New telecoms industry rules: key points for consumers

by Ombudsman Services | Oct 05, 2018

Wide-ranging new rules designed to give consumers greater protection came into force for the telecoms industry earlier this week.  

The changes follow a review by regulator Ofcom of the ‘general conditions’ – the regulatory rules that all communications providers must abide by in order to operate in the UK.

Ofcom has said that the new rules will:

Help ensure that complaints and customer requests are handled appropriately

  • All communications providers must ensure that customer concerns are dealt with promptly and effectively;

     

  • Customers must be kept informed about the progress of their complaint and be allowed faster access to dispute resolution services in cases where the matter cannot be resolved by their provider; and

     

  • Ofcom is issuing new guidance to providers on handling customers’ requests to cancel their contract. This should include allowing customers to cancel by phone, email or webchat, and ensuring incentive schemes for customer service agents do not encourage poor behaviour.

    Require telecoms companies to treat vulnerable customers fairly

     

  • Communications providers must introduce policies for identifying vulnerable customers – such as people with learning or communication difficulties or those suffering physical or mental illness or bereavement – to ensure they are treated fairly.

Help to better protect consumers against nuisance calls

  • Phone companies will be banned from charging customers for caller display –a service that helps people to screen unwanted calls;

     

  • Telephone numbers displayed to people receiving calls must be valid and allow a person to call the number back;

     

  • Phone companies must take steps to identify and block calls which carry invalid numbers – a feature of many nuisance calls – so they don’t get through to consumers in the first place; and

     

  • Ofcom will be able to take back blocks of numbers from communications providers if they are found to have been systematically used to cause harm or anxiety to people, such as to make nuisance calls or perpetrate scams or fraud.

 

Mobile bill limits

In a separate development, Monday also saw the introduction of new rules requiring providers of mobile phone services to give consumers the ability to limit the cost of their bill.

Providers must also notify customers when that limit is likely to be reached.

Consumers are now able to specify, amend or remove a bill limit on reasonable notice at any time. A customer’s limit can only be exceeded with their express consent.

If a service continues to be provided without this consent, the provider is prohibited from billing the customer for any charges for the service after the limit is reached.

Jonathan Lenton, an ombudsman in Ombudsman Services: Communications, said:

“These new rules represent a significant development for consumers and communications businesses.

“Indeed, as we’ve said previously, in our view they are the biggest and most wide-ranging overnight regulatory change the industry has faced in 15 years.

“It’s important that consumers are aware of their new rights and protections.

“In our experience, providers of all sizes have worked hard to understand the practical implications of the changes and ensure they do the right thing by consumers. This is good to see.”