Complainant: Ofcom own-initiative investigation following assessment of evidence submitted under Ofcom’s Own-initiative Monitoring and Enforcement Programme: General Condition 14 regarding Complaints Handling (CW/01101/02/13) (‘GC14 Monitoring and Enforcement Programme)
Investigation against: Hutchison 3G UK Ltd (trading as Three UK)
Case Opened: 25 September 2013
Case Closed: 8 October 2014
Issue: Whether Hutchison 3G UK has complied with its obligations under General Condition 14.4 of the General Conditions of Entitlement.
Relevant Instrument: General Condition (“GC14.4”) concerning Complaints Handling
Update note: 17 November 2014
A non-confidential version of the Confirmation Decision issued to Hutchison 3G UK Ltd (trading as Three), on 7 October 2014, has now been prepared and can be found under the related items.
End of update note
Following an investigation into Hutchison 3G UK Ltd (trading as Three, 'Three'), Ofcom issued it with a notification under s96A of the Communications Act 2003 ('the Act') on 22 May 2014, as we had reasonable grounds to believe that Three had contravened GC14.4 by failing to have, and comply with, procedures that conform to the Ofcom Approved Code of Practice for Complaints Handling (the 'Ofcom Code' which is Annex 4 to GC14) when handling complaints made by domestic and small business customers about its Public Electronic Communications Services.
Three provided written representations to Ofcom on 20 June 2014, and made oral representations to Ofcom on 2 July 2014, in relation to the matters set out in the Notification. Ofcom also wrote to Three on 1 August, including to clarify aspects of the Representations. Three responded on 27 August 2014. Having considered those representations, (together with the other evidence collected from Three), Ofcom is satisfied that, between 22 July 2011 and 15 October 2013, Three contravened GC14.4, in the following ways, and at the following times:
a) Applying in practice a definition of a "complaint" which was narrower than that used in GC14.4 (as defined in GC14.13(c)). As such, Three was also not complying with its Customer Complaints Code in respect of each Complaint it received, as required by GC14.4 and paragraph 1(a) of the Ofcom Code. The narrower definition of a "complaint" continued from 18 March 2013 to 15 October 2013.
b) Closing Complaints without establishing that they were resolved (i.e. closing Complaints prematurely) over the period from 22 July 2011 to 30 September 2013. This meant that Complaints which Ofcom considers could not reasonably have been characterised as resolved or vexatious, were closed. The outcome of such closure was that (i) Complaints were not resolved in a fair and timely manner (or indeed at all) as required by paragraph 3(a) of the Ofcom Code and (ii) affected Three Customers did not receive the Written Notification of their right to go to ADR after eight weeks, referred to in paragraph 4(d) of the Ofcom Code. There were two primary factors driving Complaints being closed prematurely, as follows:
(i) When escalated to "Team Leader" level and above, Three closed Complaints where it was not able to make contact with complainants within three attempts over five days, without sending them a Written Notification. This practice continued from 22 July 2011 to 30 September 2013.
(ii) When escalated to "Complaints Management Team" level, Three closed Complaints unless Three customers explicitly asked to escalate them, (without sending a Written Notification of the right to go to ADR). This practice continued from 22 July 2011 to 21 April 2013.
c) Sending paper bills to domestic customers that did not make reference to the fact that Three customers can utilise the ADR scheme at no cost to themselves, as required by paragraph 4(d) of the Ofcom Code. This practice continued from 22 July 2011 to 3 October 2013.
Therefore on 7 October 2014, Ofcom issued Three with a Confirmation Decision under section 96C of the Act. The Confirmation Decision confirms that Three has taken sufficient steps to come into compliance with the requirements of GC14, and that the contravention is therefore not on-going.
Ofcom recognises that Three has taken some steps to remedy the consequences of its contravention of GC14.4, although these steps are limited to only one aspect of the contravention. Specifically, Ofcom confirms its view that the steps are likely to only address complainants whose complaints were closed without establishing that they were resolved (they were closed prematurely), and the effectiveness of those steps is likely to be limited in terms of complaint resolution.
Ofcom confirms its view that other aspects of the breach may be incapable of effective remedy, and therefore there do not appear to Ofcom to be further such steps that Three could reasonably take to fully and effectively remedy the consequences of its contravention of GC14. Three is, nonetheless, free to take any steps it considers relevant.
The Confirmation Decision also imposes a financial penalty of £250,000 on Three in respect of its contravention of GC14 during the Relevant Period.
A non-confidential version of the Confirmation Decision is currently being prepared and will be published shortly.
Update note: 23 May 2014
Following an investigation, Ofcom has determined that there are reasonable grounds for believing that Hutchison 3G UK Ltd (trading as Three, “Three”) has contravened GC14.4 of the General Conditions. Ofcom has therefore issued a Notification to Three under section 96A of the Communications Act 2003.
The contravention relates to Three failing to have and comply with procedures that conform to the Ofcom Approved Code of Practice for Complaints Handling (the ‘Ofcom Code’ which is Annex 4 to GC14) when handling complaints made by domestic and small business customers about its Public Electronic Communications Services. Specifically, the contravention relates to the provisions in the Ofcom Code requiring that complaints handling procedures must be effective and must facilitate appropriate access to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Three now has an opportunity to make representations to Ofcom on the matters contained in the Notification.
Text published when case was opened
Ofcom has opened this investigation following an assessment of the evidence submitted by Three UK in response to an information request issued to it under Ofcom’s GC14 Monitoring and Enforcement Programme.
Under General Condition 14.4 Communications Providers (CPs) must have and comply with procedures that conform to the Ofcom Approved Code of Practice for Complaints Handling (the ‘Ofcom Code’ which is Annex 4 to GC14) when handling complaints made by domestic and small business customers about its Public Electronic Communications Services.
Ofcom’s investigation will examine whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that Three has failed to comply with this obligation.
Case Leader: Jasminder Oberoi (email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Case Reference: CW/01112/09/13