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Ofcom UK Pledge Better ISP Complaint Outcomes for Broadband Consumers

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 (11:50 am) - Score 459

The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, has today introduced new “decision making principles” to help its two Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) consumer complaint handler schemes reach “better outcomes” and award “fair” compensation for customers affected by poor broadband or phone services.

The regulator requires all ISPs to be members of an approved ADR, such as either Ombudsman Services: Communications (OS) or the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Service (CISAS). These 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 ISP to either fix the problem or pay compensation. Further details can be found under our ‘ISP Complaints and Advice‘ section.

According to Ofcom, there has been a 56% annual increase in the number of consumer complaints made to CISAS and a 17% rise for OS. Sadly the regulators recent ADR review also found that the schemes had “delivered inconsistent outcomes for a small minority of consumers“.

It’s understood that ADR’s are expected to follow a set of common principles when considering consumer complaints, although this does not appear to have been enough to prevent some mistakes in the process and unfair outcomes (note: sometimes unfair for the ISP and other times unfair for the consumer). To address this Ofcom has introduced new decision making principles and common compensation guidelines, which we’ve pasted below.

Ofcoms New ADR Decision Making Principles

In achieving a fair and reasonable outcome for both parties, the Scheme’s decision-maker will:

* Be able to demonstrate that they have treated the CP and the consumer fairly so that neither is unduly disadvantaged.

* Remain objective and shall promote neither the position of the consumer nor that of the CP.

* Consider the evidence presented by the parties, the specific circumstances, and other information directly relevant to the dispute and shall consider whether to request further information from either party.

* Recognise that both parties must, where it is in their possession, provide evidence relevant to the matters in dispute.

* Give equal consideration to the word of the consumer and the word of the CP.

* Be mindful of, but not bound by, past rulings in similar cases.

* Where appropriate take account of, but not rely on, the usual behaviour or practices of either the CP or consumer.

* Have regard to the relevant regulations, law and terms and conditions.

* Ensure that the outcome will be based on the balance of probabilities in the absence of conclusive evidence and give full reasons for any decision.

Ofcoms New ADR Compensation Guidelines

Pre-requisites for making an award. With all types of compensation awarded the decision-maker should clearly express:

* What has triggered the award

* Why this is sufficient to justify an award

* Factors affecting the size of the award

* The precise level of the award

* The reasoning for setting the award at this level.

It’s important to note that the precise sums awarded will always be left to the discretion of the decision-maker.

Communications Consumer Panel member, Kim Brook, said:

The Communications Consumer Panel has consistently backed moves to improve the two ADR schemes, including the introduction of decision-making principles to increase consistency in outcomes. We are pleased that our views have played a part in changes that will help to make the complaints process more accessible and transparent for customers. It is vital that the schemes are not only consistent with each other, but also swift, fair, free and effective.

Also, our concerns about compensation levels for consumers have been addressed in Ofcom’s statement, and information will now be available to people making a complaint. However, we would still like to see both schemes use more consumer–friendly language in their customer information. The Panel continues to call for the publication of information about complaints referred to ADR and the proportion that are upheld.”

Ofcom now intends to work with the ADR schemes to ensure that the new decision making principles are working well in practice and will also keep them under review through future test cases.

Ofcom’s ADR Review
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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