How do I change my home broadband supplier?

For most people, changing their home broadband supplier is no more difficult than changing electricity or gas supplier. You’ll get a new router during the process but in most cases you’ll not need to do anything more than place your order and wait for your line to change between suppliers.

There can be complications if you have a combined TV, broadband and phone deal, for example, or if you’re switching away from Virgin or one of the smaller FTTP providers, but most people will hardly know the difference.

Moving to a new address

If you’re moving to a new address and are taking the opportunity to get yourself a better deal, the real time it takes to get a service up and running will become evident. With mobile phones we’re used to buying a service and being up and running the same or next day. Home broadband doesn’t work like that.

First there is the question of what services are available at the new address, then the state of any line (assuming one exists) at the property. Then, depending on this, you’ll have to wait while a line is installed, activated or re-activated and while Virgin seem to get this done in around 5-6 days, Openreach can comfortably take 10-16 days to do the same thing and If a totally new line needs running into the property, it can take even longer.

Common Questions and Answers

In simplistic terms, home broadband broadband services come in three main forms; Standard ADSL, Superfast Fibre (FTTC) and Ultrafast Fibre (FTTP). For most people the differences between them boil down to availability, speed and cost. Click this link to read more about the different types of broadband available in the UK.

What broadband can I get at my address?

Sadly, this is one of those cases where the expression ‘postcode lottery’ is genuinely applicable. Networks like Virgin operate in specific areas and don’t have national coverage, as is the case with smaller FTTP providers. For the majority of addresses, your broadband services will be provided through the Openreach network – regardless of the name on your bill. Openreach own and run the network, and suppliers bill you for access to it.

The Openreach network is national, but the services available at a specific address depend on what your local exchange and cabinets are able to provide. We’ve found addresses near to Central London that can only get ADSL broadband and then quiet country villages that have blanket fibre availability.

To see what home broadband services are available at an address we recommend using the Ofcom availability checker.

The more you want to do and the more devices that are going to access the internet, the better a package you need. The number of devices connected makes a difference as any speeds will be shared between them.

For a single user with only a couple of devices who only wants to be able to check emails and do a little browsing, ADSL broadband should be sufficient and cost effective at £15-£20 a month.

If you run a family household or plan to stream TV/films to your TV via broadband, you will need to look at fibre broadband. A standard 40-10 fibre connection costing around £25-£30 on a new contract should be good enough. Some online gaming will be possible, but most gamers will generally prefer a faster package.

If you’re likely to be a heavy user or will have several people downloading, streaming or doing serious gaming, you’d be best advised looking at an 80-20 fibre connection. Typically these will cost around £28-£35 a month.

Higher speeds than these are possible with FTTP fibre connections but the truth is that few home users genuinely need that sort of speed, even if it’s nice to have and you can justify the cost.

The simple answer is yes, although this always assumes fibre broadband is available at your address. If it is, all you need to do is place an order for whatever service you want and the supplier will take care of the rest.

Once you’ve ordered the new service, your new (or existing) supplier will instruct the network (this means Openreach for most people) to upgrade your line. An engineer will be sent out to make whatever changes are needed. In some cases, depending on existing equipment, they may need to visit your home, so you’ll need to be available to let them in. They may only need to check and change your line sockets, but in some cases they may also need to fit new cables. Regardless of the work required, your involvement will be limited to letting the engineer in and keeping them supplied with tea and biscuits!

Your supplier will almost certainly send you a new router to use once your line has been upgraded. If you use your own router, you will need to check it is compatible and will probably need to reset it. Most suppliers will have tech support teams happy to explain what you need to do.

Download and upload speeds that don’t match customer expectations are one of the biggest causes for complaint from home broadband users. When you agree to a new contract, broadband suppliers tell you what your estimated (expected) upload and download speeds are likely to be. Ofcom rules now require this.

However, those speeds are affected by the number of users or devices logged on at any time, the quality of your router, whether you are using your devices via wifi or cabled connections and many other factors. In the writer’s experience, speeds can be crippled because the sockets and cables in the house had been updated and added to over the years by previous residents – it took an engineer’s visit to diagnose the faults and a couple of hours to sort it all out. With people paying freelance workers to add extensions and additional sockets, this is a more common problem that one might suppose.

“When I signed up it said the average speed was 30Mbps” (etc)

‘Average speeds’ are based on the average speed received by at least 50% of a provider’s current customer base between 8pm and 10pm – when most people are online. Average speeds, like average wages, are a guide and not a guarantee that you’ll get the same.

Most providers have signed up to a code of practice committing to give both a personalised estimate and a minimum guaranteed speed before you sign up. If your speeds drop below this minimum for three consecutive days you can ask your provider to check the line for a fault – and get it fixed if one exists. In most cases this means your broadband supplier will contact Openreach, ask them to run a line check and then instruct them to fix any faults they find.

If you signed up before 1 March 2019 and the problem remains unresolved for 30 days you should be able to terminate your contract and move to another provider, penalty-free. This escape clause applies to broadband-only deals and also bundled deals that include a TV package and phone line, provided you bought them at the same time as the broadband.

If you signed up before 1 March 2019, you may still be able to terminate your contract penalty-free – but there is no fixed time limit for providers to resolve your speed issues, and you probably won’t be able to get out of a bundled TV deal.

No. The company whose name is on your bill is unlikely to be the company that provide your services. The majority of people in the UK get their broadband services from Openreach, even if they don’t know it, and are paying a supplier such as BT, Sky, Plusnet, Onestream and so on to use the network.

