Still Going round in Circles: Complaints handling in telecoms

19 December 2018

In 2013, the Panel published its report ‘Going round in circles? The consumer experience of dealing with problems with communications services (PDF 481KB, opens in a new window) which found that some consumers’ experiences were so poor that they would suffer in silence or 'get by' on a sub-standard service. For some who did contact their provider, the issue was exacerbated by a negative contact experience and providers often failed to acknowledge the significant effort required or the time and/or money lost to seek resolution. For many consumers, the escalation of the problem was often ineffective, and communications providers (CPs) were poor at signposting consumers to the appropriate Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme.

We pushed both Ofcom and CPs to improve their performance in this area and it remains something that we monitor closely, with insights from this research forming part of that monitoring. Since then:

  • Ofcom has opened an Enforcement Programme into complaints handling in 2013 and now actively monitors CPs’ compliance with complaints handling rules, including access to ADR and customer service more generally;
  • Ofcom subsequently investigated and fined three communications providers for not complying with complaints handling rules including a £1 million fine for EE, £925K for Vodafone and £250K for H3G (Three);
  • Ofcom publishes a complaints leaderboard graphic, showing volumes of complaints, by provider, making it easier for consumers to compare CPs’ performance;
  • We have urged Ofcom to publish statistics on the number of complaints reaching ADR schemes, by provider and to there are no barriers to ADR for consumers whose complaint is not resolved by their CP. We do not consider eight weeks an acceptable timeframe for consumers to have to wait to be referred to an ADR scheme.

Temperature-check 2018: Still Going Round in Circles?

This research on problem and complaints handling (PDF 1.68MB, opens in a new window) examines communications providers' handling of complaints to see what progress has been made since the Panel's last research in this area and where improvements are still needed. We were particularly interested to understand how people were using ADR and to assess if complaint handling processes were accessible to all consumers, particularly people in vulnerable circumstances.

The Panel commissioned qualitative interviews with 74 consumers. We particularly wanted to understand the experiences of people in more vulnerable circumstances, as well as disabled people, older people and those running micro businesses. We've made a series of recommendations arising from the research so that the opportunities offered by existing and emerging communications services are inclusive and fair, and so that the market succeeds in meeting the needs of us all.

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