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Ofcom review Alternative Dispute Resolution and Complaints Handling
Thursday 10 July 2008 15:58:38 by John Hunt

Ofcom have today released a consultation on the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Complaints Handling Procedures to evaluate inadequate or inappropriate procedures that could cause detriment to consumers. The review looks in to the ability of consumers to exercise their right to take a dispute to ADR as well as balancing the ability with the costs.

General Condition 14.7 states that every communication provider (CP) must be a member of an approved ADR scheme, and must comply with the rules and decisions made by the ADR scheme. General condition 14.4 also requires communications providers to have a complaints handling code, which is approved by Ofcom.

Alternative Dispute Resolution
The ADR process is open to consumers and small businesses (under 10 employees). Currently, to invoke the ADR process, a complaint must either run for 12 weeks or until a "deadlock letter" is issued by the communications provider. A deadlock letter indicates that the CP does not believe that the complaint will be resolved without going to ADR.

Responses to Ofcom's information request of CPs found that the majority of complaints are resolved within 8 weeks if they are able to be resolved, and only 10% of complaints still unresolved at 8 weeks are resolved by week 12. Accordingly, Ofcom is proposing changes such that the ADR schemes accept a complaint eight weeks after a complaint is first received, or earlier if a deadlock letter has been issued. This would bring forward the time for resolution to a problem which would be welcomed by consumers, particularly if the last 4 weeks tend to make little headway into resolving the problem.

ADR Awareness
Research by Ofcom into consumer awareness of ADR schemes shows that it is at an unacceptably low level with 81% of UK adults aged 15+ in 2006 not aware of either of Otelo or CISAS, with 83% unaware in 2007. 5% of 15-24 year olds said they had heard of at least one. Of lower income groups (below £17.5k annual household income), only 9% were aware, whilst 20% of those earning £17.5k - £30k had heard of CISAS or Otelo.

Ofcom is proposing to help improve this knowledge of ADR schemes and one step towards this is requiring a CP to give written notice about ADR five working days after a CP first receives a complaint, unless the complaint is resolved at first point of contact. It should also give written notice eight weeks after the complaint is received if not resolved, or when issuing a deadlock notice.

Complaints Handling Procedures
Ofcom believe that the current regulation of complaints handling is not as effective as it should be. A significant proportion of complainants are very dissatisfied with the way their complaint is handled. To address this, Ofcom is proposing a single Code of Practice (COP) setting out high level mandatory standards that each CP would have to adhere to as a minimum. This would be a change to a single code of practice that all providers would abide by rather than the current system where each providers gets their own code approved by Ofcom.

The accessibility to complaints is another concern, and Ofcom have looked into the options of requiring CPs to have either a free phone number of a geographic call rate number for making complaints. They do not believe it fair that CPs can make money via revenue share of, for example, 0870 or premium rate numbers when users are making complaints, but do believe that a reasonable cost to the consumer would be acceptable.

To be able to ensure that CPs are compliant with the proposed regulations if implemented, Ofcom are proposing that CPs should have new record keeping obligations. At the very least, they should log for 15 months a minimum of: details of the complainant, including name and address; date on which the complaint was first received; a description of the complaint; and a description of how the CP dealt with the complaint.

Whilst these are just proposals for changes at the moment, assuming there isn't a large amount of uproar from communication providers about these changes, it is not unreasonable to expect these to come in to force in the not too distant future. Written views and comments are to be received by the 4th of October 2008. If anyone is currently having issues with their broadband provider, we suggest a look through our guide on resolving a problem which contains advice on the steps you can take.

Comments

Posted by keith_thfc over 8 years ago
"Accordingly, Ofcom is proposing changes such that the ADR schemes accept a complaint eight weeks after a complaint is first received..."

Utterly farcical and an absolute insult to paying customers. This is the internet age - complaints should be dealt with in days not months.

If your internet isn't working and your ISP is fobbing you off then do Ofcom really think customers have nothing better to do than to sit around for weeks on end waiting for a time they can pursue an ADR complaint? It beggars belief.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Yea thats a good point keith maybe a couple of weeks not a couple of months, again a bit of a bottling out from ofcom, a shame :(
Posted by keith_thfc over 8 years ago
"Of lower income groups (below £17.5k annual household income), only 9% were aware, whilst 20% of those earning £17.5k - £30k had heard of CISAS or Otelo."

Only Ofcom could commission such an irrelevant poll as this.

Why can't Ofcom take responsibility for resolving disputes themselves? It would make things much simple for the customer and does away with the bizarre situation of having numerous dispute bodies.
Posted by Aqualung over 8 years ago
1 billing period is more than enough to reach a conclusion........
Ofcom should spend a bit of time sorting out there own website which is laughable if you have to contact them.
Posted by ciday over 8 years ago
"Why can't Ofcom take responsibility for resolving disputes themselves? It would make things much simple for the customer and does away with the bizarre situation of having numerous dispute bodies."

Probably because they are in the pockets of big business, but that would be possible liable if I were to say that...:p
Posted by g-bhxu over 8 years ago
Even a billing period is too long.

5 working days is more than enough time to fix a problem.

And if they ISP can't sort out the problem withing 5 working days, then a MAC code should be issued to the user.

And has been said before, OFCOM should have the balls to sort out ISP complaints in the first place.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"5 working days is more than enough time to fix a problem.
And if they ISP can't sort out the problem withing 5 working days, then a MAC code should be issued to the user."
Nope sorry dont agree with that, 5 days isnt enough if BT also have to be involved to solve the issue. Oh and why should an ISP have to give a MAC if the problem is not their fault and they worked as hard as they can to fix things but are reliant on BT (example exchange issue) 2 weeks i think is fair thats basically 1 week for the ISP to engage bottom in to gear and 1 week for anything BT needs to do to get done.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Equally, it's not unreasonable to set a standard of, say, two working days to formulate an initial response to complaints. (VM, ime, can take weeks for example...)
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Id agree with that dawn 2 days to state what they intend to do to put things right is not asking the world. The UK so needs a regulator that has some real balls :(
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