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Complaints about telecoms providers up by a third in three years

Wednesday, October 21st 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Complaints to the communications ombudsman about telecoms providers have risen again – up 5% on last year.

The number of complaints received in the three months from July to September has soared by 35% compared to three years ago, according to Ombudsman Services: Communications.

The organisation, which provides a dispute resolution service to help consumers resolve complaints, has received 15,542 complaints about telecoms providers so far this year – up 5% on the same period in 2014.

Nearly a third of complaints in September (31%) related to billing issues, such as complicated invoices, direct debit amounts or incorrect account details.

Service issues accounted for more than one in five complaints (23%), while contract issues, including cancellations and mis-selling, made up 16%.

So far this year, people in the Midlands have been most dissatisfied with their telecoms providers, making 1,480 complaints - one in 10 of all complaints made.

Consumers in the North West were next, at 8%, followed by the south west (8%) and Inner London (7%).

Earlier this year, Cable.co.uk reported that complaints to the ombudsman about broadband and mobile phone providers had increased by 20% in 2014 compared to the previous year.

The Ombudsman Services’ Consumer Action Monitor 2015, an annual comprehensive multi-sector survey, showed that consumer complaints in the UK nearly doubled between 2013 and 2014, from 38m to 66m.

The ombudsman said more could be done by providers to make sure customers receive better experiences.

It cited a recent Ofcom report which found there is “considerable room for improvement” in the telecoms industry when it comes to helping consumers access Alternative Dispute Resolution.

'Suffering in silence'

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which is free to customers, allows them to refer complaints that can’t be resolved with their provider to an independent body for an impartial judgement.

Complaints can be taken to the ADR if they remain unresolved after eight weeks or if a stalemate or ‘deadlock’ is reached between the customer and the provider before that.

Ofcom’s ‘Facilitating Access to ADR’ report, published in September, found that in 75% of cases investigated, consumers had not been sent notification letters, which they need to take their cases further, when they should have been.

In July, mobile operator EE was fined £1m by Ofcom for breaking rules on complaints handling - including not giving customers correct information about their right to take their complaint to ADR.

Lewis Shand Smith, chief ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, said: “There are differences between individual companies but the overall trend shows an increase in communications complaints.

“This is worrying given the recent Ofcom report shows there is significant room for providers to improve their signposting to ADR providers.

“Many may still be suffering in silence because they think it's too much hassle or don't know what they can do to take their complaint further.

“Dissatisfied customers have a right to approach an ombudsman to complain if their provider has failed to solve a problem, and it seems that companies are failing to make people aware of this.

“From billing issues to complaints about poor service, we’re here to help.”

He said Ombudsman Services is a “quick, free and easy” way to resolve complaints with communications providers.

“We're now working with EE along with more than 350 other UK providers and are dedicated to working with them all to ensure people get better service, and that the complaints procedure runs smoothly when things go wrong,” he said.

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