When did you last review your broadband deal? If you’ve never changed suppliers, or you’re out of contract with your existing provider, chances are you’re paying much more than you need to.

Data from Ofcom, the regulator for the telecoms industry, shows that around 35% of broadband customers, roughly 7.4m households, are out of contract and potentially able to make significant savings by signing up to a new deal.

Moving to a new broadband deal might not only save you money, but could also mean you end up with a better service. This could prove especially helpful now that many of us are spending more time at home than usual.

Here, we explain everything you need to know about choosing a broadband deal, and how to go about switching suppliers.

Can I change deals with my existing broadband supplier?

Yes, you can stay with your existing provider and many will offer you a special deal to stay with them if you call them and threaten to leave. If you have a feeling you’re overpaying for broadband but are worried about the process of switching, then calling up your existing broadband provider can be a relatively simple way of saving some money quickly. It’s important to note that it’s unlikely to be the best deal possible however, so it’s worth comparing any deals they offer you with those available from other providers, so you can be certain that you’ve got the best possible deal. A quick look at the best deals available on the market can also help you negotiate better with your existing supplier – if you tell them you’ve got your eye on a great deal with another provider.

Given the sheer number of customers in the UK that are overpaying for their broadband, since 15 February 2020, OFCOM have made it compulsory for broadband suppliers to notify their customers about the best deals they can offer them once their initial contract comes to an end (and every year after than if they’re out of contract).

How to compare broadband deals in the UK

With so many different broadband packages to choose from, working out which one is going to be right for you can seem daunting. However, there are ways to narrow down the options available to you and answering the following questions can help you do this.

How fast do you need your internet to be?

There are few things more frustrating than that little circle spinning round on your laptop or pc screen whilst you’re waiting for something to download. If buffering is the bane of your life, then your current package may not be suitable for your needs.

Start by finding out how fast your current service is. There are plenty of free broadband speed-testing tools online which can help you do this, such as Checker.ofcom.org.uk.

Make sure no-one in your household is streaming any content when you run the test so that the result is accurate. You can also get a better idea of your average broadband speed by running more than one test, at various times of the day, as during peak times – typically between 7pm and 10pm – the speed is likely to reduce.

If your internet speed is much slower than the speed that was advertised when you signed up to your deal, most internet service providers have signed up to a code of practice that means they must work to resolve any technical issues that might be slowing things down. If you can’t get the headline speed they offered, they should allow you to move to a cheaper, lower-speed package.

The fastest options are fibre broadband packages, where data is transmitted via fibre optic cables. However, these deals aren’t available in all parts of the country, so if you live in a rural area, you may be restricted to standard broadband packages. These transmit data over the Openreach phone network using ADSL technology. ADSL stands for ‘asymmetric digital subscriber line’ and is a connection provided over home telephone lines and Openreach is the company which connects nearly all homes in the UK to the national broadband network.

Internet speeds are expressed in megabits (Mb) per second. Megabits should not be confused with megabytes as one megabyte (which refers to the size of a file or storage space) is equal to eight megabits (the speed of an internet connection). The more Mbs per second a service offers, the faster it will be. The very fastest fibre broadband services have speeds up to 108Mb. So, for example, a music album would typically be around 100MB, so if you had superfast broadband with a speed of 100Mb per second or more, it would take you eight seconds to download. If your broadband speed is much slower, say 16Mb per second, the same album would take about 50 seconds to download.

Ideally you should opt for a broadband deal with a download speed of at least 30Mb if there are more than two of you using the internet regularly for work and to stream video content. If you only tend to use the internet for browsing or the odd bit of shopping online, speeds of 10Mb or more should be enough.

Bear in mind that when you move suppliers, your new service usually won’t be at its maximum speed straight away, so your service might be a little bit slower than you expect it to be for the first couple of days.

