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Complaints about broadband and mobile providers on the rise

Thursday, March 19th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Complaints to the communications ombudsman about broadband and mobile phone providers increased by 20% last year compared to 2013.

Ombudsman Services, which also covers the energy, property and copyright licensing industries, handled 19,288 communications complaints in 2014.

This compares to 16,107 in 2013, of which 12,909 were resolved. The difference in the figures is mainly due to some consumers deciding not to progress their case and others settling complaints directly with the provider.

The most common complaints related to service (28%), contract issues (18%) and customer service (17%).

Disputed charges, including broadband and download charges, call charges, engineers’ charges and data roaming, accounted for 15% of the communications complaints handled in 2014.

The ombudsman’s research shows that complaints about products and services almost doubled over the 12 months to reach 66 million.

Retail was the most complained about sector, attracting about 18.5 million complaints, and the telecoms sector was second, accounting for 9.9 million.

“Overall, this year’s report showed a marked shift in the willingness of consumers to take action when they have a grievance,” said an Ombudsman Services spokesperson.

Almost half (47%) of Brits with a complaint took action by going either to the supplier or third party, compared to just over a third (34%) in 2013.

“We believe this increasing consumer activism is being fuelled, in part, by technology, in two ways.

“Firstly, e-commerce is removing human interaction from many purchases, making minor problems and issues more likely, particularly when it comes to delivery.

“Secondly, social media gives customers the opportunity to campaign directly if they have a problem.

“More than 5.2 million complaints were made last year through social media like Facebook, Twitter and consumer forums.”

Unexpectedly high bills

Ombudsman Services has issued advice for customers who face an unexpectedly high bill because they have exceeded their data limit – an issue known as data download bill shock.

Cable.co.uk reported in January how several Talkmobile customers had received excessively high bills for data they claimed they hadn’t used.

The ombudsman said it was uncommon for this to happen and that customers should raise the issue with their provider if they believe they have been overcharged.

“If the issue isn’t resolved after eight weeks we can independently review the case and determine if something has gone wrong and how it should be fixed,” said the spokesperson. “Our decisions are binding on suppliers.”

The ombudsman logged 433 complaints as ‘disputed charges – broadband and download charges’ in 2014 – up 140% on the previous year.

The spokesperson added: “What is more common is when a customer is told there is a cap or limit on their account, but the supplier cannot offer a cap or guarantee to prevent usage once a limit has been reached.

“Some suppliers’ systems are unable to limit customers’ usage in real time but customers are advised otherwise. In such cases we would consider what information the complainant has been given about spend limits, by looking at records of telephone conversations, published materials and the terms and conditions of the contract.

“We would advise consumers to check the information they are given about limitations and understand how they work.”

Ombudsman Services is one of two alternative dispute resolution schemes in the UK that deal with telecoms service providers, along with the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme.

All communications providers must belong to one of these schemes.

Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, looks at how issues affect UK consumers as a whole, but does not investigate individual complaints. There is advice for consumers wishing to complain about service providers on the Ofcom website.

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