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Home / Advice & Information / Contracts

Contracts

Introduction

The Consumer Rights Act 2022 introduces new rights when you buy in a shop, online or with a door-to-door seller. Some of the rights may only apply if you bought something on or after 29 November 2022, when the Consumer Rights Act became law.

The European Union (Electronic Communications Code) Regulations 2022 (the “Code Regulations”) also provide additional consumer and other end-user protections. These Regulations came into operation on 9 June 2023.

This page explains these rights in relation to Contracts.

Contracts

This section is designed to give advice on entering into a contract.  We outline some of the most important things to consider at the different stages:

  • Before entering a contract
  • While you’re in a contract
  • When your contract comes to an end

Before entering a contract

The Contract Summary

It’s important that you shop around to get the best value offer for the service you’re looking for.  A service provider should provide you with a Contract Summary before concluding a contract with you.

The Contract Summary is aimed at providing consumers with a standardised document that clearly sets out the main terms of the service on offer to you in an easy-to-understand form.  It should include information on:

  1. The contact information for the service provider and contact information for making a complaint (if different)
  2. The main characteristics for each service provided
  3. The costs, including any activation cost and recurring or usage costs
  4. The contract minimum term, the terms for renewal and termination
  5. Features for end-users with disabilities
  6. For broadband services:
    1. The minimum, normally available, maximum and advertised download and upload speed of fixed networks, and
    2. The estimated maximum and advertised download and upload speeds of mobile networks

The contract summary allows you to easily compare the different offers, helping you to make an informed decision.  The information provided is binding, meaning that the contract you eventually sign-up to can’t be any different from it. Bear in mind that the offer can be time sensitive and may expire after a fixed date.

Once you’ve decided which service is best suited to your needs, the next stage is to sign-up to the contract.

What are the different ways you can sign-up to a contract?

There are a number of ways you can agree to enter into a contract: on-premises, off-premises, or at a distance.

On-premises: you can visit a store that is operated by the service provider to sign-up for a service.

Off-premises: for example, on your front doorstep through a salesperson.

At a distance: you can sign-up for a service through the service provider’s website or app by agreeing to terms and conditions online, clicking on a button or checking a box. You can also give your verbal consent to enter a contract over the phone.

No matter how you agree to enter into a contract, you should be sure to fully understand the service on offer and the contract terms before giving your agreement. If you are unsure, it’s important to ask as many questions as needed to help you understand what you are committing to.

How should you receive your contract?

Key contractual information should be provided to you in a durable medium. This means that the information should:

  • be personally addressed to you
  • be provided on paper or in another durable format such as a PDF file attached to an email
  • allow you to store it so that you can access it at any time for future reference
  • be stored in such a way that the information in the contract remains unchanged

What is the key information that needs to be in a contract?

How you signed up to the contract
On-premises (in store) Off-premises (on your doorstep) / At a distance (online)
Service provider’s business name, address, phone number. Y Y
Service provider’s email and other contact channels. Y
Characteristics about the service. Y Y
Total price of the service or how it will be calculated. Y Y
Information on other charges such as delivery or postal charges (if relevant). Y Y
Duration of the contract (i.e. minimum term). Y
Details on payment, delivery and performance. Y Y
Your rights around cancellation (if applicable). Y
Conditions applying to deposits (if applicable). Y
Complaints handling policy. Y Y
Conditions of any after-sales service or guarantee (if relevant). Y Y

What is the key information that needs to be in a contract about broadband speeds?

Broadband service providers are legally required to include information in contracts relating to:

  • a clear explanation about how any data allowance limit, speed or other quality of service parameter may impact on your service.
  • the minimum, normally available, maximum and advertised download and upload speed of fixed networks.
  • the estimated maximum and advertised download and upload speeds of mobile networks.
  • the remedies available to you where there is a continuous or regularly occurring issues around speed or other quality of service parameters.
  • any traffic management in use, including details of any measures applied that could impact on the quality of your service, on your privacy and on the protection of your personal data.

The information provided to you should be clear and meaningful and it should be up to date.

Fair Usage Policy

Your service provider may operate a fair usage policy, meaning that your internet connection might be restricted if you use a lot of data.  The fair usage policy should be outlined in your terms and conditions. The policy should set out the rules for contract termination, including penalties, the charges that will apply for any use above a certain threshold or limit, and the policy regarding migration of your service to another package, if applicable.  The same rules apply for calls and texts usage.  For more information visit the FAQ section.

What does a contract minimum term mean?

When you enter into a contract, you will be required to commit to that contract for a specified period of time. This is known as the minimum term.

The length of the minimum term can vary. Some contracts are for 12, 18 or 24 months. Others, known as rolling contracts, have more flexibility and ‘roll over’ every month until they are cancelled.

A service provider cannot enter you into a contract with a minimum term of more than 24 months.

What if you were mis-sold a service?

There are a wide range of misleading, unfair and aggressive sales practices that are prohibited under consumer law.

Such practices can lead you to agree to a contract without being fully informed of your decision or knowing the true facts.  Some examples include:

  • you were given incorrect information about the service by the sales agent or through an advert
  • you were wrongly advised about the best service that is suited to your needs
  • you weren’t given complete information that concealed a key element of the service
  • you agreed to the contract because you felt under pressure or harassed by the sales agent.

If you think that a service provider misled or forced you into agreeing to a contract that you would not otherwise have agreed to, you should make a complaint to them straightaway.  You can also get in touch with our Consumer Care team for advice or help with your complaint.  Find out more here.

