Investigation into Post Office Limited’s charges for telephone calls using relay services
|Investigation into||Post Office Limited (Post Office)|
|Case opened||14 March 2019|
|Case closed||14 January 2020|
This investigation is examining whether Post Office has complied with its charging obligations in relation to telephone calls using relay services.
|Relevant legal provision(s)||
General Condition C5.9 and previous General Condition 15.3
Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the confirmation decision issued to Post Office on 13 January 2020:
Following our investigation, Ofcom has today issued a Confirmation Decision to Post Office under s96C of the Communication Act 2003 (the “Act”) for contravening the rules set out under General Condition (‘GC’) C5.9 and former rule GC 15.3. Ofcom and Post Office entered into a settlement process and Post Office wrote to Ofcom on 18 December 2019, admitting its liability in relation to the nature, scope and duration of the contravention.
GC C5.9 is an important rule intended to ensure that people with disabilities can obtain comparable access to voice call services as non-disabled people; that their needs are given sufficient consideration by Communication Providers (‘CPs’); and that their access to voice call services is protected when they have a genuine need.
In light of the evidence and Post Office’s admissions, Ofcom is satisfied that between at least 31 August 2013 and 28 November 2018, Post Office contravened GC C5.9 and former rule GC 15.3 by not applying a special tariff scheme to calls made by customers who, because of their disabilities, needed to use relay services.
Relay services help people with hearing and speech difficulties communicate with anyone over the phone by offering text-to-speech and speech-to-text translation services. The special tariff scheme is designed to compensate consumers with disabilities for the additional time it takes for them to make telephone calls using a relay service.
We consider that several factors made this a serious breach:
- the potential vulnerability of those consumers affected;
- the length of time in which Post Office contravened (and, for a period, knowingly contravened) the GC; and
- the absence of any significant compliance function prior to 2018 which likely contributed to the breach occurring and/or delayed its identification.
In light of the seriousness of this case, the Confirmation Decision imposes a financial penalty of £175,000 on Post Office. The penalty also includes a 30% discount from the penalty that Ofcom would otherwise have imposed. That discount reflects resource savings achieved by Ofcom as a result of Post Office’s admissions of liability and its agreement to enter into a settlement.
In setting the penalty, we have had regard to our penalty guidelines and have taken into account a number of factors including those detailed above. Penalties must act as an effective deterrent to prevent further contraventions from Post Office and other CPs. It is important that CPs take compliance with their regulatory responsibilities seriously, monitoring relevant processes and policies appropriately to ensure that contraventions of the rules do not occur in the first instance. This also means that when things go wrong, they can act quickly and responsibly to stop the contraventions and to remedy any potential harm. In addition to the imposed penalty, Ofcom has set out steps that must be completed by Post Office to comply with the GCs and remedy the consequences of the contravention.
A non-confidential version of the Confirmation Decision is currently being prepared and will be published shortly.
Following consideration of information provided by Post Office, we have decided to open an investigation into Post Office’s compliance with General Condition C5.9 (applicable since 1 October 2018) and previously under General Condition 15.3. These conditions place/placed an obligation on all Communication Providers in effect to charge customers no more than the cost of a standard call for using relay services, and to apply a special tariff scheme to these calls in order to compensate those customers for the additional time required to complete the call.
Post Office has provided some information indicating that it did not apply a special tariff scheme to some text relay calls between at least 13 March 2014 and 28 November 2018. We have therefore decided to open an investigation that will examine whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that Post Office has failed to comply with its charging obligations under GC C5.9, and previous GC 15.3, since those respective obligations came into force, including for that specific period.
We aim to reach a provisional decision in this investigation by July 2019. We will publish a further update once this phase is complete.
Tom Cherry (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)