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UK broadband providers are facing accusations that they overcharge for customer support lines and keep people waiting for extended periods, in the wake of an expose from one of the UK’s leading consumer magazines.

An investigation conducted by Which Computer? found that a number of internet service providers (ISPs) are employing higher charge numbers for their helplines. Conversely, just a handful of ISPs – namely, BT, O2 and UKOnline, offer a freephone 0800 number.

Those found to be the worst offenders were Supanet and supermarket giant Tesco, both of which use an 090 number which features the highest rates on the market. Which? calculates that customers calling an 090 number can rack up a bill of £5 for a ten minute call, not including connection charges.

The report also found evidence of widespread dissatisfaction among ISPs’ customers across the sector. In a survey of 16,000 broadband customers, a third said they were frustrated with the standard of customer support that they have received. Particularly galling to many consumers, it emerged, is the time it takes to be connected to an operator.

This was supported by the magazine’s own findings, which showed that the average time that someone waits to speak to a representative is one minute and 33 seconds. However, some ISPs performed significantly worse than this, with PlusNet customers waiting an average of eight minutes.

Tesco has attempted to downplay criticism of its high customer service charges, in a statement which claimed that it was already aware that this was irking customers and that the company is in the process of addressing the problem.

A spokeswoman from Tesco said: “The cost of calls to Tesco broadband technical support is something we’ve been looking at and listening to customer feedback on. As a result we’ll continue to provide a very high quality of technical expertise to all our broadband customers but calls will now be charged at a local rate.”

She added: “We’ll be contacting all our customers as soon as possible to let them know about the change in price.”

News of widespread dissatisfaction among consumers follows a separate study from ISPreview.com which yielded similarly alarming results. The broadband news resource discovered that trust in ISPs has waned over the last year, with 44 per cent of consumers claiming that their faith in their provider had decreased during this time.

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