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EE UK Fined GBP1 Million for Shoddy Customer Complaints Handling

Friday, July 3rd, 2015 (7:46 am) - Score 845
broken uk internet connection and running man

Mobile and Internet provider EE UK, which is in the middle of being gobbled by BT for £12.5bn, has today been fined £1 million after Ofcom found earlier this year that the telecoms operator had broken its rules for governing how you should handle customer complaints (General Condition 14.4).

The preliminary ruling against EE first surfaced in March 2015 (here) and the national telecoms regulator’s most recent quarterly complaints report similarly confirms that the operator continues to have a lot of issues left to resolve (here).

Under the rules all ISPs are legally required to be members of an approved Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), specifically CISAS or Ombudsman Services (EE is a member of CISAS), which are designed to supplement (not replace) the providers own internal complaints procedures and are only used after a dispute has gone unresolved for 8 weeks (the “Deadlock Letter” stage). See our ISP Complaints and Advice section for more.

However today’s news reveals that, for a period of several years (from 22nd July 2011 to 8th April 2014), EE appeared to have little regard for adhering to Ofcom’s rules and repeatedly failed to provide some of their customers with accurate or adequate information about the right to take their complaint to an ADR scheme.

Highlights of EE’s Failings

* EE failed to send out written notifications to a number of customers that should have referenced their right to take their complaint to ADR eight weeks after they first raised their complaint.

* EE also failed to state in its Customer Complaints Code that, where relevant, customers could access its ADR scheme by requesting a ‘deadlock letter’.

* Some customers who requested a deadlock letter were not sent them as required.

* EE incorrectly told some customers that deadlock letters were not something they issued.

Ofcom has since been working with EE to help the operator improve their complaints handling, which among other things has resulted in the correct reference to a “Deadlock Letter” being added to their documentation, paper bills and written notifications etc.

But in order to discourage others from flouting their rules Ofcom has also imposed a financial penalty of £1,000,000 against EE (this will ultimately be passed on to the HM Treasury), which must be paid within 20 workings days.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer and Content Group Director, said:

It’s vital that customers can access all the information they need when they’re pursuing a complaint. Ofcom imposes strict rules on how providers must handle complaints and treats any breach of these rules very seriously.

The fine imposed against EE takes account of the serious failings that occurred in the company’s complaints handling, and the extended period over which these took place.”

A spokesperson for EE told ISPreview.co.uk earlier this week that their on-going “Customer Service Improvement programme is producing positive results but we know there is more work to do … Our aim is to offer every customer the best possible service.”

Consumers can use the ADR service for free, although ISPs often complain that the process is unfair because, win or lose, they are still required to pay the costs of the ADR process and that can amount to hundreds of pounds (around £350 +vat). This is problematic, particularly in the low margin business of home broadband and telecoms provision.

In some cases vexatious consumer complaints have used the threat of high ADR fees as a way to effectively blackmail providers into capitulating to their wishes, even when the customer may have been very unlikely win their case had it gone that far. Last year the ISPA proposed changes to resolve these problems (here), such as the controversial idea of requiring consumers to pay a small fee to use the process.

On the flip side the ADR process is a useful tool that exists to protect consumers because sadly some ISPs (especially big providers) don’t always play fair. But in the above case EE’s fault was more its inability to communicate the existence of an ADR process to customers, although it’s easy to see why they might have wished to do that.

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Mark Jackson
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.
Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar liveinhope

    Two Telcoms well suited to be together.

  2. Avatar dragoneast

    Deserved, IMO. I certainly got the impression that Orange/EE tried to ignore ADR, or at least keep it under wraps. But one always has to bear in mind that the vast majority of customers don’t have “problems”. Of course that can in no way justify shoddy treatment of those that do, since the measure of a man (or company) is how it deals with difficulties. These fines though, just another convenient Treasury tax on the consumer.

    I have to smile when I read the BT/EE useless comments. Do we think they’d be any different under some other name? Well, actually Orange (now EE) tried that one. Actually I think it’s the opposite: conscientious staff will succeed even in the worst companies; it’s just finding them that’s the trouble. For all of us.

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