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Broadband Customers Win Most of their ISP Complaints

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 (2:37 pm) - Score 656

A new survey conducted by Which? on 3,621 members of the public has revealed that 68% of consumers who escalate their complaint against a service or utility provider (e.g. broadband, phone, energy, water etc.), such as by using an independent ombudsman, win their case. But sadly 60% of those who attempted to resolve a complaint directly were left dissatisfied

The good news is that broadband consumers appear to be much more likely to get their complaint resolved after escalating to an ombudsman than most other industries, with some 86% winning their cases. By comparison only energy companies scored higher (95%), while complaints about public services saw the least success (42%).

Good news then? Yes and no, depending upon which side of the fence you sit. Ofcom’s General Condition 14 (Dispute Resolution) requires all ISPs in the United Kingdom to be members of an approved ADR complaints handler scheme like CISAS or Ombudsman Services, which are designed to supplement (not replace) the ISPs own internal complaints procedures and are only used after a dispute has gone unresolved for 8 weeks (the “Deadlock Letter” stage).

In principal the system is good for consumers but ISPs, especially smaller providers that often struggle to make a profit and which don’t have economics of scale on their side, often complain that the ADR system is flawed. Currently, ISPs need to pay a case fee (usually worth well over £300), regardless of whether or not they win, and some complain that there is little to dissuade vexatious claims (e.g. using ADR as a way to avoid settling unpaid bills for a service which has been working without problems) from clogging up the system and creating delays.

A number of examples (here and here) have already been highlighted and some ISPs now claim that the commercially orientated complaints handlers are effectively being incentivised to take on a complaint even when it would appear to fall outside of Ofcom’s guidelines (here).

On the other hand a few ISPs simply don’t play nice with their customers and for those situations it’s necessary to have an independent complaints handler. At the same time it is also important that any ombudsman acts fairly on behalf of all parties, especially when such huge fees can be levied against an ISP.

A variety of potential solutions have already been proposed by ISPs, such as the worrying idea of charging consumers to make a complaint. Thankfully other ideas are more sensible, with some suggesting that Ofcom should take on the responsibility directly and others saying that ISPs shouldn’t be charged unless they rack up a certain number of complaints.

As it stands a series of discussions have already taken place between ISPs and Ofcom but we’ve yet to observe any significant shift in approach.

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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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