/ Technology

Ask Which? – compensation when my broadband goes down

Spanner on laptop

Peter asks: We lost connection to our BT Broadband for 14 out of 18 days. We contacted them repeatedly, and an adviser asked my elderly wife to crawl on the floor to unscrew the plug and check all the connections!

They told us the problem had to be in our flat. We said we’d had the same problem a number of times before and each time the problem was in the BT exchange. After several long and frustrating conversations, they sent out an engineer.

He spent a lot of time here and eventually concluded that the problem was at the exchange. At 4pm he returned and told us that we had had absolutely no connection at the exchange and was not surprised that we had no line. He created a new connection and now all is well.

We phoned and asked for compensation for the 14 days loss of internet, frequent visits to a coffee shop to use their internet, and for the amount of time we spent on the phone to BT customer services. After a lot of argument they offered us £4.52 in compensation.

I feel strongly that BT broke their contract with us to supply a full service and took exceptionally long to reconnect us and therefore for our time and inconvenience we should have got a fair compensation.

Emily Brunwin in our Consumer Rights team responds:

This sounds like a really frustrating situation. When you have a contract with a service provider, under the Supply of Goods and Services Act you’re entitled to get the services you were promised, provided with reasonable skill and care.

As you are unhappy with BT’s response to your problem, you could try making a formal complaint using their complaints procedure, if you haven’t already.

It’s rare for the law to require compensation be paid for inconvenience. In terms of the additional expenses that you occurred while visiting the coffee shop to use the internet, it really depends on what they were. If you paid a direct fee for use of the internet, BT may consider this. However, if internet was free but you needed to buy a coffee to use it, it is unlikely that this will be compensated for, as it can be argued that you could have gone to an internet café, or library, to replace the service.

When you are seeking reimbursement, you will not be able to claim for both the loss of your internet, and the additional cost of paying for the same service elsewhere.

In terms of the money spent on calls to BT, if you can itemise your phone bill and identify the amount you spent, in your situation it’s not unreasonable to request reimbursement for this.

If you’re still not happy, and choose not to accept the reimbursement offered from BT, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) may help you settle your complaint. All broadband providers have to sign up to an ADR scheme. BT provide ADR through the Ombudsman Services: Communications. The Ombudsman has the additional right, above the law, to demand compensation be paid for inconvenience.

If your complaint has not been solved within eight weeks by BT, and it sounds like it hasn’t been, you can take it to the ombudsman, who will look at the evidence provided by both sides to come to a resolution.

Has your broadband ever gone down? Did your ISP treat you well and give you the compensation you felt you deserved?


I normally start to tweet Plusnet if my broadband goes down for more than 30mins. (I am online pretty much all day and use my laptop for catch-up tv & for my music too).

If I am down for more than half a day I start to ask for credit and normally they agree (well 100% of the time really).

I have never been down for more than half a day apart from when I joined them a few months ago. I had no internet for 2 full days. I was tweeting plusnet and Which? and they offered to give me one month free. So that totally made up for the downtime.

JoqueYoularre says:
23 November 2014

What, so getting, maybe £15 for free is acceptable for half a day of not being able to use something as potentially-crucial to modern life as the internet? That’s not £15 back in your pocket to do what you will with, but as ‘credit’ against money that you HAVE TO spend in the future with a provider who’s already got at least ONE black mark against them in the reliability stakes. Yeah, seems legit, bro…
You can’t hold companies to a high standard of service without checking the contract and leveraging proper legal weight against them, so they can lose the maximum money possible if they mess the customer about in any way. That’s the only way you can stop companies who make it part of their business model to mess customers about. Luckily, Plusnet don’t seem to. Although they are enslaved to the BT (Infrastructure / Wholesale / Openreach) MONOPOLY, which dictates the terms to the whole nation, unfortunately. Plusnet weren’t competent enough to detect a major line fault that was affecting broadband massively (300kbps synch speed). BT didn’t check it carefully enough with their incompetent systems, either. They threatened the full £££ cost of an engineer visit if the issue was not with their equipment. We couldn’t afford to risk it. Only when BT happened to send them out for a related but phone-related fault that had FINALLY got escalated properly, did the engineers find out that it was a fault in the line 90m away [ultimately due to lazy and disinterested, instead of pro-active, BT maintenance].
No-one there started doing their job until the last few % of the timescale. That’s pathetic, and this kind of hassle is worth a LOT more than a paltry low ££ figure. The Government Watchdog is just worthless and the laws stunt the economy by protecting heel-dragging companies and idiots with only their quarterly results and greed in mind, not engineering and service-excellence.
The UK is a great market for such ignorant companies, as it is full of weak-minded, low-self-esteem muppets who can’t stand up for themselves. Show me the % of people who get their due, if you want to accuse me of being too harsh. Capitalism doesn’t work that way – it will squeeze any element it can to produce more for those at the top. Ignorant, pliant people who don’t learn any better, are the most easily-squeezed part of the equation…