Sometimes slow speeds are due to the fact the connection is weak in certain areas of your home. Plug-in devices are available which can extend your wireless range and may help if you have this problem. They are usually known as Wi-Fi boosters or extenders and typically range in cost from around £10 to more than £300 depending on how big an area you need to cover. Always check reviews for any booster you’re considering buying first, so you can see how effective other users have found them.

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How much data do you use?

Some deals will have a monthly data allowance, which is the amount of data measured in Megabytes (MBs) or Gigabytes (GBs) that you are allowed to use every month without incurring any charges, whereas others provide users with unlimited data.

According to Ofcom around 240GB of data is used on average each year per fixed broadband connection, with much of this use driven by online video streaming. More than half of us (58%) watched on demand video services online in 2019, up from 53% in 2018.

It can be difficult to work out exactly how much data you’ll need, but to give you a rough idea of how much different activities use, according to Broadbandchoices.co.uk, streaming 30 minutes of YouTube would use 175Mb of data, whilst streaming an hour of high definition video would use 2GB of data. Listening to music also uses up data – for example, each three minute song you listen to on Spotify would typically use around 2MB of data.

If you’re a heavy internet user and regularly use video streaming services or download a lot of films, a package with unlimited data is likely to be your best bet. If all you do is email and surf the web you may only need a basic service offering 20Gb or less.

Deals with capped data will be cheaper than those offering unlimited data, but bear in mind that if you go over your usage allowance, you’ll incur extra charges. For example, if you go over your monthly usage allowance with BT, you’ll be charged £2.20 per GB or part thereof. To avoid unknowingly racking up big bills, you’ll usually be sent a warning by your broadband provider to let you know you’re nearing your limit.

BT like some other providers, has removed caps on all its broadband packages so every customer has unlimited data. This is a permanent change, and it will no longer have limited broadband packages so it will be interesting to see if the rest of the market follows suit. If you do have a broadband deal with limited usage and are close to exceeding this limit, contact your provider – you might be able to negotiate a discount or buy a ‘data boost’ that will let you buy extra data at a lower cost.

How much do you want to spend?

Think carefully about your monthly budget. The cheapest broadband deals typically start from around £18 a month, but deals with all the bells and whistles which include broadband, phone calls and a TV package including film and sports channels, known as ‘bundled’ deals can cost as much as £98 a month.

Should you go for a bundled package?

As mentioned, a bundled package is when you get your broadband, home phone and TV service from the same supplier. One big advantage of going for a bundled deal is that you only have one provider to deal with, so rather than having separate phone, broadband and TV bills landing on the mat each month, you’ll just have the one which covers all three services.

Make sure you read the small print of any deal you’re thinking about signing up to carefully, so you can be certain you’re getting the right package for your needs. For example, you should look at which TV channels you’ll have access to, download speeds and data usage limits, as well as which times of day you might be able to make free telephone calls.

How long do you want your contract to last?

Broadband deals typically last from 12 months up to 18 or 24 months, so think how long you want to be tied in for before you sign up. It’s not always the case, but typically you will get a better deal in return for a longer time commitment. If you’re worried about potentially moving house, or if you’re renting and are worried about signing up for a long time for your broadband services it’s worth checking the small print to see whether the deal you are interested in is portable to a new property, or if it can be cancelled early with payment of a fee.

Are you entitled to cheaper broadband?

Many people on Universal Credit and other forms of benefits are eligible for ‘social’ broadband tariffs, which are often heavily discounted compared to other tariffs. The government is now pushing for all providers to offer social tariffs, and for providers to be more proactive about promoting these deals to eligible customers.

As part of the push, the DWP’s new service will allow providers – with permission from their customers – to check whether these customers are in receipt of the relevant benefits and offer them the deal if they are. At the moment, claimants have to prove their entitlement as often as every month by providing letters from the Jobcentre or sending screenshots of their Universal Credit account.

Find out whether you might qualify for a social tariff in our guide Are you entitled to cheaper broadband?

Where can I compare broadband deals?

