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Ofcom Opens Review of UK ISP ADR Consumer Complaints Handlers

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 (10:58 am) - Score 407

The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, has launched a new review into its two Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) consumer complaint handlers – Ombudsman Services (OS) and the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) – after it was revealed that the system could sometimes impose unfair financial penalties against broadband ISPs.

Ofcom requires that all ISPs be members of an approved ADR scheme, which are designed to supplement (not replace) a providers own internal complaints procedures and are only used after a dispute has gone unresolved for 8 weeks. ADR’s are free and can order your broadband provider to either fix the problem or pay compensation. Further details about this can be found under our ‘ISP Complaints and Advice‘ section.

Unfortunately the system is far from perfect, as broadband provider AAISP (Andrews & Arnold) recently found (here). ISPs can be forced to pay hundreds of pounds in compensation and ADR fees, often even after they’ve more than settled a financial dispute or complaint. In fact ISPs still have to pay even when the dispute isn’t actually their fault.

Ofcoms Statement – ADR Review

In most respects, we are satisfied that both Schemes continue to meet the approval criteria. Since the Review began, both Schemes have introduced a number of improvements to their operations notably improving the accessibility of their services to consumers and the efficiency of their processes. These have already started to deliver benefits to consumers and CPs.

The Review has identified some issues of consistency between the Schemes. Specifically, we have identified:

* a difference in the approach at the Schemes to awarding small amounts of compensation or goodwill payments; and

* some inconsistencies between and within the Schemes when assessing the arguments in those cases where evidence appears to be lacking.

Our analysis to date suggests that these inconsistencies may be caused by the absence of formal guidelines on how certain cases should be assessed and what level of compensation should be awarded to consumers.

As a result of the recent problems Ofcom has proposed to introduce a condition requiring the ADR schemes to adopt a new set of Decision Making Principles, which include guidelines to ensure that “a fair and reasonable outcome for both parties” is achieved.

The Proposed Decision Making Principles

* [The ADR must] demonstrate that they have treated the CP and consumer equally so that neither is disadvantaged;
* [The ADR must] recognise that both parties should provide evidence in their possession relevant to the matters in dispute;
* [The ADR must] give equal consideration to the word of the consumer and the word of the CP; and
* [The ADR must] make assessments based on the balance of probabilities in the absence of conclusive evidence.

It’s important to stress that the consumers do need ADR’s because some ISPs simply don’t play fair with their customers, especially big providers where serious mistakes can be quite common. At the same time such systems need to be fair so that neither side is penalised unless there is a clear and evidence-based justification for it.

The new consultation is open until 29th June 2012.

Ofcom Review of Alternative Dispute Resolution Schemes
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/adr-review-12

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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