Ofcom hands EE £1m fine over customer complaint failings

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Operator failed to comply with regulatory rules around customer rights around unresolved complaints

EE has received a £1 million fine by communications regulator Ofcom over its handling of customer complaints between July 22, 2011 and April 8, 2014.

Following an investigation, the UK’s biggest operator, was found guilty of failing to provide customers with ‘accurate or adequate’ information about their right to take their complaint further, should they fail to reach a compromise with their provider.

According to Ofcom rules, customers must receive written details of their rights to take their complaint to ‘alternative dispute resolution’, often referred to as ADR, within eight weeks.

ADR helps customers resolve their issues, including exploring possibilities of compensation free of charge without going through the courts. According to Ofcom, EE also failed to provide certain customers (which includes EE, T-Mobile and Orange) with a ‘deadlock letter’, which is required ahead of taking the complaint to the ADR and to inform them the process was free.

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Strict rules “vital”

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer and content group director, said: “It’s vital that customers can access all the information they need when they’re pursuing a complaint.

“Ofcom imposes strict rules on how providers must handle complaints and treats any breach of these rules very seriously. The fine imposed against EE takes account of the serious failings that occurred in the company’s complaints handling, and the extended period over which these took place.”

EE said the issues noted by Ofcom have since been identified and continue to be addressed. The operator also noted it had made “considerable” improvements to its customers services levels, which have seen complaint numbers cut in half in the past year.

Vodafone was the most complained about network operator during Q1 of this year with 0.14 complaints per thousand customers between January and March. EE received 0.10 complaints per thousand customers during the same period, an improvement on Q4 2014 of 0.12 and significantly less than its Q2 2013 peak of 0.19. Full article here.

“This fine relates to our historic performance regarding complaints handling, collected from 2011 to April 2014.” said an EE spokesperson “While this in no way excuses it, it is important to note that we identified issues in our complaints handling and began our programme to tackle these problems head on in 2013, before Ofcom started their investigation. We have made considerable improvements since then.

“Ofcom’s current figures highlight that complaints into Ofcom about EE have fallen by 50 per cent in the past year alone and, while even one complaint is one too many, we’re working tirelessly not only to improve the handling of complaints but also to identify root causes, and fix problems customers have with us, to ultimately achieve our goal of offering the best service in the market.”

The penalty is payable to Ofcom and then passed on to HM Treasury. EE is required to pay the penalty within 20 working days of receiving the decision.

Reaction 

uSwitch regulatory and compliance manager Richard Neudegg said the fine shows Ofcom is taking customer service seriously.

“A fine of this size shows how seriously Ofcom is taking failure to follow the rules on complaints – and EE was getting it wrong for almost three years. 

“If telecoms companies don’t resolve consumers’ issues internally, people have a right to contact one of two free-to-use resolution schemes to get things sorted.

“Access to an Ombudsman is of huge importance. It gives people who feel they’ve been let down by a service provider another route to resolution. 

“Part of the problem is the telecoms market’s complaints procedure is more confusing than other sectors. There isn’t one single Ombudsman, there are two that companies may direct customers to. So it’s extremely important information on how to access these is completely clear.”

 

 

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