Consumer information plays a crucial part in maintaining healthy competitive markets whereby engaged consumers can compare communications services and switch between them.
Ofcom has a role in helping consumers make effective choices based on easily available, accessible and up to date information. Since 2006, we have run an accreditation Scheme for price comparison websites (PCWs) that aims to provide assurance that the price comparison calculations of relevant services (e.g. fixed-line, mobile, broadband, television services) offered by accredited providers are accessible, accurate, transparent and comprehensive.
At present six PCWs are accredited by Ofcom.
On 29 May 2013, Ofcom issued a consultation reviewing the Scheme to ensure it remains valuable and relevant to consumers and PCWs. The consultation suggested that the Scheme is generally working effectively without the need for fundamental revision, and proposed a number of changes to the scope and operation of the Scheme.
The consultation closed on 15 July 2013 and we received 14 responses, most of which were generally supportive of the changes proposed. This statement summarises the responses and sets out our final decision in regard to modifying the Scheme.
Based on our previous assessment as set out in the consultation document, careful analysis of consultation responses, and additional discussions with PCWs, Ofcom has decided to implement the following requirements for accredited PCWs in relation to the scope of the Scheme. Accredited PCWs must:
- provide information about any limits on data usage that apply to services identified in comparison searches;
- explain that traffic management policies may apply and provide links to communications providers' policies where available;
- provide 'up to' broadband speeds for fixed broadband packages and explain that actual broadband speeds experienced may vary;
- provide general information on, and a link to, Ofcom's work on broadband speeds;
- provide tools, or links to tools, for consumers to test the speed of their line;
- alert consumers that their provider may increase the cost of their monthly deal and that they should be allowed to exit their contract without penalty if this happens;
- link to Ofcom's comparative information on customer service and complaints handling, including regular information on the complaints received by Ofcom; , and
- update data used to calculate price comparisons at least every two weeks.
In respect of the operation of the Scheme, Ofcom has decided to implement the following:
- publish guidance on the audit process and on past audit decisions to help PCWs meet the approval criteria as they consider developments to their websites;
- introduce quarterly 'spot-checks' to monitor accredited PCWs' compliance between audits;
- an amendment to the cost schedule to reduce fees for PCWs with a relevant turnover of less than £200,000, ensuring that the costs of accreditation are not a barrier to entry and that smaller PCWs are not deterred; and
- a requirement to ensure that accredited PCWs have fair and timely processes for complaints handling.
We expect accredited PCWs to implement changes as soon as is practically possible, and will monitor compliance via our normal process of audits and spot checks. Applicants will be expected to be able to meet all the criteria, including the changes to the Scheme set out in this statement.