Moments after arriving at the Holly Lodge estate in north London, I bump into a group of residents complaining about their Virgin Media internet connection.
This is exactly the issue I’m here to investigate. But when I go over to introduce myself, it emerges these aren’t the people I’m due to meet.
Evidently, the area is so plagued by poor wi-fi that it really has become the talk of the town.
Connection woes: Residents of Holly Lodge estate in north London have been complaining about their Virgin Media internet for more than two years
By lunchtime, I’ve shaken hands with around a dozen residents from a 50‑member-strong local WhatsApp text message group who feel they have nowhere left to turn.
But despite writing to Virgin’s chief executive Lutz Schüler and their local MP Sir Keir Starmer, they say the problem is only getting worse.
An unreliable connection might be forgiven in rural areas. But while this upmarket estate looks and feels like a village, it is less than five miles from Buckingham Palace.
Yet many residents say they have been left stranded without internet access almost daily for more than two years, sometimes for weeks at a time.
And many are paying as much as £85 a month for the privilege.
One obvious solution would be to simply switch providers. But for many Virgin customers it’s not that simple.
The broadband giant locks users into 18-month contracts and charges hefty exit fees of up to £288 if they want to escape early.
Virgin also differs from other major providers as it runs on its own broadband cable rather than using the Openreach network. It means anyone without access to an Openreach line is at its mercy.
On a Thursday morning, I meet ten residents at a coffee shop on the high street, and more join later. This is the first time many have met in person, and as we wander through the estate, I hear them bonding over their shared woes.
Some stop and ask strangers if they are with Virgin, and the answer is almost always a ‘yes’ through gritted teeth.
Network: Virgin differs from other major internet providers as it runs on its own broadband cable rather than using the Openreach network
Lorna Russell, 33, who lives in a flat with her cats Bam Bam and Cleopatra, tells me she is regularly without broadband or a phone signal and had no internet for an entire week in May. But she has no access to an Openreach line, leaving her stuck.
She says: ‘My internet connection was patchy throughout the pandemic but over the past four months it’s been absolutely abysmal; sometimes it’s down all day.
‘I usually work from home so that’s been really difficult. I’ve had to take annual leave because I couldn’t do any work.’
And it is not just a poor connection enraging residents. They say communicating with Virgin is also nigh-on impossible, which is ironic given the nature of its business.
Many say they are regularly forced to wait on hold for more than an hour before anyone picks up — and even then the line often goes dead mid-conversation.
Emily Morris, 32, a teacher and mother of two toddlers, says her husband Josh has spent hours on the phone to Virgin since they moved in last September, yet promised refunds have never materialised.
‘It’s just really frustrating. We’ve even considered getting a back‑up wi-fi for when Virgin drops out, but we’d end up paying another £30 a month, which is ridiculous,’ she says.
The couple have gadgets that require a web connection, including baby monitors. But the internet cuts out in the middle of the night so they can’t use them.
Offline: Many residents of Holly Lodge say they have been left stranded without internet access almost daily for more than two years, sometimes for weeks at a time
Business owner Alex Nekrassov, 38, has led the charge to hold executives at the business to account — but with little success.
‘I’ve been trying to help people draft letters to Virgin,’ he says. ‘But we’ve never heard back. Virgin tells us to go on its website and check if our internet is down, but it never says it’s down even when it’s clearly not working.’
And it’s not just Holly Lodge residents at their wits’ end. Figures from watchdog Ofcom show that Virgin, which has 5.8 million internet and landline customers, was the second most complained about broadband provider in the first three months of this year.
It received 18 complaints per 100,000 customers — outdone only by Shell Energy with 22. By comparison, EE, Sky and BT received two, four and seven respectively.
Meanwhile, around 62 per cent of the firm’s 61,000 reviews on Trustpilot have only a one-star rating.
Yet Virgin is not signed up to the Communications Ombudsman, so it cannot help with complaints.
Customers are instead signposted to an alternative dispute service, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).
Back at Holly Lodge, residents are growing weary after fighting for years. Some have given up altogether and are switching providers when their contract ends.
‘I’m finally getting out on August 22 — I just gave up trying,’ says Debs Wild, a 52-year-old music consultant, adding: ‘The final straw came a few weeks ago when it dropped out for the fifth time that week and Virgin confirmed I’d had 217 faults in the last month.’
A Virgin spokesman says: ‘We apologise to residents in the Holly Lodge estate who have been experiencing intermittent issues with their broadband services. We are in contact with customers and our engineers are working to address an issue in the local area.’
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