/ Technology

Have you been stung by rollover contracts?

Phone locked with padlock

Landline and broadband deals that lock you into a never-ending loop of rollover contracts could soon be banned by phone watchdog Ofcom. And none too soon, say we!

Ever tried reading the reams of small print attached to most landline and broadband contracts? No? Can’t say I blame you. As Which? telecoms specialist, I have to do this far too often, and it’s enough to cause eye-ache and brain befuddlement.

Happily, one aspect of some phone contract T&Cs that really set my teeth on edge could soon be banned.

Complaints of rollover phone contracts

More than a year back, I started seeing complaints – from Which? members and other sources – about auto-renewable or ‘rollover’ home phone contracts.

Further investigation revealed that some home phone service providers were automatically renewing contracts after the original minimum term had come to an end. Customers were then locked in unless they opted out before the renewal date. Some people only discovered this when they tried to leave, and were hit with hefty early termination fees.

Some of the companies I received complaints about were less well-known providers, such as eZe-Talk. But the UK’s biggest home phone operator, BT, was also in on the act (and still is, according to Ofcom).

And what reward were BT customers getting for locking themselves in to an ever-renewing 12 month contract with hefty cancellation fees? Inclusive anytime calls, with an annual value of – at the time – just £33.

On principle, I’ve nothing against companies offering incentives or lower fees in exchange for longer tie-ins. In a financially-challenging world, it can keep costs down for those of us who are watching the pennies. But what I do have a problem with is companies putting the onus on us to opt out of repeated tie-ins, rather than asking us politely if we’re happy to stick with them for another minimum term.

Bring on the auto-renewal ban

I’m thrilled to say that I’m not alone. Back in March 2010, Which? published the results of our ‘renewable contract’ investigation, and shared our findings with phone and broadband watchdog Ofcom.

As with all things regulatory, the wheels of change have been slow to turn. But turn they have, and Ofcom’s just published proposals to ban opt-out contract renewals in any form in the landline and broadband sectors.

There will doubtless be arguments from some corners of the industry that it will stop them offering their customers such good deals. But on the other hand, if less people are locked into renewable contracts, they’ll be free to switch – which could promote better competion.

I also reckon that the best companies use excellent customer service and good value deals to keep customers loyal, rather than relying on contract renewing tactics that I think are sneaky at best.

Our research into phone and broadband satisfaction backs me up – the majority of Which? Recommended home phone and broadband providers offer package options that only ever tie in their customers for a month or less at a time.

Fingers crossed Ofcom gets its proposals through.


Yay! Three cheers for this being picked up.

I am exceptionally cautious about being locked in to long-term contracts generally. In fact, I think I could safely offer that I shy away from such contracts 99% of the time. It’s a complete consumer turn-off and companies that only offer such contracts or indeed penalise me financially if I don’t take out such contracts get short shift from me.

Bug bear rant over 😉


Personally You should be able to switch freely & without fines & penalties,As long as You pay your bill for that month only & All call phone calls made.

Pula says:
4 March 2011

Great this! I was caught out a year ago and had to go to great lengths to get out of the contract. Struck me as outrageous to be locked into a new contract without ever being asked. When I approached BT they claimed I had given tacit consent but then could give me no evidence of how that was meant to have happened.


I remember when I first started on broadband and phone sevice with TalkTalk. The contract was for
12 months but they were asking me to agree to a 3 year contact on my last renewal date- I didn’t
agree and kept it to 12 months. But I am not satisfied with the download speed I’m geting, it’s slow
at 1.2 MBPS. They blame the distance between my address and the server. Apparently, the further you
are from the server base the slower your connection or download speed is going to be.
But, as I have said before, why should those of us who are further away from it have to pay
the same connection fees as those who reside closer to the server base who are enjoying much
faster speeds. I complained about this to TT but to no avail. This should be investigated by the watchdogs. Tony Moody.

HF says:
9 March 2011

This is the way broadband works. The longer the telephone line is, from your house to the local exchange, the greater the line loss, therefore the lower the speed your line can support without dropping connection. This is the way adsl works and there really would be nothing for Ofcom to investigate. An investigation by an essentially toothless watchdog can’t miraculously change a technology.

