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Ofcom Toughens UK Consumer Protection Rules for Phone and Broadband ISPs

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017 (10:44 am) - Score 847
ofcom uk telecoms regulator

The UK telecoms regulator has today announced that they will introduce a series of changes to improve their consumer protection rules from 1st October 2018, which aim to tackle billing accuracy, debt collection, nuisance calls, complaints handling and support for those with disabilities.

All phone, broadband and mobile (communication) providers in the United Kingdom are currently required to follow Ofcom’s General Conditions of Entitlement, which essentially establish a core set of standards for how the industry should work and interact with customers.

At the end of last year the regulator announced that they were looking to improve some areas of their existing rules, as well as to simplify them and deregulate (remove) any rules that were deemed to be obsolete (here). Ofcom has now completed this effort and published their first solid proposals, with some the key changes being summarised below.

Key Rule Changes

* Ban providers from charging for caller display facilities, which can help people to screen nuisance calls. The new rules confirm that telephone numbers displayed to people receiving calls must be valid, diallable and uniquely identify the caller. We are also requiring providers to identify and block calls with an invalid or non-diallable number – a feature of many nuisance calls – so they don’t get through to consumers. We are today separately consulting on new guidance to help providers comply with these new ‘calling line identification’ requirements;

* Introduce a new requirement for all communications providers to have clear, effective policies and procedures for identifying vulnerable customers – such as people with learning or communication difficulties or those suffering physical or mental illness or bereavement – to ensure they are treated fairly and appropriately;

* Require all communications providers to offer disabled users access to priority fault repair, third party bill management and accessible bills. These measures previously applied only to disabled people’s landline and mobile services, and will now extend to broadband.

* Strengthen the complaints handling rules to ensure that complaints are dealt with promptly and effectively, and consumers are kept informed about the progress of their complaint, with faster access to dispute resolution services in cases where they reach deadlock with their provider;

* Require broadband and mobile providers to have fair and transparent debt-collection and disconnection practices in place (this requirement already applies to landline providers); and

* Extend current rules on billing accuracy, which previously only applied to voice call services, to include broadband.

Ofcom also said that they are consulting on a small number of related matters, such as extending their powers to withdraw telephone numbers if they are misused (e.g. when abused for nuisance calling), updating a 2003 direction specifying which public bodies may request communications services to be restored in the event of disasters and draft guidance on how providers should handle customer requests to cancel their contracts.

The final consultation is due to run until 14th November 2017 and Ofcom will then aim to publish a final statement “early next year“.

Ofcom’s Proposed Rule Changes (PDF)
https://www.ofcom.org.uk/../Statement-and-Consultation-Review-of-the-General-Conditions-of-Entitlement.pdf

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