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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.

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


You have to change the outgoing (SMTP) server details from the Which?Online settings, and to the SMTP settings of your ‘new’ ISP, whilst leaving the incoming (POP3) server details as that are for Which?Online. Your new ISP should be able to give you the appropriate details, and/or talk you through the process.

Liz, you’re infinitely better off using webmail such
as GMail or gmail….can send an invite it you’re
interested. You can also yourself set up a Yahoo
email account quite easily.

Want a long complex e-mail address with a tiny slow in-box?
Well NTL world (now Virgin) gave me a real bottom slap, so I use gmail, its fast free and has a 6GB inbox, unlike the 10mb which constantly blocked from virgin.

(I send photos)

PS recent test by Which likes HOTMAIL ???
All my Mature IT students try to leave it as soon as possible – especially as over the last 6 months thousands of accounts were hi-jacked for zombie spam mailing – I personally know of three right now!

Maurice says:
26 June 2011

I have had Freedom2Surf (f2s) as my ISP for many years, and an email address with them, but since they were taken over by (I forget the exact order), Pipex, Tiscali, Opal, and now TalkTalkBusiness, the service has deteriorated as it is geared to business use, and I am not a business. TalkTalk have a better deal, so, although they are way down the Which? satisafaction tables, I thought it would be a worthwhile change because I should be able to move my email address from one division of TalkTalk to another, but they wouldn’t let me. Instead I shall take my account away from them completely and go to a recommended ISP (and have to change my email). How shortsighted can a business get? I certainly wouldn’t buy shares in them!

I recently changed ISP but it did concern me a little changing my primary email address.

I think my worries were unfounded. I chose the same name for the first part of the email. I emailed my new address to my contacts, and I am letting commercial sites I use know my details as I go along.

This worked for me and I get fewer unwanted emails now too.

PieFtw says:
26 January 2012

I do not understand why anyone would ever want or use an ISP email address. My first email account was @aol that I got when I was five. I kept that account until I was about fourteen and we finally upgraded to DSL. I immediately found out everything new that I needed to know about this always-connected internet experience. Found out about Avira Antivirus (the best one I’ve ever found that is always free and I still use to this day), Firefox (still use to this day) and Gmail. Now, AOL as an ISP was on the out when we switched, so AOL had already transferred over to web-based email, and we didn’t have a need (thank goodness) to switch over our hundreds of contacts. However, the account I created had the name given to it by a five-year-old and I wanted something newer and faster. AOL’s page always felt so sluggish because of all the extra crap they had. It’s a great email service, but inferior to Gmail. I made my Gmail account then and have had no problems six and a half years later. I currently have my school address tied to it so I can get all of my mail sent to one place.

Always have loved webmail. I don’t get the point of outlook: it is slow and it sucks. I feel sorry for old people who just don’t get it.

John Littler says:
26 September 2012

Many years ago (I think it was when I wanted to abandon a Compuserve address), I was advised by my son of the existence of redirection servers. These, for a small (?£5) annual fee, host an group of email addresses e.g firstname@familyname.org uk which can be allocated to family or friends. The host can be easily told to forward each address to one or several email hosts. I am currently use theTalktalk address provided by that ISP, and a Hotmail address, This means that if either of these fails, I can use the other, and I can also change the destination easily if I leave Talktalk. It also means I have two choices for Webmail, one of which works reasonably with the rather limited browser on my Kindle, while the other doesn’t. When the first redirection server provider disappeared I kept the URL and my son transferred it to another redirection server. When the latter goes down (only very occasionally) I can give urgent contacts my Talktalk or Hotmail address. Redirection services are also available, usually free, from universities, and possibly even schools so that alumni can keep in contact, but you may have to use an address they specify. Also with an unusual URL I get much less spam than e.g. on hotmail. I’m sure Which could offer this as a service to members?????? perhaps a.n@other/which.co.uk

click here says:
9 October 2012

I’m no longer certain where you’re getting your info, but good topic. I must spend some time finding out much more or figuring out more. Thanks for wonderful information I used to be in search of this info for my mission.

Giles says:
30 November 2012

Some people early in this coversation recommended getting a personal domain name. I’ve had a quick look at this and have found any number of domain name registrars that will register my domain for a small fee, but I’m not clear what, having obtained the name, I do about hosting itself. Can anyone explain how I find someone to host my domain and how much that will cost? Or is it simply part of the service the registrar provides for the registration fee?

I will be interested to see replies to your question, but this is a rather old Conversation.

I have used Freeparking since 2006 and I am currently paying £17.22 a year, with discounts for longer contracts. I am using this for a small society and can redirect emails easily to whichever account I want to use and to others on the committee. I use the domain address to redirect to the society’s website, which is currently hosted using the webspace provided by my ISP.

I was planning to start another account when I retired, for personal use. I have been fortunate in being able to retain my old university email account, so this has not been necessary.

Freeparking has proved very reliable and I have not had a single problem. No doubt there are cheaper alternatives. I have been told that it is easy to move domain names to another service provider but I have never done this.

Hi Giles, I tend to go for a hosting package. One site I have is hosted by Streamline.net and that includes emails to a blanket address (ie, I can type in anything I want before the @ and it’ll get to me), while one with EZPZ.net you choose the names of the addresses, and is limited.

Both of these were through hosting packages – when they set up the package they will register your domain for you. You can also check if it includes webmail only or also offers IMAP (which means it can easily get to your phone).

Any good host should have clear FAQs or customer service to help with any questions you have. There are others out there, these are just the two I use.

Gill says:
11 January 2015

There must be many people who like me, have remained loyal to Virgin Media and have a Virgin.net email address. As I live in an area where fibre optic is not available and Virgin are only going to support fibre optic in future, I have been told that my account will transfer to Talk Talk. I am deeply unhappy about this and wondering if there is an idiot’s guide to domain names, obtaining a reasonably priced domain name, setting it up and notifying all my contacts of my new address. I’ve become complacent in remaining loyal to Virgin for over 20 years. (I originally joined them when all they were able to offer was a dial-up service).