Can Three charge a £300 cancellation fee to end my broadband contract?

I was looking for a new broadband provider and went into my local Three shop on August 31. 

I was sold a 5G router on a 24 month contract, which would cost £10 per month for six months and £20 thereafter. 

But when I took the device home, I found that the connection was worse than my existing supplier. I decided to return the router and void my contract under the 14-day cooling off conditions that I’d seen on Three’s website. 

I attempted to return it in the exact packaging I received it in on September 5 – but I was told that because I bought the device in a store and not online, there was no cooling off period for my contract.  

Three’s returns policy states that if you buy a home broadband device in store then you are not entitled to a 14 day cooling off period and are not able to return the product for a refund

Had I been told this at the time, I wouldn’t have signed this contract. The rep then told me that if I wished to cancel the contract, I would have to pay £300. 

Why was I not able to cancel my contract in the first 30 days? Why is the fee to cancel my contract so high? Is there a chance I can get a refund because the speed of my router isn’t up to scratch? J.M, via email.

Emilia Shovelin of This is Money replies: You decided to try a new broadband supplier after your contract with your previous supplier ended, and were talked into trying the new 5G router by the Three sales representative.

You asked the representative if it was better you buy the product online or in store, and they said they preferred you to do it in store as it keeps them in their job. You were more than happy to make the sale. 

However, when you took the device home, you found the speed of your internet was vastly slower than what you had expected and compared to your old provider. 

As this was a Friday evening, you decided to wait until the following Monday to try and return the product, still well within the 14 day cooling off period displayed on Three’s site. 

When you arrived in the store on Monday, the representative working there told you that because you bought your device in store they would not be able to cancel your two-year contract without a hefty fee. To do so, they said you would need to pay a £300 cancellation fee.

What is a 14-day cooling off period? 

A ‘cooling-off period’ is the period of time retailers offer for you to change your mind about an item that you purchased from a distance.

They often appears in T&Cs of contracts or on websites that offer goods or services you purchase online, over the phone or mail order.

The statutory minimum cooling-off period retailers must offer is 14 days.

Cooling-off periods don’t apply to purchases bought from a private individual or in store. 

I reached out to Three to ask them what was going on and why the 14 day cooling off period did not apply to your sale.

When you signed up to the broadband, you were not given a full copy of the terms and conditions of your contract. 

When I checked the T&C’s on Three’s website, the returns policy clearly states that they don’t offer a returns policy if you buy a device in store.

The policy reads: ‘We’re sorry, but, aside from Home Broadband devices or Device(s) and/or Accessories which you have agreed, as part of your instore purchase, to be sent to you separately, if you bought a Device or accessory from a Three Store and you change your mind, you’ll be unable to return or exchange it.’

Consumers should be aware of their statutory rights – which are your minimum guaranteed rights under the law – when shopping online and in store.

Unfortunately, if you buy something in store you have less rights to rely on than if you purchased it online, as you don’t have an automatic legal right to return the item purchased if you simply change your mind.

This is because, when shopping online, the item might not turn up as it appeared on the website – which is not an issue when something has been bought in person.  

So had you bought this device online you would have been able to return the device under the cooling off period and to cancel your contract within the 30 day window.

When I asked Three why this was the case, and what you could do to get a refund, they replied to say they would cancel your contract without the £300 fee.  

A Three spokesperson said: ‘We apologise for the difficulty J.M. has faced in closing this account – our customer service was not up to our usual high standards on this occasion.

‘We have since closed the account with immediate effect and sent a prepaid envelope to the customer to facilitate his return of the router. 

‘We have waived the early contract termination fee and offered the customer a gesture of goodwill. We will be conducting further training with our team based on this experience.’

As there are often fewer protections, it’s worth considering what items you decide to purchase in store, and considering buying online instead for items that may need to be sent back. 

It is also a good idea to check companies’ returns policies prior to locking yourself into a multi-year contract.

Most retailers provide a ‘goodwill’ returns policy for non-faulty items, usually offering an exchange, refund or credit note, but only if they have a returns policy.

Shops aren’t required by law to have a returns policy, but they must adhere to it if they do have one. 

Do your research and ensure you read your contract or retailers terms and conditions before committing to buying something in store.