Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 12:56 UK

Ofcom acts on telecom firm gripes

Fawlty Towers
Complaining can sometimes receive a mixed response

Consumer complaints to the communications industry - about issues such as mobile phones - could be made cheaper and quicker under new plans.

Regulator Ofcom has outlined a series of options to improve the way that consumer gripes are handled.

These include making the initial call of complaint available on a free number and cutting the time it takes to get to a independent resolution scheme.

Ofcom can fine providers up to 10% of turnover if they flout its rules.

Complaints cases

Ofcom wants to tighten up the procedures which have left some companies' customers hanging on a telephone with a complaint or paying for mistakes.

Inadequate or inappropriate [complaints] procedures can cause significant harm and detriment to consumers
Ed Richards
Ofcom chief executive

In one case a provider took money from a consumer for non-payment and disconnection fees despite the fact they had been trying for several months to close their account.

The customer was eventually awarded 600 compensation.

Other consumers told Ofcom that they had suffered costs by making complaints on their mobile phones. One even bought a new telephone that she did not need.

"Inadequate or inappropriate [complaints] procedures can cause significant harm and detriment to consumers," said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.

New rules?

All communications providers must have a complaints code of practice and be a member of a free alternative dispute resolution scheme for complaints that prove impossible to resolve.

Consumers currently have to wait 12 weeks before their concern is taken up by this independent arbiter. Ofcom is proposing this period is cut to eight weeks.

It also suggests that every provider has a dedicated complaints hotline that is free or only charges the equivalent of a geographic call rate.

Other proposals include providers keeping records of complaints for 15 months in case Ofcom investigates, and for a single industry-wide code of practice to be drawn up.

The regulator will consult on the proposals until October.

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