Treating consumers fairly

Treating consumers fairly including customer service and complaints handling

The Panel’s recent research Inclusive Communications: We’re Not All the Same has highlighted many of the customer service issues we originally identified in our 2013 research Going round in circles? The consumer experience of dealing with problems with communications services (PDF 481KB, opens in a new window). The reports and the Panel’s detailed recommendations are here. We will continue to seek regular updates on these areas of concern with communications providers so that we can understand and monitor progress on the initiatives they are undertaking.

We have been particularly concerned about the communications providers’ referral of complaints to the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Services and will continue to call for publication of information about ADR complaints, the shortening of the eight week referral period and greater publicity of the Services.

The Panel is concerned about some consumers who are more likely to be disproportionately affected by industry trends and who do not seem best served by the market. Standalone voice consumers – 10% of UK households - are a key issue for the Panel, as we raised in last year’s response to Ofcom’s draft Annual Plan. Major providers have increased line rentals from between 23% and 44% since 2010, whilst wholesale costs have reduced significantly. A majority of these consumers are elderly (78% over 65 and 59% over 75) and on low incomes – 47% are in the DE socio-economic group and 89% are not in work. They are also affected by lower savings offered on advance line rental and rising call costs. Additionally, promotional pricing may lead to those who are not engaged in the market paying higher prices. Increasingly complex pricing makes it harder still for people to compare prices and get the best deals

In our report Realising the potential: micro businesses’ experiences of communications services (PDF 645KB, opens in a new window), we called for greater support for micro businesses from governments, industry and communications providers to help them maximise the opportunities presented by communications services.

Specific objective

The Panel will continue to urge the communications industry to treat consumers – including micro businesses - fairly and to raise the level of customer service throughout the industry so that people enjoy better protection and improved, holistic standards. We will continue to promote the findings of our research studies and encourage implementation of our related recommendations with communications providers and Ofcom, and will review progress during in the year. We will pay particular attention to the needs of older and disabled people (and other potentially vulnerable consumers) with specific communication needs.