New help for consumers to resolve complaints
22 July 2010
Last year around 3 million consumers faced unresolved phone and broadband complaints after 12 weeks.
That's despite being able to take their complaint to one of two free Ofcom-approved resolution services – CISAS and Otelo.
Dispute resolution service
Three quarters of those consumers were even unaware that a resolution service existed.
So from next year communications providers will have to include information of the relevant dispute resolution service on all paper bills.
They will also have to write to consumers whose complaints have not been resolved within eight weeks to inform them of their right to take their complaint to a dispute resolution service.
Ofcom research shows that dispute resolution services improve the outcome for those consumers who would otherwise fail to pursue complaints out of frustration with their provider's response or lack of response.
What are dispute resolution services?
All communications providers must belong to and offer their customers free access to an Ofcom-approved dispute resolution service.
The two telecoms dispute resolution services, CISAS and Otelo, provide an independent service to consumers whose complaints cannot be resolved by their provider.
A complaint is deemed unresolved and eligible for dispute resolution eight weeks after the initial complaint, or sooner if the provider indicates that it is not able to resolve the issue.
Resolution service decisions are legally binding on the provider and consumers can be awarded up to £5000 compensation for financial loss and inconvenience caused.
For example, of those complaints about mobile providers that were not resolved within 12 weeks, 91 per cent of complaints were subsequently resolved when taken to a dispute resolution service, compared with 51 per cent of complaints where the consumer did not go to a dispute resolution service.
Minimum standards for complaints handling
Ofcom is also establishing a single mandatory Code of Practice with minimum standards for how providers must handle complaints from consumers.
The Code of Practice will provide consistency in standards and will give Ofcom powers to take enforcement action against those providers who do not treat complainants fairly.
The Code will require providers to ensure the fair and timely resolution of complaints, and have procedures that are transparent and accessible so that consumers can easily find out how to make a complaint.
The new Ofcom Code of Practice will come into force on 22 January 2011. The new requirements to improve awareness of dispute resolution services will come into force on 22 July 2011.
Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards said: 'We want to make sure that when something goes wrong, consumers are able to find out easily how to make a complaint and can be assured that their provider will be able to handle their complaint effectively.'