Edward says:
19 July 2016

If your broadband normally costs £10 -£20 per month, £15 credit on your bill for a day or several days seems more than reasonable as they are only required to reduce your bill by the actual cost of the service that should have been supplied. If companies are forced to pay more to everyone for line faults they will transfer that cost to the customer via higher bills.

My broadband connection goes down whenever there is a brief power cut, perhaps once every two months. Generally it’s working again in a short time but occasionally the service is not restored for hours. I just use mobile broadband if there is a problem. I would probably complain if I had no service for a couple of days, but that has not happened yet.

richard says:
6 September 2013

I am a happy Virgin customer – In the past roughly twenty years – I was the first customer in my area when NTL laid the cable ( As BT was so bad) It has been crystal clear ever since – The connection went down twice in all that time – rather than the five times a week under BT ( I was thrown off the internet by the net users as the BT connection was so bad) In each of the two disconnections it was repaired the NEXT DAY. Now BT put up posters locally stating the first broad band is now running – A total LIE – cable broadband has been with us locally for around 20 years – I wouldn’t trust BT for anything – not only was the connection appalling – but they tried to charge me for reverse charge calls when I was at work. Virgin forever.

I would love to move to Virgin, Richard. But the cost is a little bit too high for me 🙁

richard says:
7 September 2013

Can only say – BT and those companies using BT landlines were/are so bad locally that I did not have a proper local service at all – so I waited in eager anticipation until NTL laid their cable and applied the day NTL started work in 1995 – BT was often not working properly 4 days out of 5 – denied my connection was not working – and took ages to repair when they at last admitted it did not work – . From the Day NTL connected me the line was reliable and crystal clear and I had a telephone service and internet connection that BT were charging me for but did not deliver – it has gone wrong twice – both times due to the set top box which was replaced next day – It is more expensive but I use the internet about 6 hours a DAY and TV 24/7 due to dogs. So as far as I’m concerned it is a bargain – Can only add my friends opted to belong to Virgin when they compared my excellent service with whatever service they were using. Virgin’s help line is also good and FREE.

Seems my experience of Virgin has been completely the opposite, only last month broadband was down for the best part of 24 years ( I too have been a customer since the days of NT-helL) . You ring up their overseas call centre and they’re so working from a script, it takes them ages to get to recognising you have an issue. Only last week the line dropped in the middle of the day, and if I didn’t know any better it was probably cos some engineer unplugged a cable from a cabinet and to connect a new customer. And when they doubled my speed I still end up ringing as they’d not even done that properly. And only having broadband with them ( I ditched phone and tv cos the service was so poor) I get to use an 0845 number when I have a problem. Unfortunately their the only proper broadband and not ADSL pretending to be broadband, so I’m stuck.

JoqueYoularre says:
23 November 2014

I feel as though I’ve been ripped off by Virgin. I think that Virgin over-sold the capacity in my area which meant that my connection went down every few days / hours / far too much contention for bandwidth / never worked until 00:30hrs at night, which is unusable for most people.

[This comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

JoqueYoularre says:
23 November 2014

Oh, and to top it off, they kept shovelling (20 per week, minimum) flyers through the letterbox. Selling something they already couldn’t provide as it was!
When the physical connection was originally installed it was the best internet I had ever used and reliable as anything. Then Virgin Media bought out the company and it went downhill fast.