Two neighbours in the same street might be paying £25 and £50 a month to different companies, yet both get their broadband from Openreach. The only thing that might be affected is the standard of customer services if things go wrong – but the financial savings far outweigh irritants like busy customer service lines – and even the most expensive suppliers on the market still get horrendous customer service complaints!

Most home broadband packages are provided via a phone line, meaning you need to have a phone line. Of course, you don’t have to use the phone and, increasingly, many people never do. If you already have a live phone line and want to add broadband, many providers will be able to sell you a broadband-only package but if you disconnect your landline, the broadband will go down with it!

Some companies such as Virgin Media offer broadband only deals with no phone line, and that’s down to the system they use to supply your services. Such packages are usually quite expensive compared to broadband and line packages from mainstream Openreach providers, but they can also offer higher speeds.

The vast majority of new broadband contracts offer unlimited downloads, which is excellent news for anyone using services like catch-up TV, box sets, movie streaming and gaming. One episode of Game of Thrones in HD uses up roughly 1GB, for example. Most people can download as much as they like.

Of course, if you have a contract that’s a couple of years old you may find you have a download limit and if so you will be getting charged extra when you go over that limit. If in doubt, check!

Changing supplier can take anywhere from 10-16 days and depends on your specific circumstances and relies on cooperation between suppliers. Ofcom rules say suppliers shouldn’t block transfers but it’s not uncommon to hear of old suppliers silently refusing transfer requests.

If you are with an Openreach supplier (for example BT, Plusnet and so on) and you are moving to another Openreach supplier, the process is quite simple. After you place an order with a new supplier they will contact Openreach to request that the line is transferred to them. Your old supplier is sent a transfer request and unless they have a good reason to refuse, they should accept it. They should also allow you to take your old landline number with you when you move.

The process does not require you to cancel your contract with your old supplier, provided you are outside your minimum contract term – this is handled by your new provider.

Most of the time, although an engineer will be sent to make changes to your line, they will not need to visit your address unless you are upgrading from ADSL to Fibre at the same time as transferring.

Virgin to Openreach

The notable exception to the above is if you are switching to or from Virgin. If this is the case you will need to cancel your old contract yourself.

There shouldn’t be any sort of exit or cancellation fee provided you are outside your contract minimum term. If you are still inside the minimum term and ‘early termination fee’ may apply. Broadband suppliers all have their own way of calculating these charges but however they do it, the final fee should be less than the cost of paying off the rest of your contract in full.

As a general rule the answer is no, and giving notice to your old supplier can sometimes cause problems, although if you are moving away from Virgin things are slightly different.

Changing supplier from one Openreach provider to another

All the major broadband suppliers (ie BT, Sky etc) with the notable exception of Virgin use the Openreach network. If you’re switching between two Openreach suppliers your new supplier will notify your existing supplier to cancel the contract. You don’t need to do anything yourself. The risk is that if you cancel your contract with your existing supplier, they may put a ‘cease order’ on your line, which effectively blocks anyone from taking it over!

That said, it doesn’t hurt to send a carefully worded email to your existing supplier confirming that you intend to TRANSFER your line to another supplier and that you give your permission for them to accept the impending transfer request. This then stops your old supplier from refusing the transfer on the grounds that you knew nothing about the request. It happens.

Changing broadband to or from Virgin

Virgin Media has its own private network and the process of changing supplier can be a little more complicated because your existing line with Virgin or Openreach will be cancelled and a new line activated with the other network. In this case you need to contact your existing supplier to give notice of cancellation. At this point you should be given a cancellation date, so you should be able to coordinate the start of your new services to ensure you don’t get any loss of service.

In 2019 Ofcom introduced an automatic compensation scheme and providers who sign up to the scheme will provide customers with fixed compensation amounts when certain things go wrong:

  • If your landline or broadband stops working and is not repaired within two working days of the supplier receiving your fault notification, you’ll receive £8 compensation plus £8 for each further day it remains unfixed.
  • If your new landline or broadband service is not up and running on the day stated by your supplier you’ll receive £5 for each day it’s delayed, including the missed start date. The amount of compensation builds up until it the line goes live.
  • If an engineer doesn’t arrive for an appointment as scheduled, or your appointment is cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice, you’ll receive £25.
  • Any compensation will be added as a credit to your account within 30 working days of the issue.

Which providers have signed up to Ofcom’s automatic compensation scheme?

At the time of writing five providers have joined – BT, Sky (incl Now Broadband), TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Zen.

The reality is probably not. While the compensation scheme sounds great, it will only affect the small number of people who suffer from drawn-out problems. Most customers will never directly benefit from it, assuming they even know it exists.

In simple terms, there is a big difference between the cheapest new contract deals and what most customers actually pay. If you’re on a BT standard broadband contract and have been with them for a while you can easily save £400 a year by changing supplier. It’s fair to say that the chances of Ofcom’s compensation deal being worth more than the savings from changing supplier are relatively slim. Of course, if you have a history of problems with services at your address, it makes sense to find a supplier who might compensate you from them – but if the problems aren’t resolvable you won’t be compensated forever and we have heard of customers whose suppliers have told them to find a new supplier because their problems just aren’t fixable.

What do I do if I have a problem and the supplier hasn’t joined Ofcom’s scheme?

Exactly the same as if your supplier had joined the scheme – advise them of the fault. They’ll get on to Openreach and ask them to resolve the fault. If you don’t tell them, they won’t know it needs fixing!