Ofcom has launched an industry-wide investigation into whether phone and broadband firms set out in-contract price rises clearly enough before customers signed up.
The regulator said it is concerned consumers who took out contracts between March 1 2021 and June 16 2022 may not have been given clear enough information about in-contract price rises, which are usually applied in March or April each year.
The rules for that period stipulate firms must set out any potential future price rises in the terms of a contract prominently and transparently at the point of sale.
If the customer had not agreed to the terms when signing up – because they had not been made sufficiently prominent and transparent – providers should have notified them of the price increase and offered them a right to a penalty-free exit.
Ofcom said it is investigating what happened in practice and could launch separate probes into individual firms.
Networks and communications group director Lindsey Fussell said: “As millions of people are having to deal with rising household bills, it is more important than ever that telecoms companies don’t shirk their responsibilities, and keep customers fully informed about what they are signing up to.
“It’s vital that people are told clearly upfront about any future price rises they will face while they are in contract, and we’re investigating to check whether this happened in practice.”
Ofcom’s latest affordability of communications services tracker, published on Thursday, shows 9.1 million UK households (32%) are having problems paying for their phone, broadband, pay TV and streaming bills – more than double the level of April 2021.
The study also shows 17% of households are cutting back on other spending, such as food and clothing, to afford their communications services, up from 4% in June 2021.