Ofcom fines BT £2.8m for failing EE and Plusnet customers

Broadband, News, Telecoms

  • EE and Plusnet – owned by BT – failed to implement new rules to help customers shop around
  • At least 1.1 million customers were not given contract information before they signed up
  • BT must refund early exit fees and let existing affected customers walk away penalty-free

Ofcom has today fined BT £2.8m after it failed to provide more than a million customers with clear and simple contract information before signing up to a new deal.

The company broke Ofcom’s consumer protection rules designed to ensure telecoms customers get clear, comparable information about the services they are considering buying.

Since 17 June 2022, phone and broadband companies have been required to give consumers and small businesses the details of a contract, as well as a short summary of its key terms, before they sign up. This must include information such as the price and length of the contract, the speed of the service and any early exit fees.

Ofcom opened an investigation into BT having received information that two of its wholly-owned subsidiaries – EE and Plusnet – may have failed to provide these documents to some customers.

It found that, since 17 June 2022, EE and Plusnet made more than 1.3 million sales without providing customers with the required contract summary and information documents. The evidence shows there were at least 1.1 million customers affected by this.

Ofcom engaged with providers during the period before the new rules came into force in June 2022, to ensure they were on track to meet the deadline. Evidence gathered by Ofcom shows that BT was aware from as early as January 2022 that some of its sales channels would not meet the deadline. In some cases, BT deliberately chose not to comply with the rules on time. 

Following engagement with Ofcom, BT contacted 1.1 million customers – the majority of those affected – between 26 June and 30 September 2023, explaining that it had not provided them with the information to which they were entitled. Those customers have been given the opportunity to request the information and/or cancel their contract without charge.

However, before these communications were sent, some customers left BT before the end of their contract and may have been charged an early exit fee. Ofcom’s rules are clear that if the required contract summary and contract information is not given, the contract is not binding on customers. As a result, an early exit fee should not have been payable by these customers.

Says Ian Strawhorne, Ofcom Enforcement Director:

“When we strengthened our rules to make it easier for consumers to compare deals, we gave providers a strict timeline by which to implement them. It’s unacceptable that BT couldn’t get its act together in time, and the company must now pay a penalty for its failings.

“We won’t hesitate to step in on behalf of phone and broadband customers when our rules to protect them are broken.”

Adds Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie:
“It is deeply concerning that our country’s biggest telecoms provider has been caught red-handed failing to provide more than a million customers with clear and concise contract information. 
“Because of this breach, people have missed out on better offers or they may have been stung with hefty early exit fees if they wanted to leave. At a time when personal finances are already stretched, it’s a real kick in the teeth.
“The introduction of mandatory pre-contractual information documents in June 2022 was a positive step towards empowering consumers. It forces providers to make sure customers aren’t blind sided by hidden fees or unexpected contract lengths.
“It is crucial that BT, and all broadband providers, take immediate action to ensure full compliance with Ofcom’s rules. This may include auditing their websites and training sales staff so that they are delivering transparent customer service.”
Chris Price
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