I am also a very happy Virgin Media customer. I have been with Virgin Media here in Norwich ever since broadband started in 2007. I have my broadband on almost 24/7/365-6 except when I am on holiday. It has only let me down once for a couple of hours a few years ago. I cannot believe how reliable and fast my service is. To be honest it has prevented me from moving out of Norwich into the countryside. I would be totally lost without it. One of my neighbour’s has had many problems with his BT line. I am so lucky and happy.

Virgin’s Broadband based on their cable service frequently went down and they regularly denied there was a problem. I spent time on the last occasion phoning over 4 days getting persons from the Indian Sub-continent who I could not understand and I believe were out of their depth. Eventually I spoke to a lady in Scotland who fixed ,
matters and told me there had been a major local problem.

As this was the last of many dropped Broadband connections I cancelled the whole Virgin phone TV Broadband package and went to John Lewis on ADSL who have good support.

Virgin’s service was dreadful and I can only hope they provide better maintenance support for their aircraft operation. Their cable tv service gives the brand a really bad name.

I started with Waitrose dial up, transferred to Greenbee broadband which then became John Lewis broadband. I’ve had excellent service, from customer service and technical support on free phone lines in intelligible english. When I had a problem of download capacity I had a refund and free unlimited download while they sorted out their accounting problem. I understand JL broadband is operated by Plusnet who are part of BT? How incestuous is this industry. But while I hear criticism of BT (my daughter had a long standing problem of erratic connection) I hear none of Plusnet or JL – how do BT get it so wrong?

I agree Malcolm. When I first joined Plusnet I was worried as they are owned by BT. But after searching online and reading how fast they replied to tweets for support I gave them a chance & was not disappointed.

I would not go back to BT again. I would also not pay extra for Virgin. So right now I am happy with plusnet & there Yorkshire call center 🙂

I have never had a real problem with BT over many years of using broadband, one or two brief outages perhaps but normal service restored very quickly. I am surprised that Peter, who has raised the question, was not offered an extra free month – that is so easy for BT to do and costs them absolutely nothing while enhancing their reputation. I think there is a new aggressive generation of customer service employees around nowadays but it is also a corporate cultural problem.

Caitlin says:
16 September 2013

I changed from BT (blooming terrible) ten years ago and joined Tiscali. With them now being TalkTalk, the service is diabolical. They have one last chance to improve, before I change. This last month I have been offline more than on, intermittently every few minutes. A wait of 12 days before an engineer can come out and check; though the fault is known to be between the exchange and the house. I fail to understand what a house-call will achieve apart from wasting yet more of my time. My current download speed is 0.20Mbps and upload speed 0.09. Some service eh.

Hope some Which staff will read these and give their opinions. Read down to the end of each one. Is compensation payable?



Also this from the first

“Damages in tort (including negligence) are usually limited to direct financial loss, so there appears to be no route to claim for consequential matters such as alternative broadband provision.”

Can you at Which do something about that? Start a campaign or include it in your next roundup? The law for damages isn’t good enough. If you loose your line and broadband, you don’t get replacement money to get another line and broadband while you wait for the first to be fixed. And you don’t get anything for lost earnings if you’re a home worker needing internet.

Can someone at Which please say something about these?

Peter Morgan says:
11 October 2013

> you don’t get anything for lost earnings if you’re a home worker needing internet.

Sorry, but if you work from home, one could argue that having a backup (such a USB dongle and go out to get PAYG broadband SIM from the network that sold you the USB dongle) would be your responsibility.

There are enhanced levels of service (aimed at business users, and charged monthly) for an engineer to look into a problem with higher priority, and the next step (if using the internet was really important) would be to have a second phone line and a different ISP.

I know that “paying twice” is something few would want to consider, but with broadband on offer from time to time at as little as a fiver a month (and not just 1 GB, which from a mobile network might cost double), and a phone line for around a tenner, it’s hopefully affordable and might be classed as a business expense if you have a self-assessment tax form.

If the phone line is vital for both voice and data, then it seems to me that the more “online” the nature of our work, the more we should consider having a backup

(re Backup … If possible not using the same network… so if your line is with BT, and you also have Virgin available, use that rather than a second line with BT… if your ISP has a power fail, the exchange catches fire, or whatever, at least if your second connection is via mobile or Virgin, it’s not going to be affected like your main connection).

