Lost phone numbers, no signal, battery packs: Problems for BT customers as millions switched to Digital Voice

a traditional home phone for use with copper line landlines pictured with the previous BT logo in the background

A traditional landline phone with the old British Telecom (BT) logo in the background. Ahead of its summer 2024 deadline, BT is upgrading millions of people from old landlines to its broadband-powered Digital Voice

Aaron Brown

By Aaron Brown

Published: 13/12/2023

- 13:03

Updated: 13/12/2023

- 16:46

Over 2 million have already been moved from traditional copper-line landlines to new broadband-powered Digital Voice

  • BT is switching over all eligible customers to its VoIP phone technology
  • Ofcom deadline to switch-off UK's copper cable network set for 2025
  • But customers have complained about a swathe of issues
  • BT users have been left with the wrong phone number and no signal
  • Have you struggled? Let us know at money@gbnews.uk

BT customers have been left without a landline, unable to use personal safety alarms, and lost phone numbers they’ve held for decades – these are just some of the disastrous consequences in BT’s ongoing push to switch millions to its Digital Voice service.

The telecom firm is switching off millions of traditional copper landlines across the UK and switching its customers to a broadband-powered alternative, called BT Digital Voice. It hopes to move all eligible BT customers over to the new system by next summer.

According to BT, Digital Voice offers clearer calls and better protection from spam calls.

However, customers nationwide have reported a string of problems with the upgrade process, compatibility issues with Digital Voice and their existing kit, and widespread outages.

Confused? Our comprehensive guide to the BT landline cut off and switch to Digital Voice should have all of the answers you're looking for.

Since Digital Voice is powered by the same infrastructure as your broadband, whenever there’s a problem with your internet connection – you'll also be left unable to make or receive calls. Power cuts will cut-off Digital Voice handsets too, something that’s not true of copper-line landlines.

Digital Voice customers who identify as vulnerable and those who live in an area without any mobile signal can request a battery back-up that plugs into the handset and keeps it working during a power outage. Customers without additional needs can purchase the same back-up unit.

Disgruntled BT customers have taken to social media to complain about common issues with the switchover to Digital Voice. One person detailed the delays plaguing their experience on X (formerly Twitter), writing: “@bt_uk you have disconnected my landline on Saturday 2nd December, to switch to your digital voice. It's now Tuesday 5th and I still have no service despite three calls to you!”

Delays are a common complaint amongst those who are experiencing problems with the Digital Voice switchover. Writing on behalf of their elderly relative, one BT customer tweeted: “@bt_uk I hope your are proud of yourselves! Leaving my elderly 82 year old, vulnerable aunt who has dementia without a phone line for over 2 weeks is an absolute disgrace! Shame on you! Pure NEGLECT! Disgusting!” [sic]

Grandmother Brenda Rowles told MailOnline that the phone number she’s used for over 50 years was changed during the switchover to Digital Voice. The 78-year-old was fearful that her husband, who lives in a care home, would not be able to reach her.

Mrs Rowles only learnt that BT had switched the landline number she’d held for over five decades when her GP sent a letter saying they’d tried to call multiple times, butcouldn’tget hold of her.

Unknown to Mrs Rowles, BT has assigned a new temporary phone number to the Digital Voice handset which has a different area code. Speaking to MailOnline, she said: “It has been a comedy of errors over the past couple of months — and despite numerous phone calls, the problem was not solved. Instead, it was more confusing by having our phone number changed.”

BT says the number was changed because Mrs Rowles’ existing landline number did not “port fully” during the upgrade process. It’s now been rectified.

Several customers claim the Digital Voice upgrade process started without warning.

Writing on X, one disgruntled BT user posted: “Over an hour and a half online ‘chat’ to BT this morning since they decided to switch my landline off for no immediately obvious reason. Digital Voice? Digital Arse, more like.”

BT says that as soon as your local area is greenlit for the Digital Voice switchover, you will be contacted by BT with further instructions. The telecom firm aims to get in touch four weeks before the installation date. As part of the switchover process, you'll be required to plug your existing landline handset into the broadband router.

If your current kit is incompatible with Digital Voice, BT stocks phone adapters to convert these to work with the new technology. However, some customers highlighted issues with the products to MailOnline.

3 wireless BT Digital Voice handsets on a white backgroundThree Digital Voice handsets from BT, the proprietary system created by the brand to offer VoIP calls to customers after copper landlines are retired in 2025 BT PRESS OFFICE

Stan Bibby told the newspaper: “When you purchase the £20 adapters, they do not work with many older handsets — well, certainly not with mine. I could still get a dialling tone and phone out after the digital switch, but my phone no longer rang when I received an incoming call.”

If you rely on critical healthcare equipment – such as personal safety alarms – that is designed to work with a copper-line landline, BT will supply additional hardware to keep everything working.

Vulnerable customers will not be charged for the extra kit, the telecoms firm says.

To ensure that BT sends the right equipment, anyone who meets the following conditions should reach out to ensure they get the right support from the company...

  • Customers who wear a healthcare pendant
  • Customers with no broadband connection
  • Customers who live in an area with no mobile signal
  • Customers who have previously disclosed additional needs to BT

Following concerns, BT confirmed that most people aged over 70 will not be proactively switched to Digital Voice. However, those aged between 70-74 who live in urban areas, have the latest broadband hub from BT and don't regularly make landline calls, could still be eligible for the switchover.

It is possible to temporarily delay the switchover to Digital Voice, but you'll need to speak to a customer service advisor to push back the installation date scheduled for your home.

BT-owned Openreach, which manages the broadband and phone infrastructure across the UK, will switch off the copper cable network in 2025.

As part of the roll-out, BT will be hosting a number of regional roadshows to provide local people with information about the Digital Voice switchover as well as an opportunity to ask questions. It maintains that for the vast majority of customers, the switch from copper line-based landlines to Digital Voice will be as simple as plugging their existing phone into the back of their broadband router. And that's it.

For landline customers without internet access at home, BT is offering an interim fix where it can install equipment at the nearest telephone exchange to keep the ageing copper line-connected phone line working until 2030.

GBN has contacted BT for comment on this article.

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