Switching broadband and moving house

moving house

ACCORDING to Ofcom research, about 30% of customers with the biggest broadband providers aren't satisfied with their service.

It's a shame, we think, because broadband is one of the UK's most competitive and crowded markets. Many providers - great ones - are dying for your custom.

All it takes is a switch - and since June 2015, when MAC keys were assigned to the history books, that should be much simpler.

In our guide to jumping ship we cover what to do when fed up with an existing provider, moving home, or just fancy a change.

But before skipping ahead, we recommend reading this first section, which covers whether or not customers are free to switch, and if not, what it's likely to cost.

Check whether it's free to switch

Most broadband providers deal in 12 or 18 month contracts.

Breaking the contract by moving within that initial period will almost always incur an early termination charge. Our guide to how these work, and the rare occasions customers won't face them, is here.

In 2012, Ofcom stepped in to cap the amount ISPs could charge but even so, it remains an expensive move.

Anyone who isn't sure whether they're in contract, or how far they have left to go should get in touch with their provider to check, or have a look at our article on the subject.

Those thinking of moving to EE home broadband will find the ISP willing to reimburse some of the cost by adding credit to the new account. See our full review for more details.

More often, however, it's simpler and cheaper to wait until the end of the contract to move. At that point most providers allow users to cancel with 30 days' notice and no penalty fees.

But perhaps "cancelling" is the wrong word. It's more often the case that people need to talk to their ISPs about transferring their service, as cancelling is taken to mean cutting off all services and restarting from fresh.

Desperate to leave?

Sometimes, waiting isn't an option: we simply want to get going now.

Customers who are seriously unhappy may find it possible to break their contract if there's a serious fault on the part of the provider - for example, the speeds are appalling, or the deal was mis-sold.

Complain to the ISP first, preferably in writing. If the issue isn't resolved and the provider refuses to release you from the contract, exercise your right to complain to an independent adjudication body.

There's no one body covering all broadband providers, but we break down who deals with which providers in this article.

Note, however, that get out of jail free cards are rare. It's not admissible to leave a contract because of a house move: broadband providers will often demand to come with you.

Should it be the case that the current provider doesn't supply the new address, it's likely early termination fees will apply.

Moving house?

That said, moving home does change the rules slightly.

Most providers prefer to stick, like a limpet, when a customer goes to a new home.

In the main, they won't charge for the privilege, but most will insist on signing movers up to a new minimum term contract of 12 or 18 months.

Notice we said "most". Some providers do charge under certain conditions: Plusnet will charge anyone who doesn't sign up to a new contract of at least 12 months a whopping £65.

There are also some potentially unavoidable costs involved in moving home. Sometimes the new property will need a new line installed (up to £130), or a new phone number (around £36).

Providers give suggested notice periods (i.e. how long a customer should get in touch before they move) as follows:

Provider Notice period Any charge? Full rules
BT At least two weeks Free unless you need a new line or upgrade More here
John Lewis At least a week Free, but £65 if you move again or leave within 12 months of moving More here
Plusnet Two to three weeks Free, but £65 if you move again or leave within 12 months of moving More here
Post Office At least 15 days Free unless you need a new line or want to keep your number More here
Sky At least two weeks (90 days max) £35 for a standard installation at the new address, a none standard installation may cost extra More here
TalkTalk 14 days minimum Free More here
Virgin Media At least one month Free with the Quick Start, self instalment option, or £20 for an engineer to come out to the new property More here
Zen "As soon as possible", but at least seven working days Free for standard broadband. "Charges payable" for fibre customers, including new Zen Talk installation fees. More here

The difficulty with that, however, is that services change from area.

For example, people who have Sky broadband and move to an area not covered by any of the ISP's exchanges are likely to be asked to move to their "off net" service, Sky Connect.

This provides a connection of up to just 6Mb, has a limited data allowance, and costs considerably more - which may well be enough to make some customers determined to leave.

Back when Virgin Media had an off-net ADSL service, Virgin National, they would also expect customers moving to an area not covered by their cable network to stay with them.

But in November 2014 Virgin sold their off-net customers to TalkTalk.

Anyone who thinks they'll be moving to a non cable property - check here will have to leave the ISP completely and may face early cancellations fees.

Should either of these situations be the case, customers have no more rights to leave than those who just want to leave, as outlined in the section above.

The other problem faced by people moving house is whether they'll have a working phone line at the new address.

Along with confirming whether or not a service is available in the new house, the ISPs' postcode checkers will often mention whether the phone line is working, too. If not, it's possible to check with BT direct here.

A new line can cost up to £130 with BT. Most providers charge less, BT often run offers on the cost of installation, and many will throw in installation free of charge for those entering into a new contract.

See our new phone installation guide for more information on this.

Finally, in the rare situations where users take their phone line from one provider, and their broadband from another: sort out the new telephone line first.

Tell the phone company who will be providing the broadband, and ask for a "Linked Order Reference Number".

Then give that reference to the ISP as soon as possible, which should help ensure minimum downtime.

Find a new provider

Once free to switch, or resigned to paying cancellation fees, do some research and choose a new ISP.

