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By: MarkJ - 22 July, 2010 (11:18 AM)
ofcom uk isp complaint rulesOfcom has today announced new measures that will force UK broadband ISPs into making their customers aware of the official complaint handling processes (Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes). Sadly Many ISPs continue to hide such details away and some make no mention of them at all.

The regulator claims that, in 2009, approximately 3 million consumers failed to resolve complaints with their phone and broadband provider after 12 weeks. In addition, three quarters (77%) of those consumers were found to be unaware that a resolution service existed to investigate their complaints.

Nick Hutton, Telecoms Expert at Consumer Focus, commented:

"Each year, millions of customers experience problems resolving their complaints about phone and broadband services. Making it easier for consumers to find out about the help available to resolve their complaints is a positive step.

A further welcome move would be for phone and internet providers’ complaints data to be published [ISPr ED: Ofcom have said they won't do this]. If consumers could compare performance on complaints handling it would allow them to factor this into their choice of provider and act as a spur to companies to improve help for customers who have cause to complain."

At present all UK ISPs are required to join an Ofcom-approved ADR scheme, such as CISAS or OTELO, and adhere to the final decisions made by that scheme (General Condition 14.5). The advantage they have is that an ADR is free and can order your ISP to either fix the problem or pay compensation (up to £5000). See our 'ISP Complaints and Advice' section for more.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said:

"We want to make sure that when something goes wrong, consumers are able to find out easily how to make a complaint and can be assured that their provider will be able to handle their complaint effectively."

So, from 2011, ISPs will have to include information of the relevant dispute resolution service on all paper bills. They will also have to write to consumers whose complaints have not been resolved within 8 weeks to inform them of their right to take their complaint to a dispute resolution service.

Ofcom is also establishing a single mandatory Code of Practice (CoP) with minimum standards for how providers must handle complaints from consumers. The Code of Practice will provide consistency in standards and will give Ofcom powers to take enforcement action against those providers who do not treat complainants fairly.

The new Ofcom Code of Practice will come into force on 22nd January 2011. However the regulators requirement to improve awareness of dispute resolution services will not come into force until 22nd July 2011. We believe that the ADR change could and should happen far sooner, there is no reason for such a long delay.

Interestingly most of the 27 submissions Ofcom received were broadly supportive of their proposals, though bizarrely a number of providers expressed some concern, particularly about the implementation of proposed measures to increase awareness of ADRs.
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