Switching Broadband Suppliers

Our comprehensive guide to changing broadband providers

Switching to a new broadband supplier is easy. Whether you want to get a cheaper deal or faster internet access, we’ll answer your questions and tell you exactly what to expect when you switch.

Switching broadband is easier than ever

Due to new Ofcom regulations in force since the 20th of June 2015, the process of switching has been standardised and simplified. Migration codes are done away with and, if you're switching broadband services on the same phone line with the same telephone number, you'll always follow the same process regardless of which provider you choose.

Start with your new provider

Under the new system your switch works in one of two ways. Either your new provider handles everything, or you need to also cancel your existing service or parts of that service. Either way, the first thing you do is to sign up to your new provider online or over the phone, they'll then let you know if you need to do anything else.

In the majority of cases, your chosen new provider then leads the entire process of migrating everything over to the products you've chosen, with no need for you to contact your old provider. This means that there are fewer phone calls or unexpected charges, and less risk of losing your phone number during your switch.

If your current provider also supplies you with a television service, or if you're moving to or from a cable or full-fibre service like those from Virgin Media or Hyperoptic, then the situation may be a little more complicated (see How to switch broadband provider below) but in all cases the best thing to do is to start with your new provider who will advise you whether you need to also get in touch with your current provider in order to proceed.

Common concerns and worries about switching

Unhappy with your current provider but not sure if switching to another will be too much hassle? This section examines common concerns than many people have when they consider changing broadband suppliers.

Will I lose service during the switch?

Under the new switching process, you're much less likely to experience lengthy downtime when switching broadband providers. Your new provider will advise you when the switch will happen and if you can expect any loss of service while it takes place.

If you're only switching your broadband on your telephone line and not any bundled phone service (you're changing between two broadband-only suppliers) then you will experience only a few minutes of downtime as the switch automatically takes place. In fact, you are often given some choice in when the switch will take place so that it's not at an inconvenient time.

If you're also switching who you pay for phone calling and line rental at the same time as your broadband (changing to a broadband and phone suppler) then there may be a bit more downtime as an engineer may have to visit your local exchange to make changes to your line, but this shouldn't be long, at most a few hours. The same applies when switching from standard phoneline broadband on one supplier to a part-fibre service like BT Superfast Fibre or TalkTalk Fibre from another supplier, but in this case your street cabinet (green street boxes that sometimes say 'Fibre broadband is here') may also need a visit.

If you're switching between types of broadband that are delivered into your home in different ways (such as going from standard phone line broadband to Virgin Media cable broadband, or from Virgin Media to a part-fibre service like Plusnet Fibre that uses the phone lines) then your old service cannot be switched automatically and must be fully cancelled and replaced with a new service.

Cancelling one service then signing up for another could cause a lot of down time, but there's no reason why your old connection has to be switched off before your new service can be activated. As they're totally separate to each other, you can have both running at the same time, until you're sure that the new broadband service works and you're happy with it. Remember, thanks to distance selling regulations, you have 14 days to decide to leave your new service after you agree to the contract.

Alternatively, if you choose to port the phone number on the line attached to your existing broadband service, this could automatically cancel your old service once the new one has started and the new phoneline (or VOIP service) is assigned the ported number. Be careful though, cable or full-fibre services like Virgin Media and Hyperoptic tend to provide phone as an entirely separate optional add-on, so cancelling this wouldn't end your broadband service.

What about the contract with my current provider?

In most cases your new provider will do all the work to end your contract with your current provider. After signing up, you'll receive a letter from the old provider outlining anything that hasn't been automatically cancelled and any remaining costs you have to pay. This letter will also give you 14 days in which to cancel the switch.

If you're outside of the minimum contract term you signed up for with your old provider then all you should usually expect to pay is the cost of any calls and usage since your last bill, and possibly a small charge to make changes in your telephone exchange.

If your new provider advises you that you have to separately contact your old provider to cancel your service then you might be required to give 30 days notice and/or pay an exit charge to leave this contract. Having a little overlap may in fact be in your benefit as this scenario will usually mean you're switching to a service delivered to your home over a separate line (or cable), so you'll be able to run both broadband services in parallel without downtime while the new service is installed.

Some broadband suppliers offer or require you to have line rental with them in order to provide you with broadband. In these cases you should be aware of any line rental contracts you have with other telephone companies, such as BT, to make sure that you're not tied into anything that may prevent you from switching, or mean you lose out financially. For example, if you paid for a year of line rental upfront then you change to another phone provider after 6 months, you usually won't get a refund for the 6 months of extra line rental you don't use.

