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ISP email addresses stop us from switching

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Using an email address from your internet provider could lead to a world of pain when you want to get a better broadband deal – as one of our readers discovered with the closure of UK Online.

How many people know your email address? Ten? A hundred? A thousand?

For me, it’s probably somewhere between the last two numbers – significantly more than know either of my phone numbers.

I’ve had my personal email address for more than ten years. So I can fully empathise with a Which? Convo reader who got in touch with us. He discovered that his Internet Service Provider (ISP) – UK Online – is being closed in January, and that he’ll lose his email address as a result.

He told us that he didn’t mind moving to another provider, but he did object to the fact that they wouldn’t be providing an email forwarding service when they close their email servers down.

ISP emails are a barrier to switching

It’s relatively rare for ISPs to shut down suddenly, but when they do they’re under no legal obligation to let you keep your email address or offer a forwarding service. Still, we agree that it would have been polite of UK Online/Sky (its parent company) to do so.

What’s far more common is for broadband customers to get fed up with their provider and want to move away – ideally to a Which? Recommended Broadband Provider. But as Which? broadband expert, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard from people who stay with an ISP they’re unhappy with purely because they don’t want to lose their email address.

Don’t get me wrong, the prospect of losing my email address would make my heart sink. Putting aside the hassle of letting my personal contacts know, I also rely on my email for online billing and reminders for key tasks, like paying my TV Licence.

In praise of webmail

Fortunately, my chances of ever having to give up my email address are small because I use webmail service Hotmail rather than my broadband provider. This means I can access my email easily wherever I like, and change provider to my heart’s content without worry.

Even if you’re an MS Outlook devotee, there are several webmail services – including Gmail – that let you manage your account via Outlook. Though for the security conscious we reckon that storing your messages on a webmail server reduces the risk of a thief accessing your emails if your computer is stolen.

The only party I can see that benefits from you using your ISP’s email address is the ISP itself. So, if you’re using an email address provided with your broadband service, why not get a webmail address now and start using it? It’s far better to manage the move gradually under your own terms than have it forced on you by your ISP’s closure.

What do you use as your main email account?

I use my internet provider's service (55%, 972 Votes)

I've set up a web-based account (30%, 531 Votes)

I've bought my own domain name (14%, 239 Votes)

I use a work, school or college account (1%, 19 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,761

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Actually I think it’s best to use a personal domain name. I do that, and have all email forwarded to a web mail account (Gmail in my case). That way, you will not be adversely affected if the webmail provider decides to do something you don’t like, or ceases to exist – which I agree is hardly likely for Google or Microsoft, but you never know! Your own domain is very cheap, and makes you complete master of your universe.


Yes good point. There are even services not that let you host your own domain with webmail like http://www.thexyz.com

I moved to thexyz from hosted gmail that was costing too much.

Andy Merrett says:
9 February 2011

Glad I left UK Online way back in the ’90s, and I’m not surprised they’re not polite given they were eventually owned by Sky.

I agree with Tim – it’s far better to have your own personal domain name, though I know this is beyond the scope of many novice users. After the horror stories I’ve read of email accounts being deleted (purposefully or inadvertently) by the provider, I’d never trust my email exclusively to a webmail provider. That said, I use GMail as a filter for my own domain’s email because its spam filters are so good.

Doric says:
21 February 2011

Having been with AOL since 1999, I called them today to see if I could get a better deal. I explained that, since moving to a remote village in Wiltshire, I no longer use AOL to connect, just to provide my e-mail address. The AOL rep took only a few seconds to say that he wouldn’t recommend a cheaper tariff, but he would recommend cancelling my AOL contract altogether. Both he, and the rep from the Cancellations dept.confirmed that both I and my family could keep our e-mail addresses, post- cancellation. That’s £22 a month saved. Why didn’t I cancel before? And (silly question) why didn’t AOL suggest it before?

Mick Johnston says:
7 March 2011

Cant believe its that easy and will try to do the same. thanks for the pointer. I am embarking on notifying those on my aol address book of my new gmail address but a retaind aol address will capture anyone I miss.


AOL told me I would lose my email address if I switched ISP. Does it depend on whether you have an AOL.com or AOL.co.uk address? I have the former.

elizabeth adan-peart says:
1 March 2011

I love my which email address but I am seriously considering giving up which email and which on-line up. I am using outlook 2003 and I cannot send email via which.net, but I can receive mail. I had no problems with outlook express. The Which email team, are not being very helpful. Anyone got any ideas.

Tony says:
2 March 2011

Hi. I just stumbled on your problem when looking for something else! I too use which.net and have done ever since I have been on the internet and have had no problems. You too must have had a which.net a/c for many years because I understand that over 5 years ago they stopped offering this account, so you and I are part of an elite group!

If you are receiving E Mails but are not able to send them, it seems to me that it must be something to do with the settings on the E Mail a/c on your computer. However, these settings relate to the way your E Mail system sends and receives mail to/from your Broadband provider., in my case Virgin. Try phoning your Braodband provider and ask them to talk you through the settings on your E Mail a/c. I know that this is not always easy to contact someone – so good luck!

Best wishes,



Some ISPs will not allow you to send email from an address that isn’t one of theirs – BT are/were top of the list for this practice. That may be the problem.

It may be that the email settings are not correct on your computer, so look there also. The outgoing (SMTP) mailserver will probably be smtp.which.net or mail.which.net, and usually uses port 25.

Another common issue is that you may need to provide your username/password in order to send email – an option that isn’t selected by default usually. Under the account settings there should be a tick box along the lines of “outgoing mailserver requires authentication”, if so, tick that and set the details to be the same as for incoming (POP3) mail.

Hope that helps