Moneywise Home Finances Awards 2015 Part 1: Broadband, Landline, TV, VOD and mobiles

27 October 2015

We’re spending more on staying in, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimating the biggest area of spending for most households is energy and housing costs, at £74 a week, or £3,870 a year. Even though inflation has been hovering around zero for the best part of a year, the latest figures for spending on household goods and services has increased by 15.3% in a year, to an annual spend of £1,720.

With that in mind, our second Home Finances Awards sought to find the best value and most recommended suppliers to your homes, reviewing energy bills and other utilities, broadband and mobile suppliers, paid-for TV and video-on-demand (VOD) services and grocers.

Almost 14,000 readers cast their votes, and the good news is the vast majority of you rate the services you receive positively. In most categories and for most products, almost all the suppliers received good scores, and the differences between the winners and the rest were slight.

In each of the categories we looked at, providers had to receive at least 100 votes to be eligible for consideration for the awards.


Most recommended
WINNER: Virgin Media

Best value for money
WINNER: Talk Talk


Broadband and TV providers are increasingly looking to bundle their services together and to tempt in new customers. Traditionally, Sky has sold TV and bundled in broadband, while BT has thrown in paid-TV to its broadband packages. Recently, both have made headlines by spending heavily to secure football rights, with Sky retaining most of the Premier League, and BT securing the Champions League, but critics argue this has led to vastly inflated costs for customers who aren’t interested in sports.

This year’s winners chose to sidestep the sports arena and focus on high-speed broadband connections and value for money.

To find this year’s winners in the broadband, landline and TV bundle category, panellists judged their existing providers on value for money, speed of connection, reliability, choice of entertainment and customer service. Readers were also asked how likely they were to recommend their provider to friends and family.

Virgin Media, your chosen victor in the most recommended category, has invested heavily in its own cable network to deliver higher-speed broadband connections to its customers. The results show it has paid off, with Virgin ranking higher than any other provider for broadband speed. It scored highly for choice of entertainment, offering Sky’s films as well as its own, and the sports packages from BT and Sky. Crucially though, these weren’t forced on all providers, with its starter package available for £12.99 a month, plus line rental.

Virgin also scored top in the group for customer service. At the start of October, Virgin announced it will be rolling out free broadband upgrades to its customers, upgrading the speed of its network. It aims to offer the new services to 90% of its customers by the end of the year.

Close behind Virgin Media was TalkTalk, which scored highly across the board, especially for customer service.

All those providers who received enough votes to be judged received pretty good scores in this category, so it wouldn’t be fair to name a worst offender here. At least three-quarters of the voters for each of the main suppliers were happy to recommend the service they received to friends and family.

Virgin Media and TalkTalk also took both gongs for best value for money, though this time TalkTalk was in front. When you consider Talk Talk’s essentials TV package includes broadband, free evening and weekend calls and a TV box that includes catch up services and the ability to pause for £7.50 a month plus line rental, that seems fair enough.

Sky scored the lowest in terms of value for money, though a score of 3.5 out of 5 isn’t bad, so many customers are happy.

There is much to be said for quad-play services, which bundle your phone, TV, internet and mobile phone. If you’re using all four, buying them together can put you in a good position to negotiate a better deal.



Most recommended bundle provider
WINNER: Utility Warehouse

This category asked about the likelihood of a recommendation, customer service, value for money, broadband reliability, customer service, broadband speeds and mobile network quality.
Utility Warehouse received so many positive votes in this category, it was the only winner here. It got more than 80% of all the votes in the category, and a staggering 99% of their customers would be willing to recommend them to friends and family.
Although not as high-profile as some of the bigger players, Utility Warehouse received top scores in every category.



Most recommended
WINNER: Plusnet

Best value for money
WINNER: Plusnet

WINNER: Virgin Media

Broadband has quickly become a requirement for most households. According to the ONS, three-quarters of us access the internet daily, and 91% of us now have an internet connection. Most people who go without do so because they don’t need it but 12% say it’s too expensive and 11% have access problems.

This category rated likelihood to recommend the service, quality of customer service, value for money, reliability and broadband speeds.

The most recommended provider in 2015 was Plusnet, as 90% of its customers were willing to recommend the service to friends and family. It’s currently offering ‘free’ connections, so you’ll just pay line rental for six months on both its standard unlimited broadband and fibre services. After that, costs are £9.99 and £14.99 a month, which is still very competitive.

Virgin Media was also highly commended in this category, with more than four-out-of-five customers happy to provide a recommendation.

The lowest scoring company in this category was BT, whose customers took a dim view of being automatically opted in to its premium sports package. Nevertheless, BT has taken steps to rectify this, and generally customers were happy, with 60% willing to provide a recommendation.

Plusnet wasn’t just the most recommended supplier but also the highest-scoring company for providing value for money. Again, that’s down to its low-cost contracts but it also scored top for reliability and customer service.

TalkTalk was an honourable runner-up in the category, narrowly beating Sky and Virgin Media.

BT received the lowest score for value for money.

