Want to walk? How to leave your ISP

neil hawkins
By Neil Hawkins

cancel contract 2©iStock.com/ugurhan

STUCK in a dysfunctional relationship? Divorce is the answer. There's always someone else willing to take care of our bits.

Our megabits that is - we are talking about leaving an ISP after all.

The good news is switching away from a nightmare broadband provider is far simpler than it used to be.

Ofcom research in 2013 found that nearly half of those (46%) who considered switching didn't bother in the end, with "a lack of clarity about the process" listed as one of the main reasons for giving up.

But since then new rules have come into play, making it almost ridiculously easy to walk.

Read on or click through to find out more about:

Rundown: The process

How much work we have to put in depends on which ISPs are involved.

With the vast majority of ISPs, it's now simply a case of choosing a new provider and getting in touch with them to order the new service. They then take care of contacting our old provider to arrange changeover dates and so on .

We've got more detail on how it works, including the process of moving to or from Virgin Media, which is different, in our step by step switching guide here.

But before jumping into the switching process, however, it's wise to find out whether we'll be charged for leaving.

Cancellation fees

Very few people are likely to read the entirety of the terms and conditions when signing up to a broadband provider - but most are aware that they're committing to a minimum contract period - usually 12, 18 or 24 months.

Leaving before the end of that period means "early termination fees" might well be payable.

Rules laid down by Ofcom state the minimum standards an ISP must stick to when entering a contract with a new customer, including when that customer can leave without penalty.

From October 2015 these conditions have also included a minimum guaranteed connection speed, based on the lowest 10% of connection speeds with an ISP in a customer's area.

If this is the case, or if any of the other conditions apply, we may be able to exit without paying any cancellation fees. If not, have a look at our guide to see who charges what.

People moving home will find that notice periods and the fees involved differ depending on who provides the service - see our guide for a full list of moving charges.

Anyone who's just joined a new ISP but then decides that actually they don't want that service can also back out without incurring any fees, as long as they move swiftly.

The regulations covering distance selling, included in the Consumer Contracts Regulations (available here [pdf]) cover anyone still within 14 days of the start of their contract.

The rules can be complex, however, and we take a better look at using them to cancel here.

And while this is a highly unlikely scenario, it's also possible to cancel the service without being charged through instances such as mis-selling, or if there are serious technical issues that result in a very poor or no service.

Returning your router

If we've fulfilled our contractual obligations and decided to leave, we'll probably be in possession of a wireless router sent by our ex-ISP.

It will try to tug at our heart strings with its logo, a daily reminder of our former relationship. We say out with the old and in with the new.

It's sometimes the case that a new generation of routers will have been introduced during our time with our soon to be ex-provider, so with a new router we can upgrade our Wi-fi too.

Most ISPs ask us to return our router so they can recycle it, but depending on which other services we have or had with our ISP, we may be contractually obliged to return some or all of our kit.

Two providers who will charge if we keep our equipment are Sky and Virgin Media. Virgin have always worked on the basis that we rent all of the equipment from them, and must therefore be returned upon cancellation, even after a minimum contract period has been served.

These days they're rather vague about the prices they charge for failure to return kit, but a couple of years ago fees ranged from £12 for missing remotes to £150 for keeping a Tivo box.

Sky, meanwhile, have only adopted the equipment rental model with the introduction of Sky Q TV; customers with standalone broadband or a Sky+ TV box needn't worry. Prices for non-return are between £30 for a Sky Q Hub and £140 for a Sky Q 2TB box.

Don't forget your cash

After leaving it can be all too easy to completely forget about our old ISP. This is what they're hoping we'll do if we've got a credit balance on our account.

There are various ways of ending up in credit with an ISP - particularly if we've made a complaint at one point or another and received a goodwill or compensatory credit against our bill.

How to handle this scenario is more fully explained in our guide to reclaiming cash from ISPs here.

Problems with leaving

It's definitely worth trying to resolve any outstanding issues with a current ISP before leaving as they could hinder any new services, especially in the case of technical problems.

That said, a current or soon-to-be-ex ISP must cooperate with the switching process: if they don't, it can be worth making a complaint.

Under the new switching rules, they're also not allowed to try to lure us back with special offers once the changeover has begun - so if they get in touch with a steal of a deal once our order's in with a new provider, that's not on.

We've highlighted some steps to take when complaining about broadband, and if talking to an ISP is like talking to a brick wall, the same guide also sets out how to approach industry regulators.