Ofcom today fined EE £1,000,000 for failing to comply with Ofcom’s rules on handling customer complaints.
The investigation into EE (trading as 4GEE, Orange and T-Mobile) is part of Ofcom’s wider monitoring and enforcement programme to ensure communications providers are dealing with customer complaints appropriately and fairly.
Ofcom’s investigation found that, over the period investigated - from 22 July 2011 to 8 April 2014 - EE did not provide certain customers with accurate or adequate information about their right to take their complaint to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme.
EE failed to send out written notifications to a number of customers that should have referenced their right to take their complaint to ADR eight weeks after they first raised their complaint.
EE also failed to state in its Customer Complaints Code that, where relevant, customers could access its ADR scheme by requesting a ‘deadlock letter’.
A number of customers who had requested a ‘deadlock letter’ during this time were not sent them as required, and in some cases customers were told by EE that letters of this type were not issued.
In addition, between July 2011 and February 2014, EE sent paper bills to Orange customers and written notifications to Orange, 4GEE and T-Mobile customers that did not reference that they can use its ADR scheme for free.
ADR is an important part of consumer protection. It allows customers to refer complaints that cannot be resolved with their provider to an independent body which can reach an impartial judgment.
Complaints can be taken to ADR if they remain unresolved after eight weeks or if a stalemate is reached (i.e ‘deadlock’) between the customer and the provider before eight weeks.
Access to ADR is free of charge to customers, and all communications providers offering services to individuals or small businesses with up to 10 employees must be a member of one of two approved ADR schemes.
The two ADR schemes are the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) and Ombudsman Services: Communications. EE is a member of CISAS.
Ofcom requires all telecoms providers to have procedures in place that follow its approved Code of Practice for complaints handling.
Ofcom has taken steps to address EE’s failure to comply with these complaints handling obligations.
As a result of Ofcom’s investigation, EE has amended its Customer Complaints Code to include a correct reference of its obligation to issue a ‘deadlock letter’. EE has also amended the information provided on its paper bills and in its written notifications to make sure customers are informed that they may use ADR at no cost to themselves.
Ofcom has also decided to impose a financial penalty of £1,000,000 against EE as a result of its contravention. 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.
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.”
More information about ADR and a list of which scheme different communications providers belong to can be found here.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. Ofcom’s complaints handling Code of Practice includes requirements for all providers to :
a) handle complaints in a fair and timely manner;
b) provide concise, easily understandable and accessible information for consumers about their complaints processes. This must tell customers how to make a complaint; how the provider will investigate it; and the likely length of time it will take to try to resolve the complaint. The information must also include the contact details for the relevant ADR scheme the provider belongs to; and
c) ensure consumers are told of their right to use ADR by including text in paper bills. Providers must also write promptly to customers, informing them of their right to go to ADR, if their complaint remains unresolved after eight weeks.
2. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.