Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is an important part of the consumer experience in communications markets.
ADR schemes consider cases referred to them by consumers who have unresolved complaints with their communications providers (CPs), examine both sides of the dispute and make a judgment, which could include a financial award and/or requiring the provider to take appropriate action.
ADR can improve the outcome for those consumers whose complaints might otherwise be unduly lengthy or remain unresolved. It also gives CPs additional incentives to improve their own complaints handling procedures and to resolve complaints quickly and effectively.
Ofcom requires all CPs to be members of an approved ADR scheme. There are two Ofcom-approved schemes: the Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman (Otelo), and the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS).
In July 2008 we published a consultation that examined how easy it is for customers to access these schemes, and the effectiveness of complaints handling in the industry. Included in the measures considered, we set out proposals to improve access by reducing the period that consumers have to wait before they can take complaints to ADR from 12 to 8 weeks. We also proposed criteria that we would use in our review of our ongoing approval of the two ADR schemes in 2010.
We have decided to proceed with the proposed change to the time period a consumer must wait before they can take a dispute to ADR. This will be reduced from 12 to 8 weeks after the complaint is first lodged with their provider. The majority of responses to the consultation supported this change.
Our evidence shows that the prospect of a complaint being resolved between the consumer and their provider diminishes substantially after 8 weeks and that the costs for industry from the change to 8 weeks are expected to be low. We believe that by enabling customers to take their unresolved complaints to ADR earlier, consumers will benefit from a reduction in the stress and anxiety which often accompany prolonged disputes. This change will come into effect on 1 September 2009.
We are also confirming the criteria we will use in our review of the approval of the two ADR schemes next year. These include accessibility, independence, fairness, transparency and effectiveness.
In the 2008 consultation we also made other proposals: improving awareness of ADR by requiring providers to notify their customers about the schemes; setting minimum standards for complaints handling; and requiring providers to keep appropriate records of contacts with their customers. Responses from CPs indicated that we had understated the extent and costs of changes that would be needed to implement these proposals. We are currently seeking more information around these measures and will be consulting further later this year.