I had always been happy with BT until this year when my home phone went down. It had last gone wrong over ten years ago and that only took a day to fix. Now all their help people are offshore and it took three weeks, four engineers and digging up my front lawn to fix. They badly need more people manning their fault report line as they say there is a 10 to 20 minute wait but that is a big understatement. The hold message keeps directing you to use the internet. If only I could have! They seem to assume everyone has a mobile phone on contract. The under £20 compensation offered doesn’t cover the amount I spent topping up my mobile so I could text friends. Apparently I am only entitled to a refund of my daily rental charges. My family and friends are disgusted and when I’ve calmed down enough to contemplate the trauma of moving suppliers, I’m off, though not to Virgin as my neighbour has to keep calling them out with problems.

On Saturday the 30th of November I arrived home to find that my TalkTalk internet, which had been riunning at less than 1MBps since the previous Saturday, was now running so slowly that my modem didn’t know it was there. I only knew it was still there because once every few days it would update the notifications on my screen before disappearing again.

Two days ago I got the ultra-slow connection back so I looked up TalkTalk and what do you know? You can’t get in touch with them over the internet! They offer you an 0807 number if you want to ‘phone them.

I’ve decided I want out so I’ve just been looking in Which? for a new provider. Where have all the small companies gone? I’d just decided upon Be when I discovered they’d been taken over by Sky. Zetnet’s disappeared across the pond, Nildram’s been swallowed up by Opal (Who turned out to be Talk Talk Business who in turn shifted all their customers over to regular TalTalk)…

Don’t we have a monopolies Commission any more?

Have you tried Plusnet, who get consistently good reviews, (although I have a feeling they are part of BT) or John Lewis (who use Plusnet)? I’ve had very good service off the latter.

Peter says:
15 December 2013

Not sure that Zetnet ended up “across the pond” – yes there was some Canadian firm at one point, but Breathe Internet took over Zetnet in about 2008 and later on there was a major e-mail catastrophe so many users left.

I used to use ZIMACS in the 90s, then switched to Enterprise, used Clara.Net and later on Freeserve (all on dial-up in late 90s, and then got Home Highway so I had 3 lines). I moved to broadband in 2001 with Freeserve (as a trial user with USB Modem) and later had my second line with UKFSN and a proper (90 pounds, ouch!) router. I’ve been with Plus.Net since 2003 (though they have grown to about 750,000 customers, so not one of the smaller firms any more, but at least they have a UK call centre in Sheffield and plan another in Leeds for 2014, I think).

If you check ThinkBroadband.com or ISPreview.co.uk you will find many services offering ADSL broadband, though sadly many of the smaller ISPs (in my view) seem to have priced themselves well above what many want to pay… Meanwhile you’ll find there are cashback deals and massive discounts for 6 or more months (and you can sometimes get cashback as well as the discount prices, via TopCashBack or Quidco), but the discount prices mainly require taking broadband AND line rental + calls package.

Plus.Net and so on are offering line rental discounts if you pay a year in advance so instead of it being 15-16 pounds a month it is closer to 10-12 pounds equivalent. Since you want to leave TalkTalk you might be interested in checking Primus (run by New Call Telecom and has been a ‘recommended’ line rental firm on MoneySavingExpert site for a while). I’ve been using them for 2 years and pay 5.99 / month line rental (no included calls). I make calls with 1899.com to landlines on 01/02 and of course 0800 numbers… and use my mobile to call other mobiles. They are offering broadband for only 2 or 4 pounds (but you’d have to pay a higher line rental I think). I use Primus for the line rental and Plus.Net for the broadband at present. Plus.Net offer lower price broadband if you take their line rental too, but even paying a year in advance only drops the cost to about 11 pounds equivalent per month.

Worth checking the last comparison of ISPs that Which? carried out, too (though there may be a lot of smaller ISPs that aren’t mentioned).

guy boxall says:
5 March 2014

The service from BT is a disgrace. Having had no broadband for three weeks and more than 12 hours of calls from my mobile to the various 0800 numbers. … Still not connected. Promise after promise, all broken. I suggest you go elsewhere if you want any customer service. BT cannot deliver.

