Broadband News

Ofcom gives the Alternative Dispute Resolution Schemes a makeover

Ofcom published a consultation to review the two Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Schemes that operate for telephone, fixed and mobile broadband services in May 2012. The consultation ended in June, and Ofcom has now published a statement setting out the direction it wants the schemes to take.

The two ADR schemes, one of which all providers are required to belong to, are:

  1. Ombudsman Services: Communications (OS)
  2. Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS)

For those who have not heard of the ADR schemes, they operate to provide an independent body you can take a complaint to, after you have exhaused a provider's normal complaints procedure.

The review by Ofcom established that while reasonable decisions had been made in 90% of cases handled by the two schemes, there was still improvements that could be made, and Ofcom therefore suggested four different ways to resolve this. The chosen option as summarised by Ofcom is:

"Modify the conditions of our approval. This would involve the introduction of a new condition of the approval requiring the Schemes to adopt a set of 'Decision Making Principles' including the development of guidelines on awarding compensation."

Ofcom summary of Option 2 to address ADR scheme issues

The idea is that the guidelines will help to avoid cases where two similar complaints are dealt with differently, and also make compensation awards more consistent. Also in the case of CISAS, it should see them changing their scheme, so that even if a consumer complains and does not initially claim compensation, but they really should receive some that it can be awarded. Current CISAS policy is that only complaints seeking compensation are considered for an award.

The level of compensation is very different between the two schemes, with CISAS awarding an average of £173 when there is an award, and OS £103. Apparently the average is skewed lower for OS, because OS awards a larger number of smaller compensation awards below £50.

The key part of the ADR Schemes is that it will remain free for a consumer to complain, but as was raised by some providers as part of the consultation, this can be unfair on providers, as they must pay the ADR fees even if the consumers complaint is rejected.

The new guidelines are pure civil service copperplate, thus while they set out steps to consider in making a compensation award no precise sums are given, leaving this to the whim of the ADR scheme. If Ofcom were to derive some guideline figures from previous cases this would assist the public in judging whether beyond the satisfaction of a complaint being resolved the compensation might if awarded be worth the extra time to pursue via the ADR scheme their communications provider belongs to.


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