Was TalkTalk's 'free upgrade' enough?

2 February 2016   By Justin Schamotta

JUST 14% of TalkTalk customers took advantage of the free upgrades offered to them following last year's cyber attacks, the ISP have said.

talktalk for everyone on mobile
Credit: Piotr Swat/Shutterstock.com

Coming soon after the third and biggest of those breaches, in October, the upgrades were intended partly to discourage people from leaving, and included extra TV channels, a mobile SIM or free calls.

The "gesture of thanks", as TalkTalk called it at the time, seems to have worked in part - figures released by TalkTalk today showed that almost half a million customers took them up on the offer, but the ISP still lost 101,000 in the three months to December.

This is far less than recently predicted by a Kantar Worldpanel study, which estimated that 250,000 people had jumped ship following last October's "significant and sustained" cyber attack.

Exit strategy

Although TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding says that customers "responded well" after the hack, it would be misleading to suggest that the relatively low exit rate is all down to TalkTalk's "unconditional offer of a free upgrade".

It's entirely possible that,many are simply waiting for their contract to end before switching supplier; in the midst of the hacking crisis - when it was thought that 400,000 customer accounts had been compromised - TalkTalk refused to waive early termination fees.

The only exceptions were those who'd had money stolen "as a direct result of the cyber attack".

Given that most of the stolen information could only be used for scam purposes rather than for directly accessing people's bank accounts, this caveat applied to very few people.

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TalkTalk's hardline stance angered many of their customers, who felt that they should be allowed to leave free of charge.

However, as the contracts for all TalkTalk broadband packages were extended to 18 months as standard last year, it'll be a while before we can accurately gauge just how mistrustful people have become.

Not so fast

The optimistic might think that the 489,000 or so people who took advantage of TalkTalk's upgrades were content to forgive and forget once the gesture had been made.

The reality is that even were that the case, many have found themselves let down further. The Guardian have reported how numerous TalkTalk customers signed up for a post-hack "freebie" but were then charged for it.

TalkTalk said that the upgrades would appear as a charge at the top of a customer's bill, but that these charges should be shown as being credited back to the account, in the Credits and Adjustments section, at the bottom of the bill.

Customers had to take advantage of the upgrade offer by the end of December; anyone who took advantage of the offer is advised to check their recent bills to ensure that they haven't been charged.

Forensic review

TalkTalk data leaks
October 2015: 'Sustained attack'
August 2015: TalkTalk Mobile caught in Carphone Warehouse breach
Late 2014: Alarm raised after suspicious calls

In August last year, Carphone Warehouse were subject to a "sophisticated cyber attack in which the details of more than two million people were put at risk; among them were those belonging to TalkTalk Mobile customers.

When that story broke, TalkTalk were still recovering from a data breach that gave scammers access to the details of millions of customers.

In the wake of all this, TalkTalk say they've been "conducting a forensic review" on security procedures, and last month, three workers at an Indian call centre used by the ISP were arrested.

They worked for a company called Wipro, who provide call centre services for TalkTalk and various other companies, and they were arrested on suspicion of having breached the ISP's policies and terms of contract with Wipro.

In fact, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) are currently investigating six cases involving TalkTalk.

At a recent session of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the hack, the Information Commissioner himself, Christopher Graham, suggested that "individual customers... may well want to talk to their lawyers".

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