Consumers will be better protected against nuisance calls, and vulnerable customers will be treated more fairly, thanks to strengthened rules that come into force today.
Last year, Ofcom reviewed the General Conditions – the rules that all communications providers must follow to operate in the UK. The review was aimed at updating our rules to make sure consumers are protected against sharp practices, and to support Ofcom’s enforcement work.
The review has resulted in a number of changes, which place tougher requirements on all UK communications providers. These affect a range of areas including nuisance calls, complaints handling and the protection of vulnerable customers.
The new rules will improve consumer protection in three key areas.
Better protection against nuisance calls
- Phone companies will be banned from charging customers for caller display, a service which helps people to screen unwanted calls.
- Telephone numbers displayed to people receiving calls must be valid and allow a person to call the number back.
- Phone companies must take steps to identify and block calls which carry invalid numbers – a feature of many nuisance calls – so they don’t get through to consumers in the first place.
- Ofcom will be able to take back blocks of numbers from communications providers if they are found to have been systematically used to cause harm or anxiety to people, such as to make nuisance calls or perpetrate scams or fraud.
Telecoms companies must treat vulnerable customers fairly
- Communications providers must introduce policies for identifying vulnerable customers – such as people with learning or communication difficulties or those suffering physical or mental illness or bereavement – to ensure they are treated fairly.
Complaints and customer requests must be handled appropriately
- All communications providers must ensure that customer concerns are dealt with promptly and effectively.
- Customers must be kept informed about the progress of their complaint and be allowed faster access to dispute resolution services in cases where the matter cannot be resolved by their provider.
- Communications providers must consider new Ofcom guidance when handling customer requests to cancel their contracts. This should include allowing customers to cancel by phone, email or webchat, and ensuring incentive schemes for customer service agents do not encourage poor behaviour.
Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “It’s important that our rules keep pace with developments in the communications market, and continue to give consumers the protection they need.
“Our strengthened rules will help to protect people against nuisance calls and support our work to identify and punish those companies responsible.
“We’ve also introduced special protections to ensure that vulnerable people are fairly treated and that customer complaints are dealt with promptly and effectively.”