Telecoms customers turning to their providers for debt advice

Published: 17 May 2024

Four in five telecoms customers who look for information about debt support turn to their provider for it, new Ofcom research indicates.

Ofcom keeps a close eye on levels of debt in the UK telecoms market and monitors how vulnerable customers are treated by providers. Last year, our data showed that just over 2% of customers had missed at least one payment, and less than 1% had missed two or more payments.

Our latest research indicates that more than four in five (83%) of those who had looked for information about debt support had turned to their provider for it. Those who had looked for support information from their provider were usually able to find it.

Also, when we asked people who had not missed a payment in 2023 where they would think to look for information about debt support if they were struggling to pay, the most popular sources for advice were their providers (48%), friends and family (32%) and a charity/organisation that gives free debt advice (22%).

However, with only around half (53%) of those who experienced telecoms debt last year able to recall receiving information from their provider about debt support, this may point to providers’ communication of debt support when a customer misses a payment not being as effective as it could be.

Under our rules, providers must have policies and procedures in place to make sure vulnerable customers are treated fairly, including those in financial difficulty. We have previously produced a guide with best practice examples suggesting how vulnerable customers should be treated, including people who are behind on their bills.

When this happens, we would expect providers to:

  • emphasise the support they offer to customers in debt;
  • allow customers time to get help and support, without the threat of disconnection during that period;
  • take account of the customer’s individual circumstances where appropriate;
  • consider offering payment holidays or deferrals, or freeze additional fees and charges;
  • discuss a realistic, reasonable and flexible repayment plan;
  • offer tariff advice, whether switching to a cheaper tariff or social tariff; and
  • signpost customers to debt organisations or charities that can provide free advice and support.

Last month, the UK Regulators Network published information to help people who may need additional support during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Our advice to customers who are having difficulty paying a bill is to talk to your provider as soon as possible – they might be able to help.

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