Complaints process to change


Ofcom said it would fine communications providers up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover if they do not comply with consumer complaint regulations.

The industry regulator has outlined options for improving the way in which consumer complaints are handled and is proposing changes to the current system. It will consult on its proposal until October 4 and make a statement early next year.

Under current Ofcom regulations, all communications providers must have and comply with a Code of Practice for Complaints which has been approved by Ofcom. They must also be a member of an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme which Ofcom has approved. A consumer can go to an ADR Scheme if they cannot resolve a complaint directly with the communications provider. There are currently two Ofcom-approved Schemes – CISAS and Otelo – which offer free resolution services to consumers.

But Ofcom research shows that consumer awareness of complaints handling procedures is low with less than 50 per cent aware of communications providers’ Codes of Practice for Complaints and 15 per cent aware of at least one of the two ADR Schemes.

Ofcom is proposing several changes to the current process, including reducing the time consumers must wait before taking their complaint to an ADR Scheme, from 12 to eight weeks; requiring communications providers to write to consumers who have made a complaint to tell them that they have the right to ADR; requiring communications providers to keep records of complaints for 15 months, and introducing limits on the call charges for complaints handling lines.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: "Effective complaints handling and an accessible scheme for resolving disputes ensure that individual consumers are able to seek redress when things go wrong. Inadequate or inappropriate procedures can cause significant harm and detriment to consumers."

Meanwhile, Ofcom has also outlined plans to encourage investment in new infrastructure for super-fast broadband.

Richards announced a pro-investment framework designed to ensure investors will receive a fair rate of return for investing in new infrastructure and guarantees legislation will not change to limit the rewards.

While Ofcom said it recognised that investing in new infrastructure could be risky, to compete with the rising speeds of mobile broadband existing copper lines must be replaced with fibre.

"We are very clear that if operators are going to make investments in new infrastructure then they need to know that the regulatory framework will allow them to make and keep a rate of return that is commensurate with the risks they are taking," said Richards. “They need to know that the regulator will not suddenly change the rules of the game to reduce the returns just as the rewards for the risk start to flow in.

Ofcom will also be holding meetings with industry figures to provide more detail about infrastructure investment. Details of the regulatory framework for super-fast broadband will be released in September.