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Misleading broadband adverts hiding true cost of contracts

23 December 2015

Misleading adverts are making it too difficult for most people to work out which broadband deal is cheapest, Citizens Advice finds.

New research from the national charity reveals over half the population (56 per cent) would be unable to pick out the cheaper deal when comparing broadband ads.

Consumers can be left between £7 and £197 out of pocket over the length of their contract, if they aren’t able to work out the cheaper option.

In a study Citizens Advice designed with ComRes, people were asked to both compare two deals and to work out the price of a broadband contract, from the adverts and marketing materials used on seven different providers’ websites.

When looking at one particular broadband advert, only 1 in 5 British adults (22 per cent) are able to work out what they would be paying on average per month for an advertised broadband deal. This makes it tougher for consumers to compare offers.

The adverts typically are advertised with a promotional period featured prominently, which can be free or significantly lower than the overall cost of the contract. The cost of line rental and the length of time that the ‘teaser’ price applies is included separately and often only in small print.

Consumers are left to work out how much they will pay for the whole contract, including the period after the teaser price stops applying.  

Whilst most people understood that the headline price wasn’t the overall cost, only 22 per cent were able to work out the correct average price per month.

The research also reveals that three in four people (75 per cent) say they find the information in most adverts for broadband is too complicated to compare deals easily.

Citizens Advice is calling for the cost of line rental to be included in the headline price. Nine in ten British adults (88 per cent) agreed this would be make it easier for them to choose the right broadband option.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Misleading broadband adverts are hiding the true cost of a contract.

“Attractive headline offers that don’t include line rental costs make it impossible for people to work out the best broadband deal on offer without doing complicated sums.  This stands in the way of people being able to make an informed decision about what internet package is best for them.

“A broadband market that works for consumers should be competing on the overall cost of the available deals rather than on how difficult they can make it for people to work this out.

“Broadband providers need to make the costs of a contract clear in their advertising and  the Advertising Standards Authority should also review the code of practice to make sure it  works well for consumers.”

Between August 2014 and September 2015 Citizens Advice helped people with 4,600 internet service provider issues through its Consumer Service. Local Citizens Advice also helped people with over 3,700 internet and broadband problems in the same period.

In July, Citizens Advice found people are paying as much as £20 more a month for their broadband package than advertised in an analysis of adverts from six broadband providers.  

The Government pledged in November to investigate whether internet service providers of home broadband are using teaser rates in adverts to hide the overall cost of their services.

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Notes to editors

  1. ComRes interviewed 2,025 British adults aged 18+ online between the 4th and 6th December 2015. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults in Great Britain aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
  2. Citizens Advice selected 8 broadband adverts from seven providers and matched them into 4 pairs with the same contract lengths. The smallest difference between the overall costs of one pair was £7 and the biggest was £197. ComRes tested adverts, splitting the total sample of 2,025 British adults so each respondent saw one of the four randomly assigned pairs.
  3. All images of adverts and marketing materials used included a ‘teaser’ broadband price, the actual broadband price, line rental cost, the length of the teaser period, and overall contract length. Images were only edited if the image referred to more than one deal or the image referred to a delivery charge.
  4. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  5. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  6. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  7. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
  8. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
  9. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.
  10. Citizens Advice has been named Charity Times 2015 charity of the year.