We've all got horror stories about bad customer service. But it's people with health, financial or emotional problems that are still having the most inconsistent experiences when they contact their broadband provider's customer service team.
That's the big finding from research by Ofcom, which looked at the progress the industry has made since the watchdog last year published its guidelines for treating vulnerable customers fairly.
They found that while some users received extra support due to their circumstances, and others reported positive experiences despite the provider not knowing about their vulnerability, the overall service was still patchy.
It suggested that people's experiences were heavily dependent on the member of staff they spoke to, with no guarantee they would get to deal with the same person twice.
It suggests there's still plenty of room for improvement in the training of customer support teams.
What makes a customer vulnerable?
Vulnerabilities come in many forms. They include physical and mental health problems, debt or unemployment, bereavement, or even becoming a victim of crime.
Unsurprisingly, the number of vulnerable customers has increased during the pandemic and its subsequent economic fallout.
While Ofcom rules require all providers to have policies in place for helping vulnerable customers, it isn't always easy for them to automatically tell if someone needs extra support. If you regard yourself as being in a vulnerable group, or if your circumstances have recently changed (you might have lost your job, for example), you should contact your broadband supplier and let them know.
They'll add that information to your account, and it should inform any relevant future interactions you have with them.
What kind of support can you get?
With the definition of vulnerable being quite broad and varied, the types of support you can get are also broad and varied.
You should have access to a range of communications channels to speak to customer support. This could include text relay services or support in different languages.
You should be given the time to get help, support and advice on managing debts without the threat of enforcement action.
Providers could consider giving you a payment holiday to help you manage cashflow issues.
Broadband providers should regard disconnection as a last resort.
Broadband providers' vulnerability policies
Ofcom's guidance expects a number of things from broadband suppliers. They should train their staff to be able to recognise the characteristics, behaviours and verbal cues of someone who might be vulnerable, so they can be proactive in offering support. They should identify vulnerable customers and record their needs. And they should make all of their customers aware of the kinds of support and services that they offer.
Many providers publish vulnerability policies. Some have specific support teams in place for vulnerable customers, and some make it easy for you to register your vulnerable status with them. This information will be treated in confidence, and is subject to all the usual data protection legislation.
Here are the relevant pages for many of the leading providers:
Some of the things you can expect include ways to improve access to support via text relay and NGT services or braille guides; simple instructions on using accessibility services like subtitles on TV; and specific policies and help for dealing with financial issues. Naturally, what's promised and what's delivered are not always the same thing, so check our user reviews to see our customers' experiences of their providers' tech support.
If you want to read the full Ofcom report, click here. Or if you want to compare the best broadband deals in your area today, use our postcode search tool to get started.
The average Brit is now spending over four hours a day online, according to a new Ofcom study.
The industry watchdog's latest Online Nation report shows that a combination of factors have caused internet use to surge to record levels, up by almost an hour a day in less than two years.
Inevitably, the coronavirus lockdown was part of the cause - the Zoom video conferencing app, for instance, has grown by nearly 2000%, from 659 thousand UK users to over 13 million in just four months. But it's not just that. The popularity of streaming services continues to grow, plus there's the emergence of video sharing sites like Twitch and TikTok. The latter has moved well beyond its initial teen user base, with 12.9 million UK adults now joining in.
Even as the lockdown begins to ease, it's unlikely that our online activity is going to decline. So the question is, is your broadband connection up to the demands of this "new normal"?
Signs that your service might be struggling include:
Downtime - we know that the internet infrastructure held up remarkably well during the lockdown, but if your connection keeps dropping, or you're being left without service for hours at a time, it's often a sign that it might be time to look elsewhere.
Slow downloads or uploads - your download and upload speeds will slow down when you've got more people sharing your connection at the same time. Speed problems can be especially noticeable when your usage patterns change - like when you're working from home and sharing large files or connecting to your office server.
Poor video performance - nothing ruins a boxset binge more than buffering, or even just seeing the picture quality plummet. Both are signs that your broadband can't keep up with the demands of your chosen streaming TV service.
Laggy gaming or video calls - speed problems can also ruin the picture or sound quality in your video calls, and render online games unplayable. Occasional lag is to be expected, but if you keep seeing it it might be time for an upgrade.
The best broadband upgrades
So what should you look for in an upgrade? Try and prioritise what you need. That could be a faster service generally, or more specifically faster uploads. Or perhaps a more reliable service, or better customer support.