PeterM says:
6 March 2014

I would never dial an 0800 from a mobile (unless you are lucky enough for it to be included – if the calls are charged, I’d suggest you put in a claim to BT Broadband once things have been sorted out, to try to get the call charges refunded!), but would have tried other methods such as e-mail, if at all possible. Of course a lot depends on whether you have a smart mobile with internet access, but failing that, from a neighbour’s home, or friend’s, or the library, perhaps.

If e-mail seems impossible (or hidden away), I’d have used a phone box to call their 0800 number.
(Or maybe you were using the BT phone “App” that lets you call via the internet and have the call associated with your BT landline bill, ie free. Not clear why you would use a mobile otherwise…

Amandrose says:
6 March 2014

I have had a long running dispute with BT when they failed to connect my service in a brand new property last year some 75 miles from my previous location. They promised me three dates and connected on the final date but then I had to wait another week for Broadband.

On the first date I was still in my old property (75 miles away) and spent a whole day travelling and waiting for them to no avail. I work from home through the net. During the 20 days I was without service I had no work – I had to go some 75 miles away to a relatives to work (stayed over for 4 nights) – so that’s extra petrol, loss of earnings, down time travelling, extra boarding for my cat – all in all, I spent (including loss of potential earnings) close to £2K.

BT offered me £100 because they don’t recompense loss of earnings or costs associated with it (because they said it wasn’t a business line). So let’s get this straight – I work from home for a company using the internet – I am not running a business from home. That mattered not. I thought their offer was insulting so I took it to the Ombudsman. They too found in BTs favour (no surprise there then!). I had to use what little savings I had to get through that period, pay a month’s rent etc. I am now too far in debt to recover so I am having to go back to where I came from and lodge with a friend. Absolutely disgraceful. Someone has to stop these people from wrecking people’s livelihoods and getting away with it.

sue ann says:
21 August 2014

my internet with virgin was off for 6 weeks,its finally back on now so I rang for credit as my autistic son lost out on his xbox live he paid out of his DLA and I pay money each month for laptop insurance etc which wasn’t used,it affected us badly as we were going on holiday 2 weeks after it first went off,couldnt print off boarding passes,fill in API or get insurance,my son relies on xbox live as it forms part of his routine(autism) and it brings his stress levels down he stopped eating and was very withdraw for days at a time,i got no feedback off virgin,waited in 5 times for engineers that were not needed as fault was at the exchange,hours on the phone hours waiting for phone calls that never came,no one kept me informed I had to constantly ring up as I was told “tomorrow” it will be fixed so when it wasn’t I had to ring up..it caused a lot of stress and tears as I couldn’t pay bills etc that I do online all the time,i rang up today and they gave me £40.84 credit..£22 of it was for internet I payed for and never got so as one very arrogant virgin media worker said I got £18 extra so I should be grateful!not virgins fault my family suffered,,hhmm I am out of pocket and very angry,nothing like paying a bit compensation is there..they broke their contract but that’s fine,if I broke mine how much would I of been billed? they are a joke and don’t care about loyal customers

JoqueYoularre says:
23 November 2014

Sue Ann I’m sorry to hear of your woes. I suggest you check mobile broadband (3G) coverage where you live, and invest in a pay-as-you-go 3G data SIM card and some sort of device to act as a mobile router (many cheap smartphones can do it or dedicated 3G dongles but they are usually locked to a network and lack features). This is just to cover the routine of your son. I know roughly how he feels…
Also, have back-up plans in place to pay bills etc. Find a reliable and relatively-secure public internet access point. The library might do.
Unfortunately it’s likely that Virgin DIDN’T break their contract. Their contract does not specify an SLA (Service Level Agreement). If it does specify one, it’ll be consumer-level, not critical, business-service-level. As far as I remember, there was no guaranteed fix-schedule mentioned for when something went wrong. I believe that this should be changed and the change mandated and enforced by OFCOMM et al. Except they’re toothless good-for-nothings, so things go on as usual. Customers can be told “ah, the UBR will be upgraded in three months’ time, you’ll just have to wait”, when Virgin have over-sold their capacity (and this is AFTER their HEAVY speed-throttling has kicked-in, meaning the excuse they give for the throttling is a lie, proven by it NOT working to save everyone else’s experience online as they claim it is for – it is for saving them MONEY in capacity-carrying costs).
Legal lying is a national sport in this country, as elsewhere. It’s time we shunned it and took our business to those who can provide a service at a profit without resorting to abusing their customers for it. They still exist, and like anything else – use it or lose it. There’s more to life than saving a few pounds on what is becoming an essential service. Save the money on something less crucial, and pay for proper internet and a good service. It might be a fiver per month more, the difference between a really good company, and the bad mainstream companies of Sky, Virgin and BT. Look into it…

