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Off the menu … but Virgin argues it offers a range of services and viewers are not paying specifically for UKTV. Photograph: Alamy

How can I break free from Virgin over lost UKTV?

It removed channels from its service – but it said ‘no’ when I asked to downgrade my package

When Virgin Media removed the UKTV channels from its service last month I bought a new TV in order to watch them on Freeview and tried to downgrade my Virgin package. Virgin won’t let me do so unless I sign up to a new 12-month contract? That doesn’t seem right.

KL, London

Another reader tried to cancel her package after losing her favourite channels and was told that she couldn’t do so without incurring an early termination fee.

The disappearance of UKTV was rooted in a row over money. It claimed Virgin had insisted on a multi-million pound cut in its fees; Virgin argued that UKTV was restricting its customers access to its free-to-view channels.

As a result, Virgin axed 10 channels, half available on free-to-view TV, in late July. It has since restored them after the companies resolved the impasse. The fact remains, though, that Virgin refused to release customers from their contracts despite the fact that they were no longer receiving the full service.

Virgin has a history of such intransigence. It is being investigated by regulator Ofcom for levying hefty exit fees on broadband customers forced to cancel their contract after moving to an area not covered by its network (ie, half the country). Ofcom also says it “raised concerns” with Virgin over its refusal to waive early exit fees for those affected by the UKTV row. Virgin’s argument is that viewers are not paying specifically for UKTV, rather for a whole portfolio of services, including broadband, and that they can watch UKTV free on UKTVPlay.

It claims to assess each request for early cancellation on a case-by-case basis.

Ofcom’s rules state that contracts must be fair and that terms and conditions that allow a company to alter its services without allowing customers to cancel may well be deemed unfair.

Customers who fail to resolve issues with a telecoms company can refer complaints to the regulator if a company fails to resolve them.

Many subscribers of basic TV packages don’t realise that they could access many of the channels for free via Freeview, including UKTV, Plus 1 and music channels, and they can buy a box to pause and record shows.

Disgruntled Virgin customers may therefore want to cost up the benefits of their service and seek cheaper options once their contracts have ended.

If you need help email Anna Tims at your.problems@observer.co.uk or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions

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