I don't want to be tied in to a long contract

A number of providers have a choice of contracts lengths available. The longer 12 or 18 month contracts are often cheaper or come with a free router.

There may also be 1 month contracts available so you can switch providers whenever you choose, although setup fees may be higher. If you're interested in switching to a broadband supplier with a short-term contract, take a look at the latest short contract deals here.

I don't want to lose my phone number

Under the old switching system switching between particular providers could sometimes result in losing your phone number. This was because the same phoneline had to have its service stopped and then restarted by a new provider, as if it was a new line. Under the new system this should never need to happen so your phone number shouldn't be at risk. All services should be transferred at the same time, so you should only experience a minimal loss of service.

In cases where your new provider advises you that you'll have to contact your old provider to cancel that service, this will usually mean that your old service is on a separate line or cable to your new service. As such, the process of changing phone numbers should simply be Ofcom's standard process for 'porting' a phone number from one line to another. Simply contact your new provider and advise them that you want to port your number. This should work in both directions, for example porting a number back from Virgin Media to BT or another phoneline provider should be no problem as long as the number matches the BT telephone exchange's area code.

I don't want to lose my email address

People can get very attached to their email addresses, but is it worth sticking with a poor-quality service just to keep an email address? Ask yourself this: would you choose to never move house because you'd have to change your postal address? The answer is probably no.

Some broadband suppliers will allow you to continue to access your old email account via the web. AOL offers this for free, and BT will do this for a monthly charge. However, many suppliers don't do this, and you will need to get a new email address.

Changing your email address and informing everyone about it can be an annoying hassle to start with, but is worth it in the long run. In fact, you can start to do that before you even start moving to a new broadband supplier!

It's worth signing up for an email address that's independent from your broadband supplier, especially as it means your email address is always future-proofed. If you have to switch to a new broadband provider later on, then you don't have to change your email address again. Gmail is a free email provider from Google that gives you spam protection and a huge amount of storage space. You can access it on the web at the Gmail website, or you can set up an email client on your computer (such as Outlook or Thunderbird) and download your email that way.

Some broadband suppliers will allow you to set up your email address to forward emails on to another address. This means you can keep an eye out for any services you're signed up for with the old email address and change them, and catch any personal contacts you may have missed with the initial switch.

If your current broadband supplier doesn't offer that, you still have plenty of time to inform everyone you know about your new email address before you switch to a new broadband supplier.

I don't want to sign up for a new broadband provider online

Then call us! Our team is happy to help you get signed up with a new provider over the phone on 0800 093 0405.

Alternatively you can use this form to book a call back from us at a time that's convenient for you.

How to switch broadband supplier

So you've decided that you want to switch but you're not sure what's involved. Switching to a new broadband provider is normally pretty simple, especially since the new Ofcom regulations simplified the process from the 20th of June 2015.

Exactly which switching process you'll use depends on what kind of broadband you currently have. This section talks you through more of the details of the process for different types of broadband.

If you're not sure about what type of broadband you currently have, it should tell you on the paperwork your current provider sent you when you signed up. You could also call your current provider to find out. If you're happy that you know who you want to switch to, the best thing to do is to simply start the process of switching to that provider, they should tell you everything you need to do and in most cases they'll handle everything else with no need to contact your current provider.

What exactly has changed under the new system?

Before the 20th of June 2015 there were 3 different ways to switch broadband, depending on various factors that were not always obvious to customers looking to switch.

You might have had to contact your old provider to either request a special migration or MAC code to give to your new provider, you might have been forced to pay a charge to get your old provider to shut down your phone line and then pay another charge to get your new provider to set it back up again, or you might have been able to simply contact your new provider who would lead the entire process with no need to call anyone else or pay an extra charge.

Now the process has changed, you'll almost always be able to deal with your new provider who'll then do all the work with your old provider. The new system is called 'Gaining Provider Led' or GPL and should mean that MAC codes are a thing of the past, and that you'll only need to close down your phone line and pay to have it set up again if you genuinely need different cables to get the new broadband service into your home.

If you're switching using GPL then your new provider leads the entire process. You just go to their website or phone them up to sign up for your new service and then they'll arrange for the transfer to take place with your old provider. Your old provider will be required to send you a letter as a formal notification of the service ending, this will inform you of any final charges (such as for broadband usage or phone calls not yet paid for) that may apply, tell you if any bundled part of your service (such as a TV subscription or phone service) was not automatically cancelled, and allow you 14 days to change your mind and cancel the switch. If you're happy with the details then you won't need to reply to this letter.

What if I change my mind about switching?

Under the GPL system, if you decide that you don't want to switch your broadband to a new supplier after all, then you would need to contact the new provider before the switchover date to cancel the transfer.