The obvious upgrade, if you haven't already made it, is to go from standard broadband to fibre. An entry level fibre deal will triple your download speed and should only cost a few pounds extra each month. If you're upgrading to a new deal with your existing provider you might even be able to negotiate a better offer. Plusnet and SSE currently offer the cheapest fibre broadband deals.
The next step is from the basic fibre (around 36Mb) to the higher end fibre, with speeds around 63Mb. Vodafone and TalkTalk have the cheapest deals at this faster speed.
If even that isn't enough, you can get over 100Mb speeds from a number of ISPs. The most widely available are from Virgin Media, who offer speeds up to 516Mb on average. Other big name providers like Vodafone and BT also offer ultrafast packages, but only in certain areas. These faster speeds will give you much better upload speeds as well as downloads.
If reliability and customer service are a bigger priority, the best way to check what you can expect from each provider is to read their customer reviews. Dig into our thousands of reviews for help on deciding your next move.
Ready to start shopping for a new internet deal? Use our postcode checker to find the best broadband offers where you live.
Spring is definitely underway, the weather is (mostly) improving, and while you're probably pondering a bit of spring cleaning over the bank holiday weekend it might also be time to look at freshening up your broadband deal at the same time. We've selected some of the best broadband offers for you below.
Plusnet have reward card offers of varying amounts on all of their broadband and phone bundles this week. Unlimited Broadband is £18.99 a month in low cost areas and comes with a £65 reward card, Unlimited Fibre is currently at £23.50 a month and comes with a £50 reward card, while the Unlimited Fibre Extra package is £27.50 a month and comes with a whopping £70 reward card!1
BT's offer this week is an Amazon Echo, worth £89.99, on their Superfast Fibre 2 packages. You'll also get a £60 BT Reward Card, increasing the total value of this offer to £149.99! Superfast Fibre 2 is £39.99 a month if it's available in your area. Superfast Fibre 1 customers haven't been left out; while there's no Amazon Echo bundled in, you can get fibre broadband for £29.99 along with a £90 BT Reward Card!2
If fibre isn't available in your area, or you're a light user and just want the cheapest option, there's BT Broadband with average speeds of 10Mb for £24.99 with a £60 Reward Card. These deals are also available on BT TV packages, which start at £34.99 a month.2
SSE's Unlimited Fibre broadband package is just £23 a month on an 18 month contract and comes with a £55 reward, which is a choice between a pre-paid Mastercard or an Amazon.co.uk gift card. You'll need to hurry, this offer ends Sunday night and is only available via the link in this blog post!3
Sky's Broadband Unlimited and Fibre Max packages both come with a £50 voucher, a choice between a Tesco or Ticketmaster gift card. Broadband Unlimited is £20 a month and Fibre Max is £27 a month. This offer is also only available via the link in this blog post. 4
TalkTalk's Fast Broadband is currently only £17 per month for the 12 month contract, and you'll also receive a £50 voucher of your choice for Amazon, Argos, Tesco or Ticketmaster! Again, this offer isn't on our usual listings, so be sure to sign up via the link in this blog post.5
NOW Broadband's offer of 6 month Entertainment Pass and free Anytime calls on all their broadband products is still going, but you'll need to hurry as it ends early next week. If you're looking to watch the final season of Game of Thrones, then this may be the perfect deal for you. The Entertainment Pass comes with 11 pay TV entertainment channels not available on Freeview, including Sky Atlantic, FOX, Comedy Central and Discovery Channel, and over 300 Box Sets to watch On Demand. Brilliant Broadband is £18 a month, Fab Fibre£25 a month and, in areas where it's available, Super Fibre is £30 a month. If you're an existing Entertainment Pass customer taking out a new broadband contract, then you can redeem this offer in the final 30 days of your current subscription.6
Finally, a fantastic offer for people in broadband not-spots who can get a decent mobile signal. 4G home broadband from Three is just £25 a month and comes with a Huawei AI Cube, a wireless router that acts like a smart speaker and has the Alexa voice assistant built in. What's more, you also get unlimited data each month! If you're not interested in smart gadgets, then Three's basic HomeFi deal also boasts unlimited data for just £22 a month. Find out all you need to know about 4G home broadband in our dedicated help page on the subject.7
All offers available to new customers only unless otherwise specified. Some offers only available in provider network areas. Use our Use our postcode checker to find out what's available in your area. See respective landing pages for full terms and conditions and details of how to claim rewards.
