Photographee.eu - Fotolia
The UK’s largest communications service providers (CSPs) have signed up to Ofcom’s new Fairness for Customers commitments, developed to try to make sure users are treated fairly by their provider, whether they are signing up to a new contract, trying to fix a problem or changing providers.
Signed by BT, EE, Giffgaff, O2, Plusnet, the Post Office, Sky, TalkTalk, Tesco Mobile, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone, the commitments are part of a challenge to the industry laid down by the regulator to set new standards in customer service for broadband and mobile.
“Great service cannot be optional,” said Ofcom chief executive Sharon White. “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.”
Caroline Normand, director of advocacy at consumer organisation Which?, which played a role in devising the new commitments, added:
“Until now, too many people have received a raw deal from their broadband or mobile phone supplier. So it’s a positive step that all the major players have signed up to Ofcom’s new fairness commitments.
“Confusing and unfair terms, poor customer support and overcharging are just some of the problems people tell us they have experienced. Providers now have the opportunity to make things right for their customers by committing to offer good service, fair treatment and a straightforward solution when things go wrong.”
By signing up to the so-far voluntary scheme, the CSPs undertake to provide users with deals that are right for their needs, with fair, clear and easy to understand pricing; to give users appropriate support when circumstances such as disability, age, mental illness and so on make them vulnerable; to support users to make better-informed decisions about their options before, during, and at the end of their contracts; to ensure services work reliably, with prompt fixes if things go wrong and compensation if this proves problematic; to enable users to sign up to, change, or leave their services quickly and without hassle; and to give users confidence that fair treatment is a central part of their service provider’s culture.
Read more about broadband
- Broadband connectivity rating firm WiredScore is offering its full-fibre certifications to residential property developers and landlords for the first time.
- The telecoms regulator is proposing new regulations on accessing Openreach’s infrastructure that it hopes will incentives others to roll out ultrafast networks quicker.
- Openreach will ramp up the pace of its full-fibre network build over the next six years, with ambitious targets to bring ultrafast broadband within reach of 15 million homes by the middle of the 2020s.
“The requirement to treat customers fairly has not been baked into the telecoms rules as it has been for years in other sectors such as financial services and energy.
“It is therefore welcome news that Ofcom has managed to convince providers to sign up to this principle – although somewhat disappointing to do it on a voluntary basis rather than adding it to directly and firmly into industry regulations,” said Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.com.
“These commitments could be helpful in balancing telecoms more in favour of the customer, many of whom have faced unnecessary hurdles and frustrations when trying to sort out their services.
“However, this will not be a quick fix. The regulator’s programme of customer engagement reforms needs to continue beyond the introduction of text-to-switch next month and end-of-contract notifications next year, so we look forward to the detail of the upcoming handset reforms later this summer.”
The commitments form part of a wider programme of work by the regulator to help ensure CSPs treat consumer users better. This includes new rules to bring clarity to broadband speed claims, to guarantee compensation when services are disrupted, and to improve how users are treated at the end of their initial contract period.
Later in 2019, it plans to introduce new rules covering the purchase of mobile handsets bundles with airtime, and will also publish the results of a long-awaited review into how broadband services are priced.
Ofcom will be monitoring how, and indeed if, CSPs change their customer service practices over the coming months, and warned it will not hesitate to step in when it sees firms falling short. It will publish a progress report on this in a year’s time.