Remember, under distance selling regulations, customers have a right to change their mind during the 14 day cooling-off period after agreeing to a new contract without incurring any penalty fees. Ofcom's voluntary code of practice for broadband providers also allows you to leave your contract if you're receiving a much slower speed than you were advised to expect at sign up, as long as you've given your provider a reasonable chance to fix it.

Once your switch is organised, your existing provider will send you a letter informing you how long you have and the process to use to cancel the switch and prevent their services from being cancelled.

Will I be charged when I switch?

The new GPL system means that you'll no longer be charged a 'new line' installation fee when switching between broadband and phone suppliers on the same telephone line.

If you're outside of the minimum contract term you signed up for with your old provider then all you should usually expect to pay is the cost of any calls and usage since your last bill, and, for some types of switch, a small charge for making changes at your exchange.

If you're still within your contract period, you may be expected to cover the cost of all the remaining months that you originally agreed to pay for, possibly upfront, and/or some other early termination fee. This will be outlined in the letter you receive. If you're yet to switch, check your contract for details or talk to your current provider for early termination costs. Once you know the cost of leaving early, you'll need to decide if it's worth paying to end your contract, or if you're better off waiting until your minimum term ends.

If there are any problems preventing you from switching after you've signed up with your chosen supplier, you have 14 days to cancel the new contract without penalty.

Could an unscrupulous provider switch my broadband without my permission?

While you should always be careful not to give out direct debit details or fill in forms when you're not intending to switch, if a company tries to force you to switch to a product you didn't intend to sign up for then you'll be contacted by your existing provider who'll let you know exactly what's been switched to which company and the process you can use in the first 14 days to prevent this switch from taking place.

If you have been 'slammed' in this way, you can report the provider in question to Ofcom, or report them to the Internet Service Providers' Association if they're a member.

Does this GPL system cover all broadband switches?

The Gaining Provider Led system can only work in situations where you will stay on the same telephone line with the same telephone number. Most broadband products use your copper phone line as maintained by Openreach (a BT Group company) to get the service into your home. This includes most fibre products like BT Superfast Fibre, TalkTalk Fibre, Plusnet Fibre etc. So in most cases GPL will apply.

The situations where you can't use GPL are when either your current or your new broadband product doesn't use any part of the Openreach telephone network. This will apply to customers switching to or from Virgin Media, as they use coaxial cables and their own street cabinets instead of copper phone lines, or when changing to or from Hyperoptic, Gigaclear or DirectSave Fibre To The Home, as they use a full fibre optic system with no phone line needed.

In some cases bundled products like television services or phone calling features may block the GPL switching process, for example, if phone from your current supplier is only available when bundled with the broadband that you're switching to a broadband-only supplier. If the switch is blocked then your new provider will get in contact to explain the situation and how to resolve it.

In most cases, a switch involving bundled TV will cancel the broadband and phone elements but leave a television service in place. The letter you receive from your existing provider will explain which bundled services have not been automatically cancelled, you will then need to contact them separately if you intend for these to also stopped.

There may also be very rare cases in which things may get complicated due to odd setups or outdated equipment, but if this applies to you your new broadband provider should contact you to discuss this with you.

What's the process when GPL doesn't apply?

If you're switching between broadband services that enter your home over completely different lines or cables then you'll likely use a different system called Cease And Re-provide. The most common example would be switching to or from cable broadband products provided by Virgin Media, but would also apply with full-fibre services like Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Direct Save Fibre To The Home, IFNL, B4RN etc.

With Cease And Re-provide you have to contact both your new and existing providers to ensure that your old service is cancelled when your new service starts. With the introduction of standardised GPL across Openreach phoneline switches, you should only need to Cease And Re-provide broadband when 2 different types of line or cable are used to get the broadband service into your home. As such, you should have the flexibility to either coordinate things separately so one service ends as the other starts (note, it is very usual to have a 30 day notice period to end an existing rolling contract) or to have both services overlap for a little while, not cancelling your old service until you're happy that your new service is working.

Usually when you cease your current contract, you'll be charged an exit fee. On the Openreach network this is usually £30 and covers the cost the providers are required to pay to Openreach when their engineers disconnect your line from the system. You'll generally also be charged an installation cost for setting up the new line or cable to connect your new broadband service, but this is commonly covered entirely or subsidised by introductory special offers.

I'm still confused and need some more help with switching

You can get free and impartial advice and help with switching over the phone from our Ofcom accredited phone service by calling 0800 093 0405 (or we can call you), or you can contact our Broadband Expert to ask questions by email.

Ofcom also provide a guide to switching broadband providers.