Optical Fibre connections to the home (currently being rolled out by BT in certain areas) may change this.


Hi, Thanks for your comment ‘HF’ and the info. However, You seem to have slightly missed the
point. I understand your explanation about the ‘line distance info.’ But my argument is
with the unfairness to those of us who are a long distance from the exchange but are paying
the same charges as those who are closer to the exchange centre, and who are receiving a much
faster connection speed. Those who are further away from the exchange should not have to pay
the same amount as the fortunate few. This is unfair and should be regulated by the watchdogs
as the broadband providers are laughing all the way to tha bank.


Hi Tony,

You’re certainly not alone in this frustration – just head on over to one of our many conversations on broadband speed – eg https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/no-ones-getting-the-broadband-speed-they-pay-for/. I’m not an expert in broadband economics, but one of the possible problems with doing this is that although it does seem incredibly unfair on people who live a long way down the line, it probably doesn’t cost ISPs any less to deliver their broadband to homes further down the wires.

I believe there’s much more should be done immediately, though, in advertising realistic limits rather than theoretical speeds that are impossible to achieve for most people – and we’re encouraging the Advertising Standards Agency to get this sorted.

There is also some possible hope in the future if fibre broadband is rolled out across the UK, particularly to areas that currently suffer with speed. It doesn’t suffer the same deterioration over distance, so people a long way down the line will get very similar speeds to those close to the exchange. Unfortunately, roll out of a fibre network is going to take some time though.

Hettie says:
8 March 2011

Why don’t you highlight this on Which Mobile? This site seems less impartial than I’d expect of which.


Hi Hettei, Thanks for the advice but I have no connection with which mobile at the moment.


Hi Hettie,

The reason we haven’t highlighted the issue of rollover contracts on Which? Mobile is that Ofcom’s proposed ban doesn’t include mobile contracts at present – only landlines and fixed line broadband. However, having read your comment I asked Ofcom about this yesterday. It said the reason it hadn’t included mobile (and presumably pay TV too) was that the evidence it had gathered didn’t indicate there is currently a problem with automatic rollover contracts for mobile (of course, there is the issue of ridiculously long mobile contracts, but this is being dealt with separately by EU regulations). However, Ofcom said that it would definitely frown on other telecoms sectors – such as mobile – introducing auto-renewable contracts and would be quick to respond if so.

And just to reassure you that Which? Mobile is completely independent and impartial. If you’d be interested to share your views on Which? Mobile in more detail, it would be great if you could take our survey: http://blogs.which.co.uk/mobile/mobile-phone-tariffs/help-us-improve-which-mobile/ – just click on the blue link saying ‘Take the Which? Mobile customer survey’.

moaner says:
9 March 2011

in the past few years i was stupid enough to let Norton 360 renew and only saw it on my bank statement. i did a bit of price checking and found the same thing available £30 less !
how they can justify automatically selling it to loyal customers at almost twice the going price seems bordering on criminal. the same thing nearly happened the next year although i was sure i turned that option off.
the AA also tried to put me on a rolling contract. i requested not to be on it and after some discussion managed to get money off. the next year they also tried to charge me full price on the rolling contract even though i requested to be removed for a third year in a row. grrrr !


Hi Moaner, This is what you must look-out for these days- backstabing by ruthless money grabbing
companies who if you are not watching will take your last penny.

Jamie Curle says:
15 March 2011

I’ve just been stung by the same tactic here. BT’s response has been corporate and disappointing.

I took out a contract in December of 2008 and I was never informed of the rolling contract. I never received any letters advising me the contract would be renewed.

I had no idea that I was on a rolling contract and this has to be stopped, it’s sneaky.

These people need to be brought down, their terms and conditions are not above the law and we need to fight against these parasites.

Phil says:
15 June 2011

Same problem with BT. Just went to cancel full bt phone broadband and vision contract today…. No issue with phone and vision but told that I had 9 months left to run on broadband as I had automatically rolled my contract for another year 3 months ago. Thought this practice had gone out with the Ark or only now practiced by lowlife companies. I am only cancelling as moving abroad and having sung the praises and got others to join…feel cheated. This was never spelt out to me originally as would never have agreed to it and was certainly not warned at end of first year. To have a national institution behave like this is disgusting!