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End-of-contract notifications: everything you need to know

In May 2019, Ofcom announced plans to introduce new rules governing end-of-contract notifications (ECNs). These rules came into force over a year ago, in February 2020, and should help ensure that UK subscribers to broadband, mobile and TV services are treated fairly and are notified about the best new deals. So, let’s look closer at this handy scheme.

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What are Ofcom end-of-contract notifications?

Legally, your end-of-contract notification for mobile, TV and broadband services must now include the following information:

  • How much you’re paying on your current plan

  • Details about the services you receive

  • The date that your current contract is due to expire

  • How much you’ll be paying if your contract expires and you don’t take action 

  • Information about any notice periods for terminating your contract that may apply

  • The best tariffs currently available from the provider 

  • There may be additional information included, like further details of your plan or guides to terminating your contract. 

How do I receive my end-of-contract notification?

End-of-contract notifications are just that - your service provider needs to notify you and this can be done through email, text or letter. You should have a preferred method of communication with your provider for receiving regular bills and correspondence. Your end-of-contract notification will be sent the same way. 

Why do we need end-of-contract notifications? 

Broadband, TV and mobile customers typically sign contracts lasting 12, 18 or 24 months – although some are even longer. While you’re locked into one of these plans, you won’t be able to switch providers or cancel your service without facing early termination fees, which can be significant. 

Your contract will feature a minimum contract period, however, and once this passes, you’re free to switch providers. But, one of the main reasons Ofcom introduced ECNs is because many customers were not aware of their contract renewal options and therefore made no effort to change providers. 

Before the new rules covering ECNs were introduced by Ofcom, it was up to the customer to know when their contracts were ending. Some service providers would choose to send out notifications, but it wasn’t mandatory to do so until the new rule came into place in February 2020.

What does out-of-contract mean? 

An out-of-contract customer is one whose contract has expired without any action being taken. Rather than cancelling your services altogether, when your contract expires, providers will instead continue to serve you, but often on a much higher tariff than you enjoyed when you were in-contract. This is why it is important to make sure that you know when your contract is ending and when you are notified to do something about it.

What happens if I don’t switch?

Studies from Ofcom found that almost nine million UK customers were overpaying for their services. Out-of-contract price hikes meant those customers were collectively paying £1 billion more per year, largely because they weren’t made aware that their contract was ending or given enough time to find a new deal.  End-of-contract notifications ensure customers are kept informed and won’t end up paying for services on expensive out-of-contract terms because of ignorance. 

My TV, mobile or broadband contract is ending. When will I receive my notification?

Networks and providers are now required to contact you 10 to 40 days before your contract expires. Of course, the earlier the notification, the better, but even 10 days’ notice is ample time to shop around and find a new contract that suits you, or to renew your current plan. 

What should I do once I receive an end-of-contract notification? 

Once you’ve received an end-of-contract notification, it’s time to start shopping around to find the best new deal. The broadband, mobile and TV industries are all highly competitive with a large number of service providers, which means that new plans are regularly introduced to tempt customers to switch. 

With that in mind, the plan you’re currently on may not be the best one available. If you’re coming to the end of a 24-month contract, two years’ worth of new plans have been introduced to entice customers to change providers since you signed your last deal. Changing plans also means that you can choose a different mobile phone and the perks that may come with this.

What if I like my current broadband/TV/mobile provider?

Even if you like the provider you’re with currently, it’s crucial to have a look at their newer tariffs. By not taking any action, you face potential price hikes by being switched to out-of-contract terms. Changing doesn’t mean you have to change provider, but it is worth making sure that you are on a contract that is the best price for you.

You can use a comparison tool to find a new deal. In some cases, you may be able to bundle your broadband, mobile and TV services in a single plan, and every plan will offer its own perks and features.

Will I be told if I am out of contract?

Yes, Ofcom realised that even the new ECN regulations may not be enough to save some customers from falling victim to pricey out-of-contract deals, so it also introduced out-of-contract notifications. As a result, providers are required to send tariff information about their best available deals to any out-of-contract customers at least once a year, prompting those customers to find a new deal. 

What will my mobile network charge me for being out-of-contract?

Some major mobile providers make allowances for out-of-contract customers, so you may not be hit quite so hard.

O2

At the end of their contract, O2 customers will be moved to one of O2’s 30-day airtime-only deals. 

Virgin Mobile

Customers will be moved to 30-day SIM-only deals with similar data and minute allowances to their expired contracts. 

Vodafone, EE and Tesco Mobile 

These three networks have committed to reducing monthly prices for out-of-contract customers, but don’t offer any set plan.

Three

Three has not yet announced any specific measures for out-of-contract customers. 

How to switch service provider

Most providers will tell you how to end your contract in their ECN, but the following advice applies in most cases.

How to switch your broadband provider 

Switching your broadband provider should be a reasonably straightforward process. Most of the time, your new provider will do all the legwork for you, so you don’t even need to contact your current supplier. Most major broadband providers operate on the same network –  Openreach – so switching is easy. Moving to or from a provider that uses its own cable network, like Virgin Mobile, for example, may take a bit longer as it will involve extra cabling to be laid. The process for this is straightforward and will be undertaken by a Virgin Media contractor.

Once you’ve found a plan that works for you, it is usually a simple case of signing up for that package online. Your new provider will then contact your current supplier and cancel your existing contract on your behalf. The switch usually takes about two weeks to complete. You’ll have a 14-day grace period to back out of the new contract arrangements without being charged should you change your mind. If you’re switching to or from Virgin Mobile or Hyperoptic, you will need to contact both your old and new providers to arrange the switch. 

How to switch your mobile phone provider 

The process for switching your mobile phone provider is similar to the approach used for broadband, but with a couple of extra steps because of the phone number linked to your account. If you want to keep your current phone number when switching providers, you need to obtain a PAC (Porting Authorisation Code). If you’re switching, but you don’t mind giving up your current number, you need to get a STAC (Service Termination Authorisation Code). 

Both codes are available from your current provider. The introduction of the new Text to Switch regulations makes getting these codes quick and easy:

  • To get a PAC code, text PAC to 65075

  • To get a STAC code, text STAC to 75075

You should receive your code within a minute, and you’ll have 30 days to use it. 

When you sign up for your new plan, simply give your new provider your PAC or STAC code when asked. Just like with broadband, your new supplier will handle the switch for you, so you don’t need to contact your existing provider.

How to switch your TV provider

Most pay-TV subscriptions are only offered bundled alongside broadband services, so the switch would happen at the same time as your broadband. If you prefer to keep your pay-TV account separate, you may need to contact both providers to make the switch, particularly if you’re switching from Sky to Virgin Media or vice versa. 

There may be some extra steps involved when it comes to satellites and TV boxes, including returning the box, so it’s best to contact your new provider ahead of switching to answer any questions you may have about the process. 

Why didn’t I get an ECN?

Customers on 30-day rolling contracts are not legally required to receive end-of-contract notifications.