Then contact them, or put an order in online. That's about it - with one or two exceptions, which we cover below.

Depending on the notice period required by an old ISP, it may take anything from two weeks to a month to be moved across.

Most of the bigger ISPs, Sky, EE, Virgin and TalkTalk require 30 or 31 days' notice. Although some, like BT and Plusnet, may offer a reduced period for older customers.

Expect both the old and new ISP to get in touch - but all the old ISP is allowed to do at this point is send a letter confirming the details of the switch and any termination fees that apply.

What about MAC keys?

For the past few years there's been a confusing situation where some providers required people thinking of leaving to contact them first, while some were happy to transfer a customer upon notification from the new provider.

Since June 2015, anyone moving between providers on the Openreach network has just one option, and as outlined above it's the easier of the two.

We talk more about how the switching process has been changed here.

By getting rid of the need to contact the provider we want to leave, situations like those mentioned by some of the commenters below should no longer happen.

The providers who wanted us to contact them first were those who insisted on issuing MAC keys, codes that looked something like this: BBIP12345678/1AB23.

Written into their terms and condition was the proviso that anyone who left without requesting - or using - a MAC key would be charged an extra fee on top of any other cancellation penalties.

So if the new ISP didn't use the MAC key a customer gave them, the customer would be charged.

The exception: Virgin Media

The June 2015 changes don't apply to people moving to or from Virgin Media - or any other non-Openreach provider, like a satellite ISP.

Customers still don't need a MAC key, but because they run on completely separate networks, people moving to Virgin from one of the other ISPs will need to completely cancel their service; the same goes for those leaving Virgin.

This is known in trade parlance as "cease and re-provide" - effectively cutting off the existing line before a new service is installed afresh.

It's a drastic step, and for anything other than moving onto or off the cable network from the copper wire network, it really shouldn't be necessary.

The other reason to avoid it if at all possible is that ISPs charge extra for disconnecting the line.

Whether leaving or joining the Openreach network, customers will need to contact both their old and new ISP. For one thing they'll need to confirm cancellation of the old service - which includes that cessation order.

But it's also worth trying to co-ordinate between the two ISPs to minimise the period in which they have no broadband or phone service.

There's more on switching back from Virgin, or to a BT-based service, in our guide here.

Final checks...

The input from customers should be minimal at this point: barring complications, once the notice period has been served the new service should go live almost immediately.

Bonus switching points: get cash back

According to Ofcom, in late 2010 UK broadband users were collectively owed £10 million in unclaimed credit from their old bills.

That could be in the form of advance line rental - usually of the monthly or quarterly variety, not for those who pay for a year in advance - or for forgotten about promotional credits or refunds, and so on.

Some providers will automatically refund anyone who's more than £1 in credit; others will expect the user to get in touch for anything less than £20. We've a guide to who coughs up and who needs to be nudged, in this guide.


7 January 2016
Johnny Aitken

In future I will stick with who ever offers the best service and support. Sod changing suppliers to save money its been 18 days without a phone service with plusnet since joining from sky. Same with electric and gas suppliers etc best advice I can give is stay with who ever serves you best and forget about saving money as in the long run you're better off with saving money on chase up calls and paying for services you don't get.

24 October 2015
Michael Thomas

I am fed up to the back teeth with TalkTalk the broadband site, how much is it going to cost to leave them?

6 June 2015

I have just asked Plusnet why they have not cancelled my broadband connection 4 months ago! - They say I requested the MAC key but did not use it? I am not aware I didn't use it - I changed back to BT- Also want to charge me £30 and are not prepared to refund 4 months of broadband payments when it clearly shows in my account that no broadband services have been used. Where do I stand on this? I think it's a rip off! At the time of cancellation of the Plusnet service I specifically asked if I had to do anything else to cancel. If the MAC key is so important to the cancellation process, it should be made much clearer. However as Liz said if other providers don't use it how can the customer get it right? I don't know whether BT used it or not . . . Very frustrating!!!

4 February 2015
Liz Hankins

I asked for the MAC key from Plusnet and EE refused to use it. EE said its 'old technology' and 'no one in the industry uses it anymore'. Now Plusnet want to charge me £30 for not using it! Where do I stand?

28 April 2014

Very helpful article, although there is a contradiction as you first write: "...providers are not obligated to give you a MAC key if... they've already given you a key in the past 30 days."

This is followed later by "Don't worry if you need longer (than 30 days) or decide not to move after all, though, because if the MAC expires you can just get another one".

I'm just moving my Mum from BT's to Sky's phone and broadband service, and after being given the runaround by BT managed to acquire the MAC code this Sunday.

However, I can't change to Sky yet as BT require a 30 day notice and will charge £30 if this isn't observed, but the MAC code is only valid for 30 days so I'm having to ring Sky in a fortnight to arrange for the changeover to take place after another fortnight.

A ridiculous state of affairs for what should be a very, very simple process.

9 May 2014
Choose team

Sorry to hear that you're having problems - how annoying!

Apologies that our wording was misleading, we've now updated this section to make it more clear. Thanks for spotting the error.

11 September 2013

Very good post, most informative, a credit to you all. All the information you want in one place. TWH.

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