While you’re in a contract

Can you change your mind once you’ve entered a contract?

When you sign up to a contract and you change your mind, you may have a right to cancel it during a “cooling-off” period.

The rules around the cooling-off period are different depending on how you signed up to the contract.  You should check your contract terms for more information.

For contracts made over the phone or online i.e. at a distance, you have the right to cancel it within 14 days of the day on which the contract is concluded.

If you agreed to a contract through a door-to-door sale, you have the right to cancel it within 30 days from the day you concluded it.

If the service provider does not give you information on how and when to exercise your cancellation rights, your right to cancel is extended by 12 months.

If the service provider gives you this information on your right to cancel within this 12-month period, the cooling-off period ends 14 days from the date you get the information.

If you signed up to a contract in-store, you are not entitled to a cooling-off period.  You are also not entitled to a cooling-off period if you are a business customer.

What is an unfair contract term?

Consumers are protected against the use of unfair terms in contracts.  A contract term is unfair if it causes a significant imbalance in rights and obligations between a trader and a consumer and causes consumer detriment

If a contract includes a term that is unfair to you, that particular term will not be legally binding. For example it is deemed unfair to require a consumer to pay for goods that have not been delivered or digital content, a digital service or a service that has not been supplied.

For more information on the list of consumer contract terms that are always unfair, known as the ‘black list’, see section 132 of the Consumer Rights Act.

Where there is any uncertainty about a contract term, it is to be interpreted in favour of the consumer. For the list of consumer contract terms that maybe unfair, known as the grey list, see section 133 of the Consumer Rights Act.

Where a dispute arises, it is up to the service provider to prove that the term is fair and transparent.

What type of service am I entitled to and what if things go?

The Consumer Rights Act requires that the service provider must provide a service:

Remedies that might apply if things go wrong:

·       in the time specified or agreed in the contract or within a reasonable time

·       that conforms with the contract and descriptions given

·       that conforms with legal requirements

·       for a reasonable price, when it is not agreed in advance

·       the right to terminate the contract for failure to supply the service

·       the right to have the service brought up to the expected standard or requirement

·       the right to have a proportionate reduction in price due to the issue

Bundled services

You may have the right to end a contract if the service provider fails to meet their commitments. Regulation 91 of the Code Regulations applies to bundled services that include at least an internet service or a publicly available telephone service (home or mobile) that allows communication with telephone numbers.

For services (which might, for example, include packages of internet services, mobile, home phone and/or TV services), where a consumer has the right to terminate any element of the bundle before the end of the agreed contract term because a service does not conform with the contract or has not been provided at all, they can terminate all elements of the bundle.

This allows you to avoid being locked into a contract if issues arise with one element of the bundle.

If you have the right to cancel the contract before the end of the contract minimum term, you may be required to return any terminal equipment, such as a modem or a router, to the service provider.  If you fail to do this, you may be charged a fee.

What happens if you cancel the contract within the minimum term?

If you cancel a contract and you are still within the minimum term, the service provider may charge you an early termination fee.  The cost of this is usually the same as you were due to pay for the remainder of the contract.

You can speak to your service provider to see if there are any options available to you other than to pay the early termination fee.

For example, if you are moving house and still in contract for your broadband service.  You might be able to transfer the service to your new address and continue using it until the end of the contract. However, the service provider does not have to agree to this.

What happens if you accept an upgrade or make changes to your service?

If you agree to a change in your service such as an upgrade or you add a product to your existing service, you should check with your service provider if this means you are entering into a new contract.  It’s important to remember that this can result in a new minimum term.

This should not happen without it being made clear to you and should happen only where you have given your consent.

The contractual information requirements mentioned above apply to any new contract entered.

Can the service provider change your contract?

There are times when the service provider may want to change the terms and conditions of your contract.  The service provider can do this but is required to give you at least one month’s notice before the changes happen.  The notice that you receive is known as a Contract Change Notification.

In some, but not all cases, you may be given the right to end the contract without once you confirm you do not accept the changes before the stated deadline.

There are some exceptions to having an automatic right of exit from your contract when you receive a Contract Change Notification.  These are where the proposed changes are:

  1. exclusively to the benefit of the consumer
  2. purely administrative in nature and have no negative effect on the consumer, or
  3. directly imposed by law.

For more information on Contract Change Notifications, you can refer to ComReg Decision D13/12 and Document 20/111R.

Before your contract comes to an end

In the lead up to your contract minimum term expiry date, the service provider must let you know that your contract is coming to an end and tell you how you can cancel the contract. The end of contract notice must be sent to you in a durable medium and in a prominent and timely manner.

At the same time, you should also receive ‘best-tariff advice’ from your provider relating to your service. This should address the best tariff, price plan or bundle that suits your needs. This may or may not be the package that you’re already signed-up to. Best tariff information must be provided at least annually. The best tariff advice and information provided will be based on your past usage and so it ensures that you’re better informed to choose the service that meets your specific needs.

When your contract comes to an end

When your minimum term ends, most contracts will continue as normal until such time as you end the contract.

It is worth shopping around for a new deal as there can be incentives for new customers when moving to a new service provider.  Or your existing service provider may offer you a better deal to stay.

If you purchased a mobile handset as part of your package, it might be worth moving to a SIM-only price plan.  These are generally less expensive as you are no longer paying for the cost of your handset.

Remember, any new agreement that you enter into may result in a new contract minimum term.

Other information

You can visit our Compare tool to help compare the cost of phone, broadband and TV price plans.

See also our switching page for information about moving your service to a new service provider.

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