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EE fined £1m by Ofcom for 'serious failings' in complaints handling

Friday, July 3rd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

EE has been fined £1m by telecoms regulator Ofcom for breaking its rules on customer complaint handling.

An investigation by the regulator found that between July 2011 and April 2014, some EE customers were not given correct information about their right to take their complaint to an independent body called the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme.

It found that EE failed to write to a number of customers outlining their right to take their complaint to the ADR eight weeks after they first raised an issue.

The UK’s biggest mobile operator also failed to say in its Customer Complaints Code that, where relevant, customers could access its ADR scheme by requesting a ‘deadlock' letter.

A number of customers who had requested a deadlock letter during this time were not sent one, and in some cases EE told customers that these letters were not issued.

'Strict rules'

In addition, between July 2011 and February 2014, some customers were sent bills that didn’t tell them that they could use its ADR scheme for free.

The Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme, 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.

All providers offering services to individuals or small businesses with up to 10 employees must be a member of one of two approved ADR schemes.

The schemes are the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) – of which EE is a member – and Ombudsman Services: Communications.

Ofcom said that as a result of its investigation, which is part of its wider efforts to make sure providers are dealing with complaints fairly, EE has amended its Customer Complaints Code to include a correct reference of its obligation to issue a deadlock letter when requested.

It has also amended its paper bills and written notifications to make sure customers know they can use the ADR for free.

'Historic performance'

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer and content group director, said: “It’s vital that customers can access all the information they need when they’re pursuing a complaint.

“Ofcom imposes strict rules on how providers must handle complaints and treats any breach of these rules very seriously.

“The fine imposed against EE takes account of the serious failings that occurred in the company’s complaints handling, and the extended period over which these took place.”

An EE spokesperson said: "This fine relates to our historic performance regarding complaints handling, collected from 2011 to April 2014.

"While this in no way excuses it, it is important to note that we identified issues in our complaints handling and began our programme to tackle these problems head on in 2013, before Ofcom started their investigation. We have made considerable improvements since then.

“Ofcom’s current figures highlight that complaints into Ofcom about EE have fallen by 50% in the past year alone and, while even one complaint is one too many, we’re working tirelessly not only to improve the handling of complaints but also to identify root causes, and fix problems customers have with us, to ultimately achieve our goal of offering the best service in the market.”

EE must pay the fine within 20 days.

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