You know the feeling. Your head is turned by a good-looking broadband and phone deal but, after a while, things change. You belatedly discover the superficially attractive package included some unappealing habits, like the tendency to ‘review pricing from time to time’.
And so the honeymoon would seem to be over for Sky Talk customers lured to switch from other providers by once keener call rates.
Some existing Sky Talk customers – Sky won’t say how many – have been told their bills are going up by inflation-busting proportions from April. Line rental and calls to UK landlines are both rising by around 9 per cent from £17.40 to £18.99 a month and 11.5p/min to 12.54p/min respectively. In a move likely to punish home-workers, daytime calls to mobiles will jump by a massive 68 per cent from 11.5p/min to 19.35p/min.
Sky said: ‘The changes we are making reflect our ongoing investment in our on-screen line-up, technology and customer service.’ It adds that, for those customers impacted by the price changes, on average bills will rise by less than £3 per month.
Regardless of the rationale or how much extra they’ll end up spending, customers might well ask if Sky can whack up their bill after they’ve signed up to a specified price. The short answer is yes. Unless you’re in a contract specifically fixed for the term and it does not include phrases like ‘we reserve the right to review prices’ in the small print, your provider can increase prices after you’ve signed on the dotted line.
There is, however, some protection from opportune mid-contract pricing. Regulator Ofcom requires consumers and small businesses taking out new landline, broadband or mobile contracts to be able to exit without penalty should a provider increase the monthly subscription price agreed at the point of sale. Providers must give customers at least one month’s notice to leave without paying a fee.
Indeed, in line with the guidance, Sky Talk customers have been told that those within their minimum contract period can leave and avoid early termination charges if they contact the company within 30 days of receiving notice of the upcoming price hikes.
But to avoid learning something unpleasant about your provider well into the relationship, it’s worth taking time to understand what you’re getting into in the first place. Unless you pay attention, it could be all too easy to sign up for a variable contract you assumed was fixed for the duration. Read the terms and conditions and watch out for tell-tale language.
In terms of current fixed price deals, Duncan Heaney, spokesperson for broadbandchoices, said: ‘If you’re looking to switch your provider, some like TalkTalk have started to offer frozen contracts that promise not to increase prices over the agreed length. These are often 24-month contracts, which can be quite a commitment, but it’s possible to find shorter terms or special offers via comparison sites. However, make sure you take note of when the contract is up as prices are likely to rise once it expires.’
Whether you opt for a fixed, varied or tiered contract – one with an introductory rate that expires after six months, for example – Ofcom says the core subscription price or prices you agree to pay should be provided clearly and transparently at the point of sale. If you’re unclear as to what you’re agreeing to, don’t sign up.
If you’re looking for a new phone and broadband provider, the table below gives you an idea of what deals are available that include all or some calls. It also indicates the range of factors you’ll want to weigh up.
Checking Ofcom’s guidance and price comparison sites will put you in a good position to haggle if you’d rather give things another go with your existing provider. Tell them about the more enticing packages you’ve seen elsewhere and let them do their best to persuade you to stay.
Helen Monks Takhar is a freelance financial writer