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The new Telecommunications Ombudsman - your questions answered

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At the start of this year the first Telecommunications Ombudsman opened her office. This free independent service is designed to offer residential and small business consumers an alternative way to settle unresolved disputes with their telecommunications providers.

You can find the Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman at http://www.otelo.org.uk

Oftel and the Telecommunications Ombudsman

When Oftel investigates complaints on behalf of consumers, we most often act in a good offices role using our position as the regulator to help consumers settle problems with their telephone companies.

We act in this way because, while a consumer may be unhappy with the behaviour of their telephone company, it doesn’t mean that the company has breached the regulations Oftel enforces. Nor can Oftel resolve individual contractual problems or disputes that involve compensation.

In these cases consumers may face the prospect of seeking costly legal advice or going to court. The Ombudsman now provides an alternative to this option and she can where she believes it appropriate make an award of up to £5,000 compensation.

Who is the Ombudsman?

Elizabeth France has been appointed as the first Ombudsman and her office is called the Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman (Otelo).

Does the Telecommunications Ombudsman and her office work for Oftel?

No. The Ombudsman and Otelo are a separate organisation although Oftel welcomes the introduction of the Telecommunications Ombudsman and will work closely with Otelo to further the interests of consumers.

Will the Ombudsman investigate complaints about all telephone companies?

No. The Telecommunications Ombudsman Service currently has eight member companies, who fund the service and have agreed to abide by the decisions of the Ombudsman on complaints referred to her by their customers:

Broadsystem Ventures Ltd; BT; Centrica Telecommunications (supplying services as OneTel and British Gas Communications); ntl Group Ltd; Powergen UK plc; Thus Group plc; Virgin Mobile Telecoms Ltd; and Vodafone Limited.

Will the service be limited to the eight companies above?

The service is expected to expand, and any telephone company which provides the services listed in the next answer may choose to join.

Will the Ombudsman investigate all types of complaints?

The Ombudsman will work according to the terms of reference of the Council of the Telecommunications Ombudsman Service and will consider complaints from residential and small business consumers. You can view the Ombudsman’s terms of reference at http://www.otelo.org.uk/docs/terms_of_reference.pdf.

The Ombudsman will consider complaints about the following:

  • 'telephony' – this covers your mobile and fixed phones, and faxes;
  • certain phone services like short messaging services (SMS or texting), voicemail and call forwarding; and
  • services and products for disabled people like text relay (an operator service that translates) and free directory enquiries.

The Ombudsman cannot currently consider complaints about Internet service providers.

What do I have to do make a complaint to the Ombudsman?

The matter about which you are complaining must have happened on or after 1 January 2003. You must have allowed your telephone provider a reasonable opportunity to resolve your complaint. To find out whether Otelo may be able to help you, you should contact them either by telephone, or via their website where you can find details about the service.

The website address is http//:www.otelo.org.uk The telephone number is 0845 0501614 (lo-call rate from fixed lines).

Does this mean that Oftel will stop considering complaints about companies who have joined the Ombudsman?

No. Consumers will still be able to refer complaints to Oftel. The Ombudsman provides consumers with an alternative route to take in trying to resolve complaints with their telephone companies.

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