Households are more likely than ever to have multiple people browsing at the same time, either watching videos, playing games or chatting with friends. As such, pressure on bandwidth is rising, and broadband speeds and limits is becoming the key question. In 2015, you chose Virgin Media as your fastest provider. It’s not just about speed though, as the quickest connection means little if your speeds get throttled at peak times, such as evenings and weekends. Virgin’s customers gave it the second highest score for reliability of connection, too.

Plusnet narrowly missed out on winning all three broadband prizes, being recognised as the most reliable provider but coming second for broadband speeds.

BT also ranked bottom for connection speeds and was decidedly average for reliability of connection, making it the worst ranking provider in the fastest category.


Most recommended

Best value for money
WINNER: TalkTalk

There’s never been more choice for paid TV packages, whether you’re looking for sports, the latest films, or want to catch up with the latest blockbuster TV shows. And while the choice is great, it can be astronomically expensive. Bundle a film and sports package together and you could quite easily spend more than £100 a month, so finding the best deal is key.

We asked how likely you were to recommend your TV package to a friend, how reliable the service is, how and whether you think you’re getting value for money.

Sky won the day with the most recommendations, with 81% of its customers willing to encourage a friend to sign up. Its recommendation mainly came down to the range of entertainment on offer. Customers gave Sky a score of 4.3 out of five in this area, compared to just 3.8 for Virgin and 3.5 for BT sport. Although Sky recently lost the Champion’s League to BT, it still offers 11 film channels, seven sports channels, and 300 on-demand box sets on its premium package.

As with broadband, TalkTalk was the best-rated TV supplier in terms of value for money. Its PlusTV package costs £20 a month, which gets you 87 channels. That includes the standard freeview programmes, plus seven channels from Sky, a box that lets you pause and record live TV, and six Sky Channels, including Sky Sports News and Sky 1.

BT was the runner-up for value for money, with a £5 a month TV package that includes BT sport, though you’ll also need to pay £17.99 a month line rental to get it.


Most recommended

Just 21% of you voted for your favourite video-on-demand (VoD) service, showing it’s not nearly as popular as broadband, paid TV or mobile phone contracts yet. But the flexibility of choosing your own TV schedule, watching what you want when you want, and the fact it’s much cheaper than comparable TV packages mean all suppliers received outstanding scores.

You’ll pay £5 to £7 a month for most VoD packages, compared to bills that are easily four or five times that for a satellite or cable TV bundle.

VoD providers were rated on how likely they were to be recommended, the quality of customer service on offer, value for money, viewing quality, ease of use and the range of entertainment available.

Now TV offers something slightly different to most VoD, letting you get premium TV packages like Sky Sports or Sky Movies by the day, as well as streaming services as and when you need them. That has translated into massive customer support, with 99% of Now TV customers willing to recommend it. Now TV’s supporters massively outweighted the competition, receiving 94% of all the votes in this category and it scored top for value for money, choice of entertainment and ease of use, too.

Netflix pipped Amazon Prime to the post for second place, though well over 90% of customers were willing to recommend each, so Amazon didn’t do badly by any means. Nevertheless, Netflix’s position as second-most- recommended was backed up by strong scores for range of entertainment, value for money and ease of use.


Best value for money
WINNER: GiffGaff

Best network coverage

Most recommended
WINNER: Tesco Mobile

Mobile phone users in the UK benefit from a very competitive market. The 2015 Home Finances Awards reflect that, with nine companies receiving enough votes to be assessed, more than any other categories.

That competition helps our wallets, too. According to the latest inflation statistics from the ONS, mobile phone prices have risen by 5.6% over the past 10 years, while CPI has increased by over 30%. It’s worth noting this doesn’t just look at the price we pay but the service we receive in return, which has vastly improved due to increased data packages and the roll-out of 4G.

We scored mobile providers on value for money, network reliability, customer service, network coverage and data speeds.

Giffgaff’s unique sim-only offering means it doesn’t need to cross-subsidise expensive new handsets, and can instead focus on providing the lowest cost deals to its customers. This approach has proven successful, winning the best value provider for the second year in a row.

Giffgaff offers its customers a free sim, and its monthly ‘goody bags’ let customers get unlimited texts, 500 minutes and 1Gb data for £10 a month. Alternatively, for £18 a month, users receive 2,000 minutes, unlimited texts and a massive 6Gb data.

O2 has committed to investing £1.5 billion in its mobile network over the next three years and it has swap-agreements with competitors in areas where its network has been poor in the past. This investment has paid off, with O2 winning the category for best network coverage in our 2015 Awards.

Conversely, Vodafone, which incidentally is the provider in the swap agreement with O2, needs to do more as it was voted the worst network.

Meanwhile, 97% of customers were willing to recommend Tesco Mobile to a friend or relative, way ahead of the group average of 78%. Customers were impressed by the network quality and reliability – unsurprising as Tesco piggybacks off O2, which was recognised as the best network – and the value for money of the service.

Giffgaff narrowly missed out on the double for best value for money and most recommended. It was the only other provider to have a 90%-plus recommendation level.

At the other end of the spectrum, Vodafone’s customers were least likely to refer a friend to join its network. Overall, Vodafone received the lowest scores for service and reliability, as well as being seen to offer poor value for money.