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Starting out on the right foot

Dave Millett of telecoms broker Equinox explains how to avoid over-paying for your telecoms

Dave Millet
Dave Millet

Let’s face it; no telecoms means no business. So perhaps it’s not surprising that so many people feel taken advantage of by their telecoms supplier. One question we are frequently asked is ‘Can you get me out of this contract?’. To which our reply is ‘That depends’.

If your supplier tells you that you’re still in contract and you’re not sure whether you really are or not, here is a guide. This will also help protect you before signing any new deal.

My contract ends when?
The onus is on suppliers to prove contract end dates. Just because the system says so does not mean it is correct. For example, one of our clients was told their contract had renewed two days before they enquired about it. It could be a coincidence, but the supplier offered no proof of the renewal date e.g. a call recording, copy of the original signed document or e-contract. If suppliers refuse to provide that then they probably have something to hide.

Renewals and cancellations
Ofcom has rules to protect consumers and businesses with 10 or fewer employees. The protection bans automatic rollover of contracts and gives customers the ability to cancel contracts because of price rises and/or failure to deliver promised broadband speeds.

Some suppliers try to find their way round these protections. We have seen contracts saying ‘tick this box to keep tariffs after contract end date’. There is no explanation that by ticking this box you are agreeing to an automatic renewal. But that’s exactly what you are doing. Effectively they are getting you to waive your rights by ticking the box.

Be careful about notice periods. They may not be as tricky as ‘only on the fourth Tuesday before the full moon’, but they can vary greatly. The most extreme we’ve seen required three years’ notice!

Traps to avoid
Other traps to look out for include:

Automatically restarting your contract if you change or add something;

Having different terms for each element of the contract. For example, having calls for two years and, in small print, the lines for five years;

Adding new services that have their own contract so end dates never align. This can make cancellation almost impossible as you’re never out of contract on all services simultaneously;

Changing the Terms and Conditions – but only stating this on the website. Many contracts state that suppliers can change the T&Cs without notifying you directly; they simply need to update the information on their website. Make a note to check regularly if you have this clause; and

False inducements to buy – the advertising says ‘we promise to save you money’ but your invoices show no savings.

Penalties for early cancellation can be high so check contracts carefully.

To reinforce how careful you need to be, here is an example: the customer signed a contract which had a box marked minimum term on the front page. This had been left blank. The salesperson verbally assured the customer it was a 12 month deal. However, in the small print of the contract a clause stated that if the minimum term was blank the contract was for 60 months. The supplier refused to budge.

How can you reduce the risks?

1.Check if the supplier is signed up to the telecoms ombudsman. Free binding arbitration is available to consumers and small businesses if there is a dispute. Obviously, if you have serious doubts consult a lawyer.

2.Send an email setting out your understanding of the contract. Ask them to confirm that in a conflict between their T&Cs and the email, the email takes precedence and that you are only signing the contract on that basis. The email could include:

Contract duration and notice period;

That prices are fixed for duration – any change gives you freedom to cancel without penalty, whenever it is spotted;

Only the charges specified in the contract may be levied – this stops hidden costs such as call set up fees and any changes in Terms and Conditions;

Repeat any claims made (e.g. you will save money) and state that they are condition of the contract and that if they fail to meet these the contract is null and void;

The contract will not rollover at the end of the term without your explicit prior consent.

3.Compare the invoices to the prices in the contract. We have seen large differences.

Many of these points could apply to other services. However, the telecoms industry is often guilty of using confusing jargon and relying on people not noticing details or being unwilling to challenge their supplier or go through a lengthy process to get redress. Be vigilant from the start so you sign a fair contract. And don’t be reticent. Challenge your supplier if you believe they deserve it!