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Virgin Media probed as complaints mount over exit ‘barriers’

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The telecoms regulator will investigate Virgin Media’s compliance with contract termination clauses and its complaint handling process.

The investigation follows complaints from Virgin Media customers that the company is making it difficult for them to cancel their services.

Ofcom rules are clear that the conditions or procedures telecoms providers have in place regarding contract termination must not act as a disincentive for customers who wish to cancel their contract.

The regulator said that being able to switch provider easily is an important part of a competitive market and being able to switch to a cheaper deal is particularly important in the current cost-of-living crisis.

Ofcom is concerned about the number of complaints it has received from Virgin Media customers who struggled to get through to an agent on the phone or found their call was dropped mid-way through.

In other cases, they were put on hold for long periods. Many said they had to make lengthy and repeated requests to cancel, as their initial instruction was not actioned.

Complaints handling procedure probed

As well as probing whether Virgin Media has complied with its contract termination rules, Ofcom’s investigation will also look at whether it has failed to meet its requirements on complaints handling. This will include whether customers were appropriately informed of their right to escalate their complaint to an independent ombudsman.

If the regulator finds that Virgin Media has breached its rules, Ofcom has the power to issue a fine and direct the company to take remedial action or change its procedures.

Melanie Dawes, Ofcom chief executive, said: “Our rules are there to protect people and make sure consumers can take advantage of cheaper deals that are on offer. That’s particularly important at the moment as households look for ways to keep their bills down.

“We’re taking action today, on behalf of Virgin Media’s customers, to investigate whether the company is putting unnecessary barriers in the way of those who want to switch away.”

Reputation and retention

Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie, said: “Any allegation that Virgin is making it tough for customers to cancel its services is a very bad look for the UK’s third-biggest broadband provider, particularly in the midst of a bitter cost-of-living crisis.

“Customer retention is likely to be the provider’s top priority, but there is never an excuse for any lapses in service. Latest figures on call handling showed that Virgin Media customers still had to wait longer than the industry average. Their website’s help section on billing and payments is also tough to navigate with no live chat or phone number.

“If Ofcom’s investigation finds the company in breach of its rules the damage to its reputation is likely to far outweigh any fine.”

A Virgin Media spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing our customers with excellent service, supporting them with any issues and giving clear options should they wish to leave. Complaint rates relating to ‘difficulties leaving’ have halved over the past year, showing the progress we’re making, and we will keep working with Ofcom throughout its investigation, while making further improvements in how we handle customer complaints to provide a better overall experience.”

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