Broadband customers to receive more help with complaints

28 November 2017, 15:11   By Samantha Smith

BROADBAND and mobile phone customers will see their ability to complain strengthened, after Ofcom updated the requirements alternative dispute resolution (ADR) schemes have to meet.

poor broadband connection
Credit: Chaay_Tee/

Coming as part of a review into ADR services, the update requires them to adopt a new performance reporting process that will monitor how well they serve customers who bring complaints against providers.

Added to this, the schemes will also have to make the standards they uphold clearer to customers who turn to them.

Yet while these and other changes are likely to improve the quality of service customers receive from ADR schemes, their effectiveness will be undermined by a lack of public awareness.

Transparency and accessibility

Launched in March, the review aimed to look at whether the two licensed ADR services - Ombudsman Services (OS) and the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) - were doing a good job.

While Ofcom conclude that they're "satisfied that both Schemes continue to meet the approval criteria", they also outline a number of changes as part of their continued approval of OS and CISAS.

  • Both schemes must put additional processes in place to handle spikes in complaint volumes
  • Both must change their websites so as to increase the ease of navigation and make clearer the service standards customers can expect from them
  • Both must use a new performance reporting process in which they formally alert Ofcom about repeated failures to meet standards and must explain the steps they'll take to solve such failures
  • Both must review the customer satisfaction figures they take and publish in 2018

Applying pressure

While none of these new requirements represent a massive change in how ADR services work, they'll nonetheless encourage both schemes to operate more efficiently.

By forcing the schemes to be more open about whether they're meeting targets and satisfying customers, they'll put pressure on both of them to raise their levels of performance whenever they aren't high enough.

At the moment, there isn't much public data on how well ADR schemes perform. However, the telecoms industry as a whole is one of the worst in the UK for customer satisfaction and complaints, with the Ombudsman Service finding in 2017 that the industry was the second-most complained about (behind the retail sector).

With an increase in the efficiency and effectiveness of the ADR schemes, telecoms providers should in theory have greater reason not to give their customers cause for complaint.

Awareness and fines

However, this is in theory only, since there's one problem with the two ADR services: very few customers have heard of them.

According to Citizens Advice's response to Ofcom's consultation, "consumers often have a poor awareness of the ADR options available to them with less than one in seven having heard of the term 'alternative dispute resolution' and only 2% having used ADR".

At the moment, it's the responsibility of providers to inform customers of the existence of ADRs, yet providers are very bad at doing this.

In July 2015, EE were fined £1 million partly for failing to give customers "accurate or adequate information" about ADRs, while TalkTalk were fined £250,000 in 2014 for failing to do much the same.

EU Directive and still 5% awareness

The EU have tried to improve this situation, by introducing a law in summer 2015 that required providers to be more active in informing their customers about ADRs.

However, since Citizens Advice and also Which? still report very low levels of awareness among customers (only 5% have heard of CISAS), it's clear that this hasn't helped very much.

SchemeConsumer awareness
Ombudsman Services: Communications20%
Financial Ombudsman59%
Ombudsman Services: Energy28%

Source: Which? consumer research, March 2017

As a result, the improvements introduced by Ofcom may fail to reach their full potential, since the regulator haven't outlined measures to increase awareness of ADR services.

General Conditions of Entitlement

There may be some hope on the horizon, however: Ofcom are currently consulting on changes to their General Conditions of Entitlement, which outlines the rights of telecoms customers.

These changes will be confirmed "early next year" and come into force on October 1st 2018.

Provided that no providers or industry bodies convince Ofcom otherwise, they will require telecoms providers to supply info about ADR schemes "on all paper bills, in all bill formats excluding bills sent in a text".

And if this happens, then Ofcom's improvements to how OS and CISAS work may just find their much needed complement in increased public awareness of both schemes.

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