On 22 May 2024, the Office of Communications ("Ofcom") fined BT, a broadband internet service provider ("ISP"), along with its subsidiaries EE and Plusnet, £2.8 million after an investigation revealed that the operator had failed to provide 1.1 million customers with clear and simple contract information before they signed up for new deals, failing to meet the consumer protection measures introduced in 2022. This blog explores the consumer protection measures that apply to communications providers in the UK and the steps they should take to ensure that their contracting processes comply with Ofcom guidance.

Consumer Protection Regulations

In 2022, Ofcom mandated new consumer protection measures for communications providers in the UK, including ISPs and companies offering broadband, mobile, phone, and pay TV services.

These changes were part of an update to the EU Electronic Communications Code ("EECC") and became enforceable on 17 June 2022. The measures included the requirement for ISPs to offer an Emergency Video Relay Service, facilitate One Touch Switching ("OTS") for customer migrations between broadband ISPs on different networks, provide simpler contract information, and grant new rights for consumers to exit contracts.

The aim of these new rules is to give customers key information about the contract they’re signing up to, in a short and simple way, underlining one of the key tenet of consumer law: transparency. This in turn is intended to ensure that customers are better informed and understand the implications of their relationships with their ISP providers.

Ofcom also produced new guidance to communications providers in December 2023 to improve consumer understanding of the technology used to provide broadband services and ensure clear and unambiguous terms are used to describe such services. You can learn more about that guidance in our blog.

Ofcom's Investigation and Fines for Non-compliance

In October 2022, Ofcom launched an investigation into EE, followed by an investigation into BT in January 2023. Those investigations were subsequently merged. Ofcom found that since 17 June 2022, EE and Plusnet made more than 1.3 million sales without providing the required contract summary and information documents to customers, affecting more than 1.1 million customers.

The core issue was the failure to meet the new consumer protection measures introduced on 17 June 2022, including the requirement to provide customers with a short, one-page summary of the main contract terms before entering into a contract.

This summary was to include clear examples of how any price increases would affect the price they pay, helping customers avoid surprise price hikes. The summary was also to include key information about the broadband speed, price, and length of the contract, as well as terms and conditions for ending the contract early.

Although BT had assured Ofcom in February 2022 that it would meet the deadline before the introduction of the new consumer protection measures, evidence showed that BT knew as early as January 2022 that some sales channels would not be compliant. Despite this, BT chose not to comply on time, unlike other providers who dedicated resources to meet the deadline.

Following Ofcom's engagement, BT contacted 1.1 million customers - the majority of those affected - between 26 June and 30 September 2023, explaining the failure to provide the necessary information. These customers were given the opportunity to request the information and/or cancel their contracts without charge.

However, before these communications were sent, some customers had left BT before the end of their contracts and may have been charged early exit fees. Ofcom's rules are clear that if the required contract summary and information are not given, the contract is not binding, meaning those early exit fees should not have been payable.

Some sales channels remain non-compliant, and BT is still not providing the required information at the right time to some customers. As a result, Ofcom has decided to fine BT £2.8 million to reflect the seriousness of the breach.

In addition to the fine, Ofcom is requiring BT to identify and refund any affected customers who may have been charged for leaving early, within five months of the decision. BT has three months to contact the remaining affected customers and offer them their contract information or the right to cancel without charge.

BT must also amend its remaining non-compliant sales processes to ensure all customers receive the correct information in a timely manner.

Ofcom’s Statement

Regarding the BT fine, Ian Strawhorne, Ofcom's Enforcement Director, stated: “For people to take advantage of the competitive telecoms market here in the UK, they must be able to shop around with confidence. 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.” Read Ofcom's full statement here.

BT has admitted liability and agreed to settle the case, resulting in a 30% reduction in their fine and now has four weeks to pay the fine, which will be passed on to HM Treasury.

Actions for operators

The fine given to BT shows that Ofcom will take action against non-compliant operators. In addition to payment of the fine and costs of dealing with the investigation, BT has also suffered adverse media coverage

ISPs that have not previously undertaken a review of their terms and conditions and pre-contract information, should review their customer journey and associated documents to identify any changes that they need to take in order to be compliant. The requirements for providers in relation to the information they must provide to consumers and small businesses before they enter into a contract can be found in General Condition C1.3 to C1.7.

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this blog in more detail or would like us to assist with a review of your customer journey, please get in touch with a member of the commercial team or your usual Brodies contact.


Jennifer Murphy

Senior Associate

Clare O'Toole


Martin Sloan