TalkTalk has been accused of taking its customers for April fools after it said it would be raising bills for those who signed up to a fixed-price broadband contract.
Customers are furious at what they say is the company’s “unscrupulous” behaviour after it quietly ripped up its price promise and announced a £24-a-year increase.
For its part, TalkTalk said the unexpected rise in its costs caused by the Covid-19 crisis and the boom in internet use had forced its hand.
While all of the big broadband providers have announced inflation-busting increases in recent weeks, the manner of TalkTalk’s has been a step too far for some.
Anthony Belcher signed an 18-month broadband contract with TalkTalk last May, locking in, he thought, at £23.50 a month. Along with millions of others – some of whom signed two-year deals – he was told at the time that there would be no mid-contract price rises.
However, in March, the company, which has more than 4 million customers, emailed everyone to say the prices would be going up £2 a month, from 1 April – an 8.5% increase in Belcher’s case.
TalkTalk also announced that prices will start rising by 3.7% plus inflation (consumer prices index) every April from 2022 onwards, bringing it into line with rivals.
It has also launched a new Fixed Price Plus contract, and claims it will honour the terms this time around.
“I’m furious,” said Belcher, who lives near Warwick and has been a TalkTalk customer for more than eight years.
“For the company to rip up the agreement 10 months later is to me outrageous, and sharp practice. I spent two hours on the phone to them complaining, at which point they tried to get me to sign up to a new fixed-price contract. Why would I sign up to another fixed-price contract when it reneged on the last one?”
In a 19-page discussion of the price increase on TalkTalk’s community forum, customers have queued up to express their anger, with some reporting the company to the Competition and Markets Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority.
Customers argue that they were, in effect, in an asymmetrical contract. TalkTalk would have heavily penalised them had they wanted to leave mid-contract but has been able to walk away, penalty-free, by giving customers 30 days to leave, they argue.
The regulator Ofcom told Guardian Money that TalkTalk had not broken any rules and that the matter was a “commercial decision” by the firm.
“Providers must clearly and prominently set out any future price rises in the contract when you sign up. If a provider puts prices up by more than the amount, the customer has 30 days to leave the contract without facing any exit penalties,” an Ofcom spokesman said.
Customers contacting TalkTalk’s customer services (0345 1725157) and threatening to leave this week have reported being offered increasingly good deals to stay – raising the question of why the company made the decision in the first place.
TalkTalk said: “Over this extraordinary last year, we’ve seen broadband usage soar by 40% and we’ve had to invest heavily in our network as a result. Unfortunately, this has meant that, alongside other ISPs [internet service providers] such as BT, Virgin and Sky, we have had to raise our prices. TalkTalk’s commitment to always provide affordable broadband for all is resolute. Our prices remain lower than our major competitors and these changes are smaller than the rises recently outlined by several of our competitors.”