kristofer says:
19 January 2015

The person ‘Emily’ who wrote you this response was incorrect. You are entirely entitled to a payment of redress and the Law DOES state that. Also in accordance with the Financial Ombudsman service the company must leave you in the same financial situation you were in prior to the loss of service. The Office of Communications (Ofcom) that regulate BT state (also BTs terms of service) that there may be times when there isn’t a consistent service, due to weather conditions, maintenance etc, however, they have to fix the issue in a reasonable time. Then its a semantical argument on what you think a ‘reasonable time’ is. I’d say no more than 3 working days. So tell them you want redress its your consumer rights to do so.

davido says:
13 July 2015

I am leaving this comment here but would like it to be moved to a more prominent place so everyone can read it.


In February 2014 I contacted PLUSNET to install a phone line & supply a modem & broadband at the new house I was moving to, I paid them £72.98, I received confirmation of my order (a contract ?)in the post the following day & 2 appointments were booked for a month later for the work to be done. I moved to my new house & waited, I took 11 hours off work unpaid to be at home for the BT Openreach engineers, but no one turned up, I tried to contact PLUSNET on my mobile several times only to be told I was in a queue & had to wait over 40 minutes, I also tried to contact them by using the local call box – again I was in a queue & would have to wait over 50 minutes. I wrote to PLUSNET to complain & demanded my £72.98 back plus my lost salary circa £400 including compensation for breach of contract & explicitly gave them 14 days to comply or I would take them to the small claims court, their response was to offer me a miserly £25 for my inconvenience & my money back if I formally asked for it, “HOW OUTRAGOUS!” So of course I made a claim through MYCOL the online small claims service, I offered mediation & waited for their response, NOTHING for approximately 12 months ! so a hearing date was set & surprise surprise I start to get phone calls & an offer in writing of £150 to settle this time from BT LEGAL. I now know that PLUSNET in their incompetence failed to book the 2 appointments with their parent company BT OPENREACH thus wasting my time & causing my financial loss. The case was heard on 03/07/2015, PLUSNET/BT didn’t even bother to attend simply sending a letter, I had a very thorough, & severe but legally professional examination of my claim & my evidence by the justice (I’m not going to mention his name) my award was just shy of £300 & they have until the 25th of July to pay. I shall keep you informed. I would urge anyone who has issues with utility companies be it water/gas/electricity or telecoms to do as I did & use the small claims court – that is what it is there for ! At the time of writing this BT have 5 CCJ’s against them dating back to 2011 (& now 6 with mine) this company & its subsidiaries simply don’t care if they break civil law – it’s time we ALL complain & use the courts to get justice.

Eileen Mcenaney says:
19 October 2015

Does anyone know what the daily rate of compensation from Bt is as we are on day 59 of not having a full service also we are on hub number 6 and even though we are at executive level complaints after I emailed the Bt chairman they are trying to sideswipe the compensation issue any info much appreciated thanks

Christine says:
10 November 2015

Bt staff don’t understand customers they speak to them as if there were nothing I was without my phone for one month and don’t want to pay compensation The problem is always with BT junction box and I am left without a phone for weeks Customers who are with BT should be looking else where for another decent provider We pay a lot of money to BT and when its their fault they don’t want to compensate customers they should be taken to Ofcom and be exposed by Watch Dog

Hi my boardband been down since 30th of January because they said there was a outage at open reach and only today they sent a technician and he said it was to do with the box on the pole. I rang fuel boardband up and they said they would only reimburse me from the 16th of February because the outage has nothing to do with them. Can they do that