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Confusion Hampers Resolution of UK Broadband ISP Complaints

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 1,800
confused uk consumer

A new report from UK consumer complaints handler firm Ombudsman Services (OS), which is an Ofcom approved Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider for UK broadband ISPs, mobile operators and energy providers, has found that many people are still confused about when and where to get unresolved complaints tackled.

At present the regulator, Ofcom, requires all telecoms providers to become members of an approved ADR scheme – CISAS or Ombudsman Services. The schemes are free for consumers to access and designed to supplement (not replace) an ISPs own internal complaint procedure(s), although providers often have to pay sizeable costs regardless of whether they win or lose a case.

The ADR process is typically seen as a last line of defence for consumers – before court action (the last resort) – and thus such schemes are generally only used after a dispute has gone unresolved for 8 weeks (i.e. the “Deadlock Letter” stage). Please see our ISP Complaints and Advice section for more information.

However, the latest 2020 Consumer Action Monitor (CAM) report from Ombudsman Services finds that many consumers are still confused about the when and where of how to tackle unresolved complaints with their provider.

NOTE: OS commissioned Deltapoll to conduct three independent phases of research (online interviews) as part of the CAM 2020. Phase 1 (20–23 March 2020) 4,079 interviews conducted, Phase 2 (27 – 29 May 2020) 2,047 interviews and Phase 3 (7 – 18 September 2020) 4,023 interviews.

Overall, just 3% of respondents correctly stated that energy and telecoms providers currently have 8 weeks to resolve a complaint before it can be escalated to an ombudsman, and when informed about this some 64% think that the current 8-week-long wait is “unfair.”

When asked how long energy and telecoms providers should have to resolve a complaint before it can be escalated to an ombudsman, only 2% of respondents said 8 weeks – most consumers (63%) thought providers should have 2 weeks or less. In fact, 78% of consumers think providers currently have 4 weeks or less to resolve complaints.


Clearly there is a lack of consumer awareness around the timescales associated with access to independent redress, but that’s not the only area causing confusion. When consumers were asked if they knew where to take an unresolved complaint about their energy or telecoms provider, their responses were mixed and only 25% knew exactly where to go, while 28% didn’t know where to go.

TIP: The quickest way to find details on a provider’s complaints process is often to scroll to the bottom of their website, then look for either a ‘Complaints‘ or ‘Terms & Conditions‘ link to find the document.

The report also found that complaints fell significantly during the UK-wide lockdown in spring 2020 (this is supported by Ofcom’s own separate complaints data for 2020).


During this period consumers were also more willing to be lenient on providers. Some 41% of consumers said they became more tolerant of poor service during lockdown, with only 10% saying the opposite. Nearly a quarter (24%) were unhappy with a product/service during lockdown, but chose not to complain to their energy or telecoms provider. Lest we forget that the ADR providers will have also suffered strain on their resources.

Elsewhere, the report found that a telecoms provider’s green credentials (i.e. environmental friendliness) were most important to the youngest and oldest in society, with 66% of both 17 to 24-year-olds and over-65s saying they were important (overall 56% said they were important for telecoms providers).

Green credentials also mattered more to women, with 64% saying they were important compared to 58% of men. In theory this bodes well for the largest telecoms providers (e.g. BT, Sky Broadband and Virgin Media), which have long been pushing themselves toward ever higher environmental targets.

Matthew Vickers, CEO of Ombudsman Services, said:

“Our report makes clear that many consumers are looking to their telecoms providers to do the right thing on sustainability and environmental protection.

In a post-pandemic world, there is an opportunity for companies in the sector to demonstrate their commitment to the green agenda and net zero.

With a growing number of telecoms providers making commitments on net zero, it’s important that consumers can trust the ‘green’ claims being made and that consumer protection is designed with this in mind.

After all, a low-carbon economy will need to be a high trust economy.”

Ombudsman Services also said they would now seek to “bring together energy and telecoms providers and stakeholders to discuss how we can increase consumer awareness around the complaints process.” At this point it’s worth noting that Ofcom has already made changes to ensure that the ADR process is much easier to find and more transparent via each ISP, but the reality is that you’re only likely to come across this when you actually have a complaint to raise.

In the interests of fairness, however, providers must have the opportunity to resolve consumer issues wherever possible and the survey’s indication towards a desire for 2 weeks or fewer is unlikely to allow enough time to resolve some of the more challenging issues. So far, Ofcom has decided that 8-weeks is an acceptable period, but we do think there may be scope to reduce that a bit.

Finally, the report notes that some 83% of consumers say a well-handled complaint increases their loyalty to a company, which sounds fair but much may depend upon how “well-handled” is interpreted between different people (the survey didn’t cover that element of context).

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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.
Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. A_Builder says:

    8 weeks it too long and encourages procrastination by the ISP.

    Downwards pressure on timescales would make OR up their game.

    Anyway with FTTP fix times and fault levels should reduce radically.

  2. David says:

    8 weeks!.
    8 hours would satisfy me.

  3. Yu Mmy says:

    Can I get a Confusion Hamper?

  4. Liz Ronchetti says:

    My compliant is I ordered broadband in October 2020 and it still hasn’t been installed. (10/3/2020) So not a technical complaint. Does this still cover it?

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