What happens to my email address when I switch provider?
"I'm switching broadband provider but my current supplier provides my email address - what will I need to do to switch email addresses? Will I still be able to use the old one?"
Keeping emails is a tricky business.
The general rule is that providers leave email accounts alone when we switch but it's often worth backing up and moving to our new ISP's service - or better still, to free webmail.
Although there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that it can be just fine to use a previous provider's address for months and years after switching ISPs are under no obligation to keep those accounts open.
Switching and emails: the rules
Let's look at the policies of the big providers.
|ISP||Can I keep my email?|
|BT Mail||Yes, for £5 a month. Otherwise email access will be lost after 30 days.|
|Sky Yahoo! Mail||Yes.|
|Virgin Media Mail||No, email will be deleted after 90 days.|
|Plusnet email||Yes, for £1.06 a month. Otherwise email access will be lost.|
Here's some more detail about these policies.
BT: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
BT Premium Mail here
According to BT's help centre, BT customers who cancel their broadband subscription will have access to their free BT email account for 30 days after their broadband ends, after which BT will suspend the account.
During this time customers may wish to sign up for BT Mail Premium, a paid email service, to keep both the BT email addresses and emails connected with their old account.
It's best to start the move from standard BT mail to BT Premium Mail as soon as possible; it takes up to 24 hours for the switch to be made. Those who don't activate BT Premium Mail within that time will have seven days after their free account is suspended to convert it to Premium and regain access to their addresses and mail. After that, the account will be deleted.
At the time of writing the service is priced at £5 a month.
For some time now, Sky customers have been offered what Sky call "email for life".
Technically, it's simply Yahoo! webmail with a bit of Sky branding, but we like that Sky let their customers keep their email addresses even if they change ISP.
The only real danger is for Sky email users who set up their account to automatically forward to another address. Users who do this must still log in to Sky Yahoo Mail at least once every five months to prevent their account being marked as dormant and suspended.
If they don't log in to the Sky Yahoo Mail service for six months, the suspended account will be deleted.
TalkTalk also offer email via a webmail service, which remains accessible even after customers have moved to another ISP.
Elements of the service have improved in recent years, with the biggest improvement being that people who leave TalkTalk retain access to their My Account area for 12 months afterwards. As well as being the control panel for the broader TalkTalk account, it's the area where customers can create or delete email addresses, and change their password if needs be.
After 12 months have gone by, customers lose access to this feature - but TalkTalk are keen to point out that customers with a talktalk.net address can change their passwords using their reset service; we'll need the alternative email address or mobile number we registered with TalkTalk when we first set up the account.
Users need to log in at least once every six months to prevent their accounts being marked dormant - and if an account is completely inactive for 12 months it'll be deleted.
Virgin Media: email@example.com
Virgin Media's policy is just about the exact opposite.
While Sky and TalkTalk let their users keep their email accounts for as long as they want to keep using them, Virgin Media are just about the exact opposite.
They give former customers 90 days from the date their services end to set up a new account somewhere else, move everything they need across, and inform everyone of the change. After that, Virgin will clear out our contacts and messages, remove our personal data and reclaim the email address - potentially for recycling (see below).
Although this last issue only applies to those with an @virginmedia.com address, all existing customers who have an email account with Virgin Media (see the list of address types to the right) need to log in and check their mail at least once every 90 days, or risk their account being marked "unused" and suspended, pending deletion.
When a Plusnet account is closed, the former customer loses access to all their old account features, including email.
However, those who want to keep their Plusnet email address can do so by requesting a downgrade to Plusnet's Mail Only package, which costs £1.06 per month.
Plusnet advise customers to make this request before they receive notice that we're migrating to a new provider - once the Plusnet account is closed it's too late - so as soon as we've signed with another ISP it's worth calling the Yorkshire company to get it set up.
EE: firstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com and more
EE don't provide email for their home broadband customers, but many people in their mid to late 30s are likely to have had an email account from Orange Broadband in one of their many guises.
EE have provided access for people with one of these legacy addresses for years, both via webmail and via email clients like Outlook - but in February 2017 they announced that they'd be closing the service all together from the end of May that year.
There's a list of the affected address types to the right.
People who've continued to use their Orange account - including those who use it as a login for any other services - will need to move their account to a new provider in order to help prevent security and access issues in the future.
EE have produced a detailed guide as to who might be affected, and how to import or forward messages to a new account or service.
Free and multiple accounts
As is clear from that quick run through, some ISPs are really helpful when it comes to keeping our email, but for many of us it can feel like we have to cross our fingers and hope that it'll keep working.
Whichever way our ISP leans, using an email client such as Outlook, Thunderbird or Mailbird (see our review here), which will collect mail from multiple accounts in one inbox could be well worth doing, at least while moving ISP.
Doing this will make doubly sure that we don't lose all our old messages and contacts, and allows for some crossover while we phase in a new account from our new broadband provider.
Here are some brief instructions on adding a new email account in Microsoft Office Outlook in Windows:
- On the "Tools" menu click "Account settings".
- In the email tab, click "New".
- Most providers will use an IMAP or POP3 email service, so select make sure the button next to this option is selected, then click "Next".
- In each of the editable fields, type in the information received from our new ISP regarding the new email address.
- Once all the fields are complete, click "Test Account Settings" to verify that the account is working. If there is missing or incorrect information, such as the password, the program will prompt us to supply or correct it.
- Repeat for any other email accounts as required.
Using Outlook on a Mac the procedure is very similar. Go to "preferences" then "accounts" and enter the information from the ISP.
This should allow Outlook to access and download messages from both email accounts.
Many people prefer to use one of the free online email accounts that are available, as they neatly avoid all of the problems above if and when we need to move broadband provider in the future.
As well as being as functional as a dedicated email client like Outlook, they have the added bonus of being available wherever we can get online, which also acts as a backup.
Indeed, EE said that one of the reasons they decided to close Orange email was that webmail providers like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! have far more in the way of useful features than they could offer.
Recycling email addresses
There's another issue concerning some moving email accounts: provider email recycling.
Yes, even now that novelty email address we had when we left university is probably being used by a silver surfer in the Home Counties who's already ordered a set of William and Kate commemorative plates with it.
It's Virgin Media, in particular, who have come under scrutiny for the practice. The reason for the concern is that a customer with a recycled address potentially has the ability to sign into websites used by its previous owner, access password retrieval, and subsequently take over the account.
Consumer and privacy groups think that in order to preserve privacy and prevent conflicts old email addresses should be consigned to the dustbin of broadband history.
However, Virgin Media say they wait six months before any possible reallocation.
The Government's Information Commissioner added nothing to the debate by saying that, "The [Data Protection] Act requires that personal information should be kept secure and processed fairly."
The best advice, it seems, is to change all important website logins which use an old email address since our ISP provider won't help with this.
Online banking is the critical one (although we should never use personal email addresses as logins in any case), as well as any websites where detailed personal information is at risk, and also social media sites.