Virgin Media customers have been left unhappy after UKTV channels including Dave and Gold were wiped from their boxes – if you're affected, here are Martin's tips on how to fight back.
Update Monday 13 August: Virgin Media and UKTV have reached an agreement. See our MSE UKTV channels return to Virgin Media News story for more information.
Talks between Virgin Media and UKTV failed to solve an impasse over fees and 10 channels, including five which are free-to-air, disappeared from Virgin Media subscribers' televisions at 00.01am on Sunday 22 July.
At the moment, Virgin Media says it is trying to resolve the dispute and is considering letting customers leave their contract penalty-free on a case-by-case basis, and as above, we've already heard of successes.
Regulator Ofcom also says it has "raised concerns" with Virgin about the issue, and that T&Cs which allow providers to change their services mid-contract can be unfair.
Of course if you're out of contract you can leave penalty-free but check rival providers' prices using our Broadband Unbundled tool first to ensure switching is worth it – especially as Virgin only provides bundle deals and so this will most likely mean switching your broadband too.
Martin: 'If you are annoyed, here's what I would do'
Martin has filmed a two-minute video for Virgin customers:
'I haggled £380/year off my Virgin bill'
We've heard from 100s of MoneySavers who have been allowed to leave their contract penalty-free. Many have been given credit or have haggled a better deal as a result:
- Marc told us he's cut his bill by £380/year: "This is the third time I have reduced my bill and was by far the most successful. I have succeeded in reducing my bill from £107/month to £75/mth. The UKTV loss is a great opportunity as there seems to be a better chance of a greater reduction or so I was told on the phone. My key tips are to be polite, have another option costed and to explain the reason you are leaving."
- Mark told us: "I stayed calm, explained my views and have managed to get the same package for £13 a month less. The first agent wasn't helpful so I asked to speak to someone else, then repeated my views and the result was a price reduction."
- Vicki said: "I spoke to Virgin yesterday and managed to cancel my whole contract with no fees and I was still in contract till March 2019."
- Kevin said: "We have contacted Virgin Media today – my wife was particularly disappointed to lose access to Dave and Gold – and we now have a revised contract at £19.50/mth less."
- Anna said: "I followed the MSE guidance and managed to reduce my bill by £16/mth. I was determined to be the nicest call that the operator had received today as I'm sure the call centre staff are having a miserable time right now. It never costs anything to be polite."
- Andy told us: "Just called Virgin. They offered me £50 credit, a reduced monthly bill and offered me Sky Movies (£30) for free."
- Jake said: "I contacted Virgin Media to advise them of my disappointment. They have upped my broadband speeds from 54 to 108Mbps free of charge, they have extended my free Sky Sports package from three to six months and have kept my subscription at the introductory rate of £29/mth until further notice."
But some haven't been so lucky
On the other hand, we've heard from some who say they've been told they will be charged exit fees if they leave. Angela, for example, told us on Facebook: "I was told we had been given new channels instead, so no reduction."
If you manage to negotiate successfully with Virgin, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Which channels have I lost?
Free-to-air channels Dave, Drama, Home, Really and Yesterday, along with paid-for channels Gold, Alibi, Eden, Good Food and W were all taken off Virgin boxes on 22 July, because of a dispute with UKTV.
It leaves fans of shows including Taskmaster, Judge Romesh, Harrow and Red Dwarf unable to watch some of their favourite programmes.
The free-to-air channels – Dave, Drama, Home, Really and Yesterday – are also available on Freeview and Freesat, which usually come with a TV when you buy one.
Virgin also says it has added some channels, including Paramount HD and YourTV.
Can I leave my contract penalty-free?
If you're not happy with the loss of channels you can try to leave your contract with Virgin penalty-free to switch to another provider, as all UKTV channels are available on subscription services provided by Sky, BT and TalkTalk.
After you've benchmarked the best deals, here's what to do:
- If in contract: At the moment, Virgin is refusing to say if you'll be able to cancel your contract penalty-free as a result of these channels being removed. It says customers should contact it to review their situation on an individual basis.
If you're unhappy with the changes and you do want to leave Virgin, or you want a reduction in price, call it on 0345 454 1111 and explain how much you watch UKTV channels and how important they are for you. It will also be worth looking through the T&Cs of your specific contract and seeing what it says about a reduction in service, to use this in your negotiations.
You may also want to let Virgin Media know that you are aware of Ofcom's concerns about the situation. If you don't get what you want from contacting Virgin, your next stage would be to complain to Ofcom.
- If out of contract: You are in a stronger position, as you can leave penalty-free at any time, giving 30 days' notice. If you don't want to leave you can use the cut to UKTV channels as a bargaining chip to negotiate a better contract. See our Haggle with Virgin guide for more tips on how to do this.
What do Virgin Media, UKTV and Ofcom say?
A Virgin Media spokesperson said: "We're as frustrated as our customers that UKTV has removed all of its channels from Virgin TV. We are ready to bring back UKTV's free channels for our customers immediately with UKTV's permission.
"We believe that we have treated customers fairly and are dealing with any customer issues on a case-by-case basis.
"Customers are not paying specifically for UKTV's channels but for the whole portfolio of TV content and other services (such as our ultrafast fibre broadband) available in their bundle."
UKTV chief executive Darren Childs said: "We're hugely disappointed for the many customers who are losing out because our channels are no longer available through Virgin Media.
"We completely understand their frustration and would love to continue to bring them the shows and channels that they're so passionate about, but we need a fair price to support our growing investment in programmes."
An Ofcom spokesperson said: "Terms in contracts must be fair to consumers. But those which allow providers to change their services can be unfair, and we are raising our concerns with Virgin Media in this case.
"People who feel they have been treated unfairly should contact Virgin Media directly about their own position, and make a complaint to Ofcom if they are not satisfied with the outcome."