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Ofcom Find UK People Turn to Telecoms Providers for Debt Advice

Friday, May 17th, 2024 (11:25 am) - Score 1,320
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New research from Ofcom, which surveyed 1,104 UK adults aged 18+ during November 2023, has suggested that 83% of UK people who had looked for information about debt support ended up turning to their broadband, landline and or mobile provider for it. More often than not, they found what they were looking for.

The regulator typically keeps a close eye on levels of debt in the UK telecoms market and monitors how vulnerable customers are treated by providers. For example, last year Ofcom found that just over 2% of customers had missed at least one payment to their provider, and less than 1% had missed two or more payments.

As part of this work, the regulator also wanted to gain a greater understanding of consumers’ experiences of their interactions with their communications providers in relation to the provision/prominence of information about debt support available to them. In particular, they wanted to hear about consumers’ direct experiences and what they might do if in future they were unable or struggling to pay.

The focus of this latest research was thus to understand whether account holders who had missed at least one payment during 2023 had received any debt support information from their providers, and whether (if at all) account holders had personally looked for this information.

Summary of the Key Findings

➤ 94% of account holders of landline, fixed broadband and/or mobile services had not missed a telecoms payment since the start of 2023, while 93% of our sample had not looked for any telecoms debt support information during the same period.

➤ 5% of the sample were account holders for landline and/or fixed broadband and/or a mobile service and claimed to have missed one or more telecoms payment since the start of 2023.

➤ While only indicative, 53% of those who claimed to have experienced debt in 2023 recalled receiving information from their provider, indicating that they offer support to customers who are unable or struggling to pay their bill.

➤ When asking respondents who had not missed a payment in 2023 where they would think to look for information about debt support if they were unable or struggling to pay, the most popular sources for advice were their providers (48%), friends and family (32%) and a charity/organisation that gives free debt advice (22%).

➤ Of those who turned to their provider for debt support information, visiting their provider’s website and contacting their provider by phone or in writing (e.g. via email or letter) were the most popular sources. Ofcom’s research found that those who had looked for support information through their provider, were able to find it from the sources they looked at.

However, with only around half (53%) of those who experienced telecoms debt last year being able to recall receiving information from their provider about debt support, this may point to providers’ communication of debt support when a customer misses a payment not being as effective as it could be.

Under Ofcom’s rules, telecoms providers must have policies and procedures in place to make sure vulnerable customers are treated fairly, including those in financial difficulty. The regulator has previously produced a guide with best practice examples suggesting how vulnerable customers should be treated, including people who are behind on their bills.

When this happens, Ofcom says they would expect providers to:

  • Emphasise the support they offer to customers in debt;
  • Allow customers time to get help and support, without the threat of disconnection during that period;
  • Take account of the customer’s individual circumstances where appropriate;
  • Consider offering payment holidays or deferrals, or freeze additional fees and charges;
  • Discuss a realistic, reasonable and flexible repayment plan;
  • Offer tariff advice, whether switching to a cheaper tariff or social tariff; and
  • Signpost customers to debt organisations or charities that can provide free advice and support.

Last month, the UK Regulators Network also published information to help people who may need additional support during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Ofcom’s advice to customers who are having difficulty paying a bill is to talk to your provider as soon as possible – they might be able to help.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
1 Response
  1. Avatar photo Rik says:

    If you’re in debt with a service, the best thing to do is speak to them first of all before things escalate. It’s reassuring to see most are doing this.

    Debt management charities are another great resource for those with more persistent debt with multiple services.

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