Before you start looking for a new broadband deal, check your existing contract to see if you are out of your initial contract period, or whether you will have to pay an early cancellation fee to leave your current deal. If there is a charge, make a note in your diary of when you’ll be out of contract and consider switching at this point.

If you’re considering switching your broadband provider, it’s worth doing plenty of research so you can be certain you’ve found the best possible deal to suit your needs. Comparison sites such as MoneySuperMarket, Uswitch and Compare the Market all enable you to compare the latest broadband deals, whether you’re looking to switch just your broadband, or if you want a broadband, phone and TV package.

You’ll be able to narrow down your options by specifying your budget, the speed you’re looking for, how much data you need, and how long you want your contract to be.

Once you’ve found the deal you want, simply click on it and sign up. Your new provider will then handle the switch on your behalf and will let your current provider know that you’re cancelling your contract. They will then tell you the start date for your new contract. This should typically be up and running within a couple of weeks, although it can sometimes take up to six weeks to change providers.

You shouldn’t usually see any significant interruption in your service, although you’ll typically be offline for a short while whilst the switch takes place. Your new provider should let you know when this will happen.

Whilst the process of switching from one standard broadband provider to another is relatively straightforward, moving between different types of internet service, for example from standard to fibre broadband, may take a bit longer. You will usually need to stop your service with your current provider and start a new service with your new provider, rather than your new provider handling everything on your behalf. Depending on your home setup, and as long as it’s offered in your area, you may also need someone to come and install fibre optic to enable the faster speeds.

Can I keep the same email address if I change to a different broadband supplier?

That will depend on the provider you’re switching away from. For example, if you have a BT email address and you cancel your broadband with them, you can either close your BT email account, keep your email but with more basic features by getting Basic email, which is free, or keep your email with the same features by signing up for Premium email, which costs £7.50 a month. Alternatively, you can keep your email with the same basic features, by linking it to a friend or family member’s BT Broadband, which is free. If you don’t make a choice yourself, BT will transfer you to Basic email. If you decide to upgrade to Premium email, you have up to 60 days to do this after leaving BT broadband.

If you have a Sky email address and want to move to another provider, you can keep the same email when you switch, but you need to make sure you use it regularly, as it may be closed by Sky if they think it’s an inactive account. If you’re not sure whether your provider will let you keep your address, check with them before you switch.

What happens if I have problems switching broadband?

Whilst most broadband switches go smoothly, occasionally some people do run into problems, such as their switch being delayed, or their service being interrupted for a significant length of time. It is worth bearing this in mind amidst the current pandemic when we are all more reliant on our internet connectivity than usual.

If you have any issues, get in touch with your provider’s customer service team and explain the problem. If they fail to sort it out, you’ll need to make a formal complaint. Your provider should explain how to do this on the back of your bill, on their website or when you speak with them.

If they still don’t sort out your complaint, you should ask them for what’s known as a “deadlock letter” which confirms that you haven’t been able to reach an agreement with them to rectify the problem. Once you have this letter, you can then turn to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme to try and sort things out on your behalf. They can act as a middleman and will look at both sides independently to try and resolve the issue.

All broadband providers must belong to one of two ADR schemes, either “Ombudsman Services: Communications”, or the “Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme” (CISAS). Your provider will tell you which scheme it is a member of, or you can find out using Ofcom’s ADR checker.

If you’re still unhappy with the service you’ve received, you can complain to Ofcom, but bear in mind they can’t look into individual cases, so any feedback you give will be used either to help them monitor consumer issues or may lead to them launching an investigation into the company involved. You can submit a complaint here.

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Switching your broadband deal is usually a quick and easy way to reduce your household costs, and to improve the service you’re getting. Just make sure you do plenty of research first and compare plenty of different deals before you move. It’s also a good idea to look at whether any supplier you’re considering moving to offers good customer service. You can find out which rank highly for customer service and which have the worst customer service in Ofcom’s report on the best and worst broadband and telecoms providers.

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