The regulator is aims to ensure that Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) customers are not being disincentivised from changing to another service provider due to onerous termination procedures

Today, UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced an investigation into Virgin Media O2 following complaints from customers about the company’s cancellation practices.

Ofcom rules require that VMO2 ensure that the conditions or procedures for contract termination do not act as disincentives for customers against changing their communications provider.

Customer complaints made to the regulator, however, spoke of the difficulty in cancelling their contract, noting trouble connecting to an agent on the phone, calls dropping during conversation staff, and being placed on hold for long periods of time. Others also complained that they had made repeated attempts to cancel after their initial requests were not actioned.

The announced investigation will seek to verify the legitimacy of these complaints, as well as assessing whether VMO2 had made it clear to customers that they could take disputes to an independent ombudsman after eight weeks if their complaints had not been satisfactorily resolved.

If found to be in breach of Ofcom’s rules, VMO2 is likely to face a fine and instructions to change its procedures where appropriate.

“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,” said Ofcom’s chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s Chief Executive. “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.”

In it’s online statement, Ofcom noted that VMO2 scored below average for call waiting times and satisfaction with complaint handling in their annual customer satisfaction report.

In a statement, VMO2 defended itself, said it is “committed to providing our customers with excellent service” and pointing out that complaints related to customers having difficulty leaving their contracts have halved over the past year.

It is worth noting here that the UK’s ISPs are currently wrestling with instructions from Ofcom to implement One Touch Switching (OTS), a system that would theoretically allow customers to jump from one network to another at the click of a button.

Ofcom made the decision to introduce OTS back in September 2021, saying it would to allow customers to switch ISPs quickly and painlessly, as well as helping them avoid paying for two services simultaneously during the transition period between two services.

However, implementing OTS across all of the UK’s broadband networks is a significant technical challenge, hence the regulator gave the nation’s ISPs until 3 April 2023 to make the requisite arrangements.

Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that this deadline was overly ambitious, with estimates suggesting an industry co-developed OTS platform would not be ready for service until 2024. The April deadline came and went without OTS being implemented, with Ofcom subsequently launching an investigation into the industry’s failure.

Once OTS is finally implemented, it is likely that a large portion of the complaints for which VMO2 is currently being investigated will be a thing of the past. How long consumers will have to wait for these capabilities, however, remains to be see.

Will OTS have a major impact on the dynamics of the UK ISP sector? Join the operators in discussion at this year’s Connected Britain conference

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