Internet, phone, and pay TV provider Virgin Media is protecting 100,000 of its most vulnerable customers by freezing their prices or automatically switching them onto cheaper deals.
The telecoms company will automatically review the contracts of vulnerable customers who have stuck with them for longer than three years, even if it can’t contact them, and either freeze their prices against future hikes or move them to more appropriate and affordable packages.
Virgin’s proposed package reviews go beyond the end of contract notifications telecoms regulator Ofcom will require from ISPs from February.
Virgin will decide on a case by case basis which customers qualify as vulnerable, but beneficiaries of its new policies will likely include pensioners, the unemployed, those with disabilities, and those who have experienced a recent bereavement. 100,000 customers are expected to benefit from new protections.
The provider will also reach out to customers who have made uncharacteristic late payments or racked up unusually large bills. Changes will also make it easier for customers to designate a family member or friend to manage their account for them.
Virgin already guarantees vulnerable customers free engineer installations and priority fixing of faults, but this new “enhanced package of measures” will also take into account physical disabilities and accessibility requirements during engineering visits. This may include technicians giving customers more time to answer the door and customers being booked longer appointments.
Meanwhile, Virgin’s Talk Protected Plan, launched in 2016, already fixes prices for elderly and disabled phone-only customers.
The new measures appear to be a response to Ofcom’s on-going review of broadband pricing, launched after consumer watchdog Citizens Advice filed a super complaint with the Competitions and Markets Authority. Citizens Advice alleged that so-called “loyalty penalties” were costing consumers of subscription services like broadband and energy more than £4.1 billion a year.
Vulnerable customers are hit hardest by these penalties, as they’re less likely to compare prices and switch provider and more likely to be rolled over onto expensive out of contract pricing. Earlier this year Citizens Advice revealed that people with mental health conditions pay up to £1,550 more a year in household bills.
The CMA has recommended targeted price caps and automatic switching, to tackle the £1 billion broadband customers overpay each year.
Ofcom is still considering how best to protect broadband customers and is introducing a new voluntary Fairness Framework to tackle “unfair and harmful practices” in the industry.
But Virgin Media has pushed ahead to deliver their own package of protections.
Jeff Dodds, Chief Operating Officer at Virgin Media said: “While we fiercely compete on a daily basis with other providers to offer better deals and services, there are some customers who, for many different reasons, find it hard to shop around for the best deals and speak to their provider.
“Businesses shouldn’t be sitting on their hands about this important issue, which is why we are going the extra mile to break down the barriers and make sure those who might need a helping hand can get it from Virgin Media.
“With our track record of supporting customers who have disabilities and other requirements, I’m proud that we are leading the way with this enhanced package of measures which reflect the very heart of what Virgin Media is all about. I hope this will encourage other businesses to follow in our footsteps.”