Sky under investigation for not letting customers cancel

Telegraph Money first exposed the problems people experienced cancelling Sky contracts in January 2014. A subsequent investigation by this newspaper found routinely poor treatment of customers who tried to terminate their Sky packages, even when they were outside of their contract term.

The television, phone and internet provider’s contracts stated that customers could cancel by letter, email, fax or phone, but a number of readers who wrote to the company found that their subscription remained in force.

In fact, Sky routinely refused to accept any cancellation requests that were not “verified” by the customer over the telephone.

Ofcom’s investigation, which could run into next year, will consider whether Sky breached its obligations to ensure that contract termination procedures do not act as a disincentive for customers to change provider.

It said: “Ofcom’s investigation will examine whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that Sky has failed to comply with [its] obligations.”

This is a separate investigation from Ofcom’s industry-wide inquiry, launched in June this year, into the “aggressive tactics” used by broadband and television companies when customers want to leave.

In May 2014, following extensive coverage by this newspaper, Sky agreed to amend its customer agreements to make it clear that subscribers could cancel their contracts by telephone only.

But the problems didn’t stop there. When customers phoned Sky they were forced to endure calls lasting up to two hours and were still prevented from cancelling.

Sky also left conflicting cancellation guidelines on its website, causing confusion and further frustration for customers.

Its website stated: “If you’d like to cancel your Sky subscription, you’ll need to … call us OR start a Live Chat online.”

But further down the page it said: “Please note, we won’t be able to cancel your services unless we verify your request over the phone.”

Many customers were left frustrated after long conversations on the Live Chat service that proved fruitless.

One reader was made to conduct a 90-minute conversation with a Sky employee via Live Chat when he attempted to cancel his contract. You can read a transcript of the 4,000-word conversation here. At the end of the conversation he was still unable to cancel.

Others suffered similar experiences.

Many customers said they felt so trapped that they simply cancelled their direct debits, only to be faced with threatening letters from Sky’s debt collectors.

Readers responded to Telegraph Money’s coverage by offering their own tips on how best to cancel Sky contracts, which included telling the company you are moving abroad.

One reader, Pete Swift, eventually won a £1,500 payout from Sky after spending two years and £1,395 trying to cancel his TV and broadband package.

Sky is not alone in attracting criticism for making it hard for customers to stop subscriptions. In June this year Ofcom launched an investigationinto poor service standards for customers trying to leave broadband and television companies.

The telecoms watchdog said it would look at the rise of “aggressive tactics” used by firms when customers want to leave. This investigation will continue to run alongside the new investigation into Sky.

A Sky spokesman said: “We’re committed to delivering the best service in the country and we believe this is one of the reasons why more customers than ever are choosing Sky. We will work closely with Ofcom to help them with their investigation.”