1. Standard broadband products are on a 12 month contract, fibre products on an 18 month contract. Connection fees may apply. Prices increase at the end of the offer period when your contract is up, see website for out of contract prices. Customers outside Plusnet Low Cost network areas pay an additional £7.50 per month on all broadband products. Plusnet reward is a prepaid Mastercard of the specified amount. Offers end 11:59pm 7th May.
2. All BT products are on an 18 month contract. Connection fees may apply. Prices increase from month 19, see website for out of contract prices. BT reward is a prepaid Mastercard of the specified amount. Offers end 11:59pm 7th May.
3. SSE Unlimited Fibre is on an 18 month contract. You must enter a valid email address on the Giftcloud landing page before you sign up. Offer ends 11:59pm 5th May.
4. Sky deals are on an 18 month contract. You must enter a valid email address on the WeGift landing page before you sign up. Offer ends 11:59pm 7th May.
5. TalkTalk Fast Broadband is on a 12 month contract. You must enter a valid email address on the Giftcloud landing page before you sign up. Offer ends 11:59pm 9th May.
6. NOW Broadband products come on a 12 month contract, or a 1 month contract with a £60 setup fee. Offer is also available on their 1 month contracts, though an ongoing broadband subscription is required for the 6 month pass. Pass auto-renews from month 7 at £7.99 a month, unless cancelled. You can cancel any time. Offer ends 11:59pm 7th May.
7. 24 month minimum contract. Availability and speeds vary depending on the mobile coverage in your area and level of usage on the same cell tower. Traffic prioritisation will apply so some services may be slower during peak times. Check coverage for your area on the Three website.
It's always nice to get rewards and free gifts on top of a good broadband deal, so we've put together a list of the best of those deals from this week for you to choose from.
Plusnet Broadband and Phone bundles each come with a reward card this week. Unlimited Broadband comes with a £75 reward card and is priced at £18.99 a month. Both Fibre products come with a £50 reward card, and are priced at £23.99 a month for Unlimited Fibre and £27.99 a month for Unlimited Fibre Extra. You'll need to hurry, as these offers end on Tuesday!1
SSE have a £50 pre-paid Mastercard on offer with their Unlimited Broadband package, which costs £18 a month for the duration of your contract. This offer is also only available through the link in this blog post.3
BT have reward cards on nearly all of their packages. Their basic Broadband with Weekend Calls and a £30 reward card is only £24.99 a month. If you're looking for a Fibre package, then you can get Superfast Fibre with a £50 reward card for £29.99 a month or, if it's available in your area, you can get Superfast Fibre 2 with a £70 reward card for £39.99 a month. TV packages with reward cards are also available.4
1. Offer available to new customers only. Standard broadband products are on a 12 month contract, fibre products on an 18 month contract. Connection fees may apply. Prices increase at the end of the offer period when your contract is up, see website for out of contract prices. Plusnet reward is a pre-paid Mastercard of the specified amount. You will need to claim this reward yourself once your broadband is up and running using instructions that should be sent to you by email. See Plusnet site for reward card terms and conditions. Offers ends midnight 26th February.
2. Offer available to new customers only. All Vodafone products are on an 18 month contract. Vouchers are a choice between Amazon.co.uk, Currys PC Word, Marks & Spencer or Ticketmaster. You will need to claim this reward yourself once your broadband is up and running using instructions that should be sent to you by email. See offer page for full terms and conditions and how to claim. Offer ends midnight 28th February.
3. Offer available to new customers only. Offer is on an 18 month contract, SSE will contact you before this is up to inform you have price rises from month 19. Vouchers are a choice between Amazon.co.uk, Currys PC Word, Marks & Spencer or Ticketmaster. You will need to claim this reward yourself once your broadband is up and running using instructions that should be sent to you by email. See offer page for full terms and conditions and how to claim.
4. Offer available to new customers only. All BT products are on an 18 month contract. Connection fees may apply. Prices increase from month 19, see website for out of contract prices. BT reward is a pre-paid Mastercard of the specified amount. You will need to claim this reward yourself once your broadband is up and running using instructions that should be sent to you by email. See BT site for reward card terms and conditions. Offers ends midnight 28th February.