as they get that information to us within 12 months, the 14-day period starts from the date they do so.
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 we ask for the service to start immediately, we still have those 14 days to change our minds.
The key here is that we're liable for any charges incurred during those 14 days - call charges, line rental and the pro rata cost of receiving a broadband service for the days we had the service for example.
What about hardware?
It's reasonable to expect that because a broadband contract involves both a service and some goods (the hardware required), we might get a secondary cancellation period.
A combined goods and services contract can be treated as a "sales contract" rather than a "services contract"; when this is the case we have the right to cancel for 14 days after the receipt of the last part of the goods order is received.
But the wording of the Consumer Contract Regulations stipulates that a "sales contract" requires the trader to transfer ownership of the goods to us.
As many ISPs state that we must return their equipment if we leave, they're clearly not transferring ownership - we're only ever borrowing the hardware, even if it ends up a permanent loan.
While it sounds complicated, the outcome is simple enough: the only cancellation period we're entitled to is the initial 14 days after we agree the contract.
If we've received our equipment, we're entitled to either free returns, or 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 we're guaranteed a full refund.
If, for example, we asked for the service to start sooner, it's reasonable to assume we've 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, anyone who's used the kit provided could be liable for a large amount of money.
How to cancel
as smoothly as possible
Part of the information providers are obliged to provide us with when we sign up is a notice giving us our rights of cancellation - which should include a current postal address, phone and fax number, and email address.
This should be the contact information we need to inform the provider of our 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 us to use it.
The regulations state that it's enough for us to send your notice of cancellation before the end of the cooling off period - but it goes without saying that we should keep a record of that correspondence, and when we sent it (for example, by requesting proof of postage), should the company fail to receive it or continue charging us for their service.
At this point, the ISP we tried to move to should inform our previous provider that we've cancelled the switch.
To avoid loss of service, however, it's worth confirming this with our old supplier for ourselves.
Any money paid for the service up front should be refunded 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 the Consumer Contract Regulations to advantage, but have a serious broadband complaint?
There is another way out.
If we have a serious fault or have been mis-sold our broadband package, we can sometimes escape from the contract by complaining in writing to the supplier.
If they refuse to cooperate, we can also complain to an independent adjudication body.