There are few things more frustrating than being left without phone or broadband services due to an outage. Given how constant connectivity has become such a big part of our lives, being left unable to keep up-to-date with what's going on can leave us feeling anxious and left out.
However, as of April 1st, customers are now entitled to automatic compensation if things do go wrong, thanks to a new code of practice to be enforced by Ofcom. This means getting money back not only for any delayed repairs to outages, but also for any missed or cancelled engineer visits, and for any delays in setting up a new service.
Chief executive of Ofcom Sharon White said: "We think it’s unacceptable that people should be kept waiting for a new line, or a fault to be fixed.
"These new protections mean phone and broadband firms will want to avoid problems occurring in the first place. But if they fall short, customers must be treated fairly and given money back, without having to ask for it."
Until now, only around one in seven people got any form of compensation for such issues, and this was often far less than what has now been proposed. Ofcom has calculated that the new scheme will see customers benefit from a total of £142 million in automatic payments - around nine times what has been paid out before.
This should be great news for millions of Brits, as not only will it ensure that they receive compensation for any outages or missed appointments, but it should also act as an important incentive for broadband and phone providers to fix any problems quickly, lest they be left on the hook for big bills.
So what do you need to know about the new compensation rules, and how can you ensure you don't miss out?
Under the new rules, any broadband or home phone customer who experiences delayed repairs, installations or missed engineer appointments will be entitled to automatic compensation, without having to file a specific request.
The regulator has set clear guidelines for how much users can expect in each scenario, so providers will have no excuses for failing to deliver what is owed.
When it comes to repairing faults, broadband and phone suppliers will have two working days to restore services. If they fail to do this, customers will be entitled to £8 for each calendar day the service is not repaired, including weekends and public holidays.
Meanwhile, if an engineer fails to turn up to a scheduled appointment with a customer, or an appointment is cancelled with less than 24 hours notice, customers will receive £25 for each missed appointment.
Finally, consumers can also claim compensation for any delays to the start of a new service, including if they are switching broadband providers. If broadband providers promise to begin service on a specific date but fail to do so, consumers will receive £5 for each calendar day of delay, including the missed start date.
The code of practice is voluntary, meaning there is no obligation for broadband and phone providers to sign up to it. However, for those that do, the scheme is binding, and the vast majority of consumers in the UK should be covered by it.
All of the UK's biggest broadband and phone suppliers — including BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk — have agreed to sign up to the code. These brands, along with Zen Internet, will all start compensating customers for delays immediately.
Ofcom has recently announced that Vodafone and Hyperoptic have also committed to the scheme and will start providing automatic compensation later in the year, while EE is expected to fully join the scheme from 2020.
This means that more than 95 per cent of UK home phone and broadband users will be covered by the plans.
In theory, customers who encounter any of these issues should not need to do anything in order to receive the compensation they are entitled to beyond reporting any faults in the first place. This means no forms to fill in, no customer service calls to make and no worries that consumers will end up short-changed.
While the scheme is voluntary, once providers are signed up, Ofcom expects them to act within the spirit and letter of the code and will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure it is working as intended.
Ms White said: "We will closely watch how companies comply with the scheme, and will report next year on how it is working. If customers are not being treated fairly, we will step in and take action."