After more than 2,000 comments and 38,000 pledges on our Fixed Means Fixed campaign, Ofcom’s launched a consultation on how to tackle price hikes on fixed contracts. We still need your support to get the right result.
If you’re a Which? Convo regular, I’m sure you’re aware of all the mobile phone price rises we’ve had to suffer over the past couple of years.
O2 was the last to jump on the price rise bandwagon, with Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and Three Mobile hiking their prices beforehand. It’s a practice that will see their customers collectively paying almost £150m extra per year.
Following our Fixed Means Fixed campaign, Ofcom has now launched a consultation on how to protect you and me from such mid-contract price rises. And mobile phone contracts aren’t the only deals on the table; broadband and landline deals are also included in the consultation.
What does Ofcom’s consultation propose?
Ofcom concludes that its current rules are not operating effectively as they don’t meet our expectations that the price of a contract should be fixed. Instead, these rules are leaving consumers exposed to surprise price rises, without offering the ability to avoid them.
Ofcom’s preferred solution is to let customers leave their contracts without penalty if prices go up. At the moment, you’re locked into your mobile deal if prices rise. But how are you locked in? Because exiting requires you to pay a hefty fee – usually the remaining payments on your contract. And that’s no small change – if you’re not too far into a two-year deal, the remainder of your contract will run well into the hundreds of pounds. How exactly can you vote with your feet if you’re forced to pay a hefty fee to move to another provider?
Ultimately, fixed contracts should be at a fixed price. But if providers don’t want to stick to that, you should be able to say ‘sayonara’ and leave without penalty. That would put the power back in your hands – you’ll have the freedom to switch and take advantage of the best deals.
Help us achieve the right solution
However, Ofcom has also put forward other potential solutions. These include issuing further guidance for mobile providers, ‘opt-ins’ for variable price contracts or even maintaining the status quo – an option I’m sure the providers would welcome with open arms.
At Which? we want to see Ofcom act upon its consultation without delay and make the right decision. Not only should you be able to cancel without charge if prices go up, Ofcom must ensure providers tell you about this right before you sign on the dotted line. No more surprises.
So, that’s what we think about Ofcom’s consultation here at Which?, but we still need your help to achieve the right solution. Ofcom’s consultation lasts 10 weeks, so there’s plenty of time to tell the regulator what you think, either by responding on Ofcom’s website or by commenting below. We’ll feed your comments into the consultation to make sure no views go unheard.
Do you think you should be able to exit your contract without penalty if providers put your prices up mid-contract?
[UPDATE 7 March 2013] – There’s just one week to go before Ofcom closes its consultation into price rises during fixed contracts. Have your say by voting in our poll and watch our new Fixed Means Fixed video: