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Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
Oftel says consumer champion needed
Man speaking into mobile phone
Complaints lodged by phone users increasing fast
Rocketing levels of complaints by the public against phone companies have prompted the UK regulator to call for the appointment of an independent arbitrator.

Watchdog David Edmonds is pressing telecoms chiefs to fund the creation of an ombudsman who would settle disputes with customers, which have doubled in the past two years.


The scale of the problem is such that more needs to be done

Oftel
The goal should be to have the ombudsman installed by mid-2001, said Mr Edmonds, director-general at Oftel.

"The appointment of an independent telecoms ombudsman would show that the UK telecoms industry is serious about taking on more responsibility for resolving issues with customers," he told an industry seminar on Wednesday.

The post is being proposed in response to consumer demand, Mr Edmonds said.

Oftel expects to receive 96,000 public complaints and inquiries this year, up from 50,000 in 1998.

"The scale of the problem is such that more needs to be done," the regulator said in a consultation paper earlier this year.

Inefficient firms may be asked to contribute more to the scheme, with subscriptions linked to numbers of complaint, the paper said.

Court action

The ombudsman, whose role would be drawn up by regulators and industry chiefs, would "fill a gap" in consumer representation, Oftel told BBC News Online.


We are very much for strong consumer representation

BT
While Oftel currently includes consumer representation among its responsibilities, regulators lack powers to rule on many disputes, leaving customers with complaints on issues such as billing to pursue their grievances through the courts.

"The ombudsman would allow customers a course other than legal action," an Oftel spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

Oftel, which was itself attacked by industry heads on Tuesday for taking too long to end BT's monopoly, would not cede any powers to the ombudsman, the spokeswoman said.

The announcement was welcomed by BT. "We are very much for strong consumer representation," a company spokeswoman said.

Oftel, which received 79,000 complaints and inquiries from the public last year, believes the ever-increasing total reflects the growth in telecoms markets, expanding to incorporate products such as Wap phones.

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Background:
See also:

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25 Aug 00 | Business
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