Communications industry must serve customers better, says Ofcom
- Ofcom Chief Executive issues challenge to industry to improve service
- New measures announced to protect and empower consumers
Ofcom Chief Executive Sharon White will today tell the UK’s communications providers that they must serve their customers better.
In her first speech since becoming Chief Executive, Ms White will tell a Which? conference that while customer service levels in the industry have improved, people still find it too difficult to change provider and cancel contracts, and are frustrated with customer service.
At the same time, Ofcom is announcing new measures to better protect and empower consumers.
These include a strengthened Code of Practice on broadband speeds, allowing customers to exit a contract should speeds fall below acceptable levels; and new processes to make switching broadband and landline providers easier. Ofcom also plans to make it easier for consumers to change mobile providers.
The challenge to industry
As communications services become ever more important in our daily lives, so does their quality and reliability.
Therefore, it is important that consumers know what to expect from a service when they enter a contract, and where to turn to when things go wrong.
Ms White will say: “When Ofcom was established, access to a reliable internet connection and mobile phone was a ‘nice to have’. Now it is essential to the functioning of the economy, to the way people work and live their lives.
“Improving delivery to consumers doesn’t just fall at the feet of the regulator. The delivery of first class communications services is primarily the responsibility of providers.”
Ms White will today outline four areas of focus for industry to improve upon. These are:
- Better information: Making available clear and accurate information in advertising and at point of sale, so that consumers can genuinely compare offers and make effective choices.
- Easier switching: Ensuring straightforward processes when consumers want to switch, including cancelling services without entanglement - and coordination between providers for a smooth transfer.
- Improved contract terms: Clear and fair terms with no hidden charges or lock-ins.
- Better complaints handling: Setting out simple steps when consumers wish to complain or when things go wrong. It means doing everything possible to avoid a dispute in the first place, including the opportunity for consumers to ‘walk away’ when services fall short. It also means clear signposting of alternative dispute resolution services - which are free to use.
When companies break the rules, Ofcom can investigates and take enforcement action. Ofcom has this week announced an enforcement programme into the difficulties experienced by consumers trying to exit their communications service contracts. (-1-)
The interests of consumers and citizens are central to Ofcom’s work. And while Ofcom is a light-touch regulator, when markets do not work in the best interests of consumers, intervention is necessary.
Ms White will say: “Our job is to ensure that markets work for consumers and citizens, principally by encouraging competition.
“Where markets don’t work well enough - or where competition alone isn’t enough to secure good outcomes for consumers - then we have powers to intervene.”
Ms White will explain that Ofcom does this in a number of ways. They include: making sure consumers have the right information to make informed choices; setting out what is expected of companies and how they should deliver services; targeted enforcement when this is not met; and help for those who have difficulty using the services.
The communications sector has delivered on many measures around quality and value over the past ten years, and this must continue, Ms White will say.
Serving consumers and businesses is at the heart of Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications(-2-) which will consider how to support industry in driving up standards, addressing coverage and fostering new services for the next decade.
New measures to support consumers
Ofcom is today outlining three measures to help consumers. First, Ofcom has secured a strengthened Code of Practice on broadband speeds with the UK’s largest providers: BT, EE, KC in Hull, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media.
The new version of the Code improves consumers’ right to leave their broadband contract when speeds fall below acceptable levels. New customers signing up will be able to walk away from providers during the whole term of the contract, not just the first three months, if they suffer problems that cannot be resolved. (-3-)
Second, Ofcom will next month outline plans to make it easier for mobile phone customers to change provider.
Third, Ofcom is improving the process for millions of customers changing broadband and landline provider.
From 20 June, it will be much simpler and smoother to change between landline and broadband providers who use the Openreach network - such as BT, EE, Sky and TalkTalk. A new ‘one touch’ process will place the responsibility for the switch in the hands of the company the customer is moving to.
Ms White will say: “This will make a real difference for consumers and will encourage more people to take full advantage of competition in the sector.
“Once this is in place we will next month turn our attention to improving consumer switching between mobile networks.”
Ms White will conclude: “We have set the bar high for ourselves but also for industry. If we deliver then everyone benefits: consumers and citizens of the country and the businesses who deliver the services we regulate.”
Ms White will be speaking at a conference hosted by consumer organisation Which? on 11 June. A copy of the speech is published on the Ofcom website.
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1.- Ofcom last year fined Three £250,000 over its complaints handling processes. An investigation into EE is on-going. On 10 June 2015, Ofcom commenced a monitoring and enforcement programme to assess the cancellation and termination arrangements of providers, and the impact these have on consumers’ ability to exit their communications service contract quickly, conveniently and without error. Ofcom also enforces rules across a range of consumer protection matters. This year, Ofcom fined BT £800,000 for breaching requirements on text relay services for deaf customers and an investigation into mis-selling by Unicom is on-going.
2.-In March this year, Ofcom announced an overarching review of the UK’s digital communications markets, to ensure that communications providers and services continue to meet the needs of consumers and businesses. It will examine competition, investment, innovation and the availability of products in the broadband, mobile and landline markets.
3.-Certain parts of the Code, including the new extended right to exit, apply to ISPs using technologies such as copper or fibre based DSL, for which the access line speed can be lower than the headline, advertised speed. Ofcom expects some providers to start putting in place the new code from October. It must be in place during January 2016. This allows providers to put new systems in place.
4.-Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.
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