High-quality, reliable communications services for all

By Ombudsman Services | Mar 22, 2019

At Ombudsman Services we are keen to play a role in ensuring that the communications sector works for everyone.

As one of two Ofcom-approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) providers in the sector, we aim to work with consumers and businesses to not only fix individual problems but also raise industry standards more broadly.

That’s why we’re welcoming a plan, published by a group of communications sector experts, that calls for all consumers to have access to affordable, reliable broadband and phone services. The Communications Consumer Panel has made “ubiquitous availability” of reliable communications services one of its proposed focus areas for the coming year.

Published in collaboration with Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Older and Disabled people (ACOD), the document states that:

“Communications services are integral to the everyday lives of consumers, citizens and micro businesses, so their interests must be at the heart of regulation, policy making and industry practices. In a complex and rapidly developing sector this is crucial. We want all communications consumers across the UK to be able to enjoy high quality, affordable, reliable services … whatever their needs.”

Specifically, the panel says it wants to ensure consumers’ voices are heard in discussions about the way the broadband universal service obligation (USO) is implemented. The USO, which is due to come into force at the end of this year, will give people the right to request a decent broadband connection.

Matthew Vickers, chief executive and chief ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, backed the panel’s decision to focus on this area.

He said: “We support universal broadband and the principle of implementation as it will ensure that regardless of their location, consumers will have the opportunity to request affordable, reliable broadband. Broadband access can no longer be considered a ‘nice-to-have’ as so many services are now online. We supported this in our response to the Ofcom consultation on the broadband USO. We also agree that the consumer voice needs to be listened to on the implementation of the broadband USO. We want to play our part here and as well as resolving individual complaints we will continue to use our data to deliver insights to communication providers, Ofcom, the Communications Consumer Panel and other stakeholders to help improve standards in the sector and be proactive in reducing consumer detriment.”

The other priorities set out by the panel in its draft plan for 2019/20 are:

  • Excellent standards of services and customer service
  • So that all consumers get a high-quality customer experience and are treated fairly on an individual and collective basis.
  • Prevention of consumer harm
  • Highlighting and acting on evidence of current and potential future consumer harm in the communications sector.
  • More consumer and citizen participation and greater inclusion in the communications sector
  • So that no-one is left behind regardless of circumstance.
  • Research into issues affecting consumers in the sector
  • So that the panel can provide robust evidence that can be used to command and support action on behalf of consumers.

Responding to the consultation on the plan, Matthew Vickers continued:

“We are delighted to see so many similarities with own priorities and concerns in our mission to end consumer detriment.”

On the issue of customer service specifically, he added:

“We share the view that this should be a key area of focus. Many complaints we receive are often related to problems that have emerged as a result of poor customer service. Common complaints include those when communication providers make mistakes, fail to fulfil promises or carry out instructions, ignoring correspondence and not keeping customers up-to-date. We continue to work with communication providers to improve their customer service. We believe that providers can make changes to improve the overall consumer experience, for example, by having a clear focus on delivering resolutions for customers with accountable, empowered advisors and flexible processes.”

The Communications Consumer Panel is a statutory body that aims to ensure the sector works for consumers, citizens and micro businesses.

It has a particular focus on people who may be in a more vulnerable position in society. For more information, visit the Communications Consumers Panel webiste.