Meeting Ofcom criteria

Accessibility

We are committed to making it as easy as possible for people who have a complaint about their communications provider to get in touch with us. We can be contacted online, over the phone or in writing. We have facilities in place for those who may have sight, hearing or speech difficulties. We can make and receive calls using a text relay service and can contact a foreign language telephone translation service to make it easier for foreign language speakers to pursue a complaint. If a complainant needs information about our services in a language other than English, we can arrange for a translation. We can also provide documents in alternative formats such as large print, audio and Braille. British Sign Language users can contact us using a sign language interpreter, through the Interpreters Live! service. 

Independence

Independence is at the heart of Ombudsman Services and how we operate. We are governed by a board of directors, on which non-executive directors are the majority. The board ensures our independence and has responsibility for appointing the chief ombudsman.

Participating companies (those who are subject to investigation by Ombudsman Services) have no part in this board and no role in running our organisation.

No one who has been a director, a senior employee or a senior advisor of any participating company within three years is permitted to join the board.

No one at Ombudsman Services is permitted to handle a complaint about a company for which they have worked, or in which they have had an interest, until a reasonable amount of time has elapsed, nor do we permit anyone to be involved in a complaint if they have a personal relationship with the complainant.

Our scheme is free to complainants. It is funded by a mixture of subscription fees and case fees; these are payable by the participating companies. The more complaints a company gets the more they pay giving them an incentive to improve. Participating companies have no say in the finance or operation of our organisation.

We are full members of the Ombudsman Association and have met the Association’s independence standards.

We are approved by Ofcom to offer alternative dispute resolution to the customers of Communications Providers.

Fairness

The chief ombudsman is ultimately responsible for ensuring the quality and consistency of our decisions. A team of ombudsman have been appointed to oversee decision making within Ombudsman Services: Communications in line with the standards set out by the chief ombudsman.

The ombudsman team are responsible for establishing Ombudsman Services decision making principles and issuing guidelines for how common types of complaint should be approached.

For each complaint we investigate, we will make a decision based on what we consider to be fair and reasonable based on the individual circumstances of the complaint. We take account of:

  • relevant law;
  • regulatory rules, guidance and standards;
  • codes of practice; and
  • what is accepted as good industry practice.

In the absence of conclusive evidence, we ensure that the outcome will be based on the balance of probabilities and we give full reasons for any decision.

All our Investigation Officer completes a rigorous training programme when they join the organisation in which they learn about the Communications industry and our approach to complaint handling and decision making.  All their work is checked by a senior colleague until they can demonstrate they have met the standards required by our Quality Assurance Team. Work is then regularly assessed to ensure it continues to meet our quality standards and is consistent.

When a complaint is accepted for investigation, both parties are invited to submit evidence in support of their position. Once the parties have submitted their evidence, the complaint will be reviewed and a draft decision issued. Both parties have an opportunity to comment on our findings before we issued our final decision.

We take account of both the views on the industry and consumers through our Communications Sector Panel and our Consumer Liaison Panel.

Efficiency

We recognise that both complainants and participating companies are looking for their complaints to be handled quickly and efficiently. To that end we aim to:

  • answer 80% of calls to our consumer helpline within 2 minutes
  • answer 95% of calls to our consumer helpline within 5 minutes
  • respond to 95% of correspondence within 14 calendar days
  • issue 90% of initial decisions within 42 calendar days of them being accepted for investigation.
  • issue 99% of initial decisions issued within 56 calendar days of them being accepted for investigation.

    We look for opportunities to resolve complaints as quickly as possible. For example, through our Early Resolution procedure, we resolve some complaints within a day or two of them being accepted for investigation.

Complaint volumes fluctuate depending upon the problems experienced by our participating companies, changes in regulations or the law and scrutiny of the industry.  To help us anticipate future demand for our services and to manage complaints effectively, we work with our participating companies, encouraging them to provide with forecasts of expected complaint numbers.

Effectiveness

 An important part of the work of any ADR Scheme is to investigate the individual complaints it receives in order to ensure that complainants have been treated fairly. But ombudsman schemes also have an important role in influencing change within the industries they operate in. To that end, we work closely with our participating companies to help them to understand what has caused their customers to complain to us in order for them to reduce the needs for their customers to use our service in the future.

It is important that at the end of the investigation procedure, any requirements are implemented promptly, to bring an end to the dispute. To that end, our Case Administration Team monitor the implementation of our decisions, chasing providers who are late in implementing remedies and escalating issues where a provider has not carried out the required actions. 

We commission an independent market research agency to carry out customer satisfaction research to find out the views of people who have used our services. Each month we receive reports from the market research agency to tell us how we are doing. We provide a summary of key findings in our annual report.

If anyone is unhappy with the level of service provided by Ombudsman Services, they are entitled to ask our Independent Assessor to investigate their concerns. The Independent Assessor is appointed by the board to investigate any complaint about the level of service provided by Ombudsman Services, after we have had an opportunity to respond to the complaint.

Transparency and Accountability

We provide a range of information on our website to help consumers understand how we can help. For example, we provide guides on:

who we can help and when we can become involved in a dispute.

how to make an effective complaint to a communications provider.

the type of complaint we can investigate.

The type of award we can make.

  • When one of our participating companies experiences a problem which leads to a significant increase in complaints, we work closely with the company to ensure complaints are resolved efficiently and to help it understand why more of its customers are complaining.

To help consumers understand how we make decisions, we publish anonymised summaries of some of our investigations across a range of topics.

We also provide general guides about issues communications consumers often experience to help them to understand their rights and what they should expect from their provider.

Our Enquiries Helpline also provides help and guidance to those looking to use our service.

We encourage providers to align their approach to decision making with our own.  To that end, we speak to communications providers on a regular basis to help them understand how we make decisions and where we feel they are treating customers unfairly.

We publish data about the complaints we have handled for each of the large providers – including the type of complaints we are receiving and how many complaints we are upholding.

Our annual report also includes a report from our Independent Assessor and our a summary of our customer satisfaction survey.

We publish an Annual Activity Report for Ombudsman Services: Communications which includes information about the number of complaints we have rejected and the reasons why, the average time it has taken for us to resolve complaints and how compliant participating companies have been implementing our decisions.

Non – discriminatory

We are impartial - we not on the side of the complainant or participating company. We work to ensure that both parties are aware of how we work and what we need from them so that they can engage effectively with our service.

We have adopted and embedded Ofcom’s decision making guidelines. Under these guidelines:

  • We treat the communications provider and the consumer fairly so that neither is unduly disadvantaged.
  • We remain objective and do not promote the position of the consumer or that of the communications provider.
  • We consider the evidence presented by the parties, the specific circumstances, and other information directly relevant to the dispute and consider whether to request further information from either party.
  • We recognise that both parties must, where it is in their possession, provide evidence relevant to the matters in dispute.
  • We give equal consideration to the word of the consumer and the word of the communications provider.
  • We are mindful of, but not bound by, past rulings in similar cases.
  • Where appropriate we take account of, but not rely on, the usual behaviour or practices of either the communications provider or consumer.

Our governance structure ensures that participating companies have no influence over the decisions we make (see “Independence”)