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UK ISPs Sign-up to New Ofcom Fairness for Customers Commitment

Monday, June 3rd, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 1,932

The biggest home broadband, phone, mobile and pay TV providers from across the United Kingdom have today announced that they’re signing up to Ofcom’s new “Fairness for Customers” commitment, which covers a variety of areas from the quality of support to clarity of information and fairness in pricing.

Recently the regulator has been on somewhat of a roll in terms of improving consumer protections across the telecoms industry. So far they’ve introduced a new system of automatic compensation for fixed line broadband ISPs (here), launched a tougher code of practice for broadband speeds (here), confirmed their plans for a new end of contract notification system (here) and easier mobile switching will soon follow (here).

However Ofcom says they also want to help “ensure people are always treated fairly” by their provider – whether they are signing up to a new deal, trying to fix a problem or switching to a new company – and in keeping with that they’ve encouraged all of the UK’s biggest providers to sign-up to a set of new commitments.

At the time of writing this means that BT, EE, Giffgaff, O2, Plusnet, Post Office, Sky (Sky Broadband), TalkTalk, Tesco Mobile, Three UK, Virgin Media and Vodafone have all agreed to support the following..

The Fairness for Customers Commitments

1. Customers get a fair deal, which is right for their needs.
Providers offer customers packages that fit their needs and have a fair approach to pricing. Prices are clear and easy to understand;

2. Customers get the support they need when their circumstances make them vulnerable.
Providers understand and identify the characteristics, circumstances and needs of vulnerable customers – such as vulnerability due to a disability, age, mental illness or having recently been bereaved – and act to give them fair treatment and equal access to services too;

3. Customers are supported to make well-informed decisions with clear information about their options before, during, and at the end of their contract.
Providers design and send communications in a way that reflects an understanding of how customers generally react to information so that they can understand and engage with the market;

4. Customers’ services work as promised, reliably over time.
If things go wrong providers give a prompt response to fix problems and take appropriate action to help their customers, which may include providing compensation where relevant. If providers can’t fix problems with core services they have promised to deliver within a reasonable period, customers can walk away from their contract with no penalty;

5. Customers can sign up to, change and leave their services quickly and smoothly.
Providers ensure that customers who are leaving do not face additional barriers or hassle compared to those who are signing up to new services;

6. Customers can be confident that fair treatment is a central part of their provider’s culture.
Companies can demonstrate that they have the right procedures in place to ensure customers are treated well. They keep these effective and up-to-date.

The commitments are all fairly generalised and on the surface it doesn’t sound like there are any particular penalties attached for those who fall short of expectations. On the other hand most of these commitments are also underpinned by existing consumer law and Ofcom’s rules, which can be enforced when needed.

In keeping with the above, the regulator has said they will be “monitoring companies’ practices closely and will step in where we see firms falling short” (i.e. reiterating their existing approach). Nevertheless we suspect that some consumers may argue that several of the providers named above are already in breach of a few commitments.

Sharon White, Ofcom CEO, said:

“I welcome the commitments the providers have made, and the action they’re taking to ensure customers are treated fairly every step of the way.

Great service cannot be optional. It has to be the norm. That hasn’t always happened in the past in broadband and mobile services, but there is now a growing belief from providers that putting customers first is paramount.”

Margot James, UK Minister for Digital, said:

“I’m pleased that all the major telecoms providers have signed up to Ofcom’s commitments today. They will not only help consumers get fairer deals, but will support competition by making sure providers work to the same objectives and compete on standards.”

At the end of the day we don’t expect the new commitments by themselves to produce a seismic industry change, mainly because most of them are already based around existing rules. On the other hand this may give consumers a little extra ammunition to fire back at providers when things go wrong and it’ll be interesting to see how some of the providers adapt to that “fair deal” pledge on pricing.

Speaking of which, Ofcom are continuing their review of broadband pricing, which looks at why some people pay more than others (particularly vulnerable consumers). The regulator expects to publish the findings from this during the autumn 2019.

Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. Avatar Joe says:

    “Speaking of which, Ofcom are continuing their review of broadband pricing, which looks at why some people pay more than others (particularly vulnerable consumers). The regulator expects to publish the findings from this during the autumn 2019.”

    Time to bet we get ‘its unfair that people who shop around an look for a deal get a better deal than those who don’t’?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I think it would be ridiculous if Ofcom clamped down on the very nature of a competitive commercial market. So I suspect what they’ll do is focus any changes on just the vulnerable groups (e.g. pensioners) who don’t shop around or switch and can be left on more expensive legacy plans for many years. The downside is that this may result in smaller savings for those who do shop around in order to compensate (much as seen in the energy markets with the price cap).

    2. Avatar Joe says:

      It would Mark but thats essentially the underlying argument that mostly is put (even if they couch it in less obvious terms) Once you start telling providers they have to offer special rates to ‘vulnerable customers’ (which most people will be surprised can include everyone over 65) it adds up to millions of people and will as you say kill much of the value out of switching

  2. Avatar Franklin Williams says:

    What should also be an option is to have the voice part of your landline turned off so you only get broadband through it & cut your line rental in half. I never use my landline for calls it’s just too expensive mobiles are a lot cheaper for calls.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Sadly that’s not how it works Franklin. Both broadband and voice are part of the same line and the voice component is only a tiny part of that overall cost. As for buying only broadband.. you’ll be able to do that very soon, just don’t expect to save much money.


    2. Avatar Joe says:

      If you want to save you might get more with 4g and no line at all.

    3. Avatar John says:

      OpenReach are in the process of trialling a broadband only product (SOGEA) with no voice.

      It absolutely will NOT result in halfing line rental charges.
      The line is still needed for broadband and will cost almost the exact same to maintain without voice services.

      You’ll probably find the difference in price between broadband+voice and broadband only is in the £1-£2 region, if cheaper at all.

      It’s for the ISP to decide what they charge customers but the OpenReach pricing to the ISP isn’t going to be much cheaper.

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