Communications Ombudsman scheme rules guidance
We have a set of rules that govern the complaints we can and cannot accept for review. We call these rules our terms of reference. Our terms of reference fall from different pieces of legislation, including the EU Directive on Consumer ADR. These rules can sometimes be a bit difficult to interpret, so we have produced this guidance to assist both consumers and our participating companies understand how we work. Read our full terms of reference here.
Who can complain?
In order to bring a complaint to our service, you have to either have been a customer of a participating company or have tried to be a customer. This includes when a company has contacted you to sell its products or services. A participating company is one which is a member of our scheme, you can check this via our company directory. You can complain on behalf of someone who meets this definition, provided you have his or her authority to do so. We can accept complaints from residential and small business customers. In the communications sector, the definition of a small business is a company with 10 working individuals or less. This includes employees, contractors and volunteers.
You must complain directly to the participating company first
Before we can consider a complaint, you must complain directly to the company. It should have a complaints code of practice on its website to help you do this. We appreciate that complaining can sometimes be frustrating, but we expect both parties to work together to find a resolution to disputes in the first instance. If a company has not had a reasonable opportunity to put things right, we will be unable to help.
You must allow a participating company eight weeks to resolve your complaint before you can approach our service. The company should write to you to explain this when your complaint reaches that age. Sometimes, a company will write to you to explain it can do no more to assist with your complaint. We call this a “deadlock letter”. If you receive such a letter, you must approach our service within 12 months of its date. We may be able to assist outside of these timescales, but there must be an exceptional reason for us to do so.
What types of complaints can we consider?
We can deal with complaints about all sorts of things, such as billing, customer service, installations and delays. In communications, the majority of complaints are about mobile phones, landlines, broadband and pay TV. You can find further information about the types of communications complaints we deal with on our website.
What types of complaints can’t we consider?
If you and your complaint meet the criteria above, it is likely we’ll be able to help. However, there are some circumstances when we will not be able to consider a complaint, as outlined below:
The complaint occurred before the company joined our service
If your complaint started before the company participated in our scheme, we can only proceed with an investigation with the company’s consent.
A court or another independent body has already reviewed the complaint
We are unable to deal with a complaint that another independent body has already reviewed. This could be a court or another ADR scheme. If a court or another organisation is in the process of considering your complaint, you must request to suspend or stay this action if we are to consider the dispute.
A court, regulator or other independent body is better suited to reviewing the complaint
We sometimes decide that a court or other organisation is better suited to considering a complaint. This will usually be if the topic of complaint is outside our area of expertise, or the resolution requested is not something we can achieve. We may also defer complaints to the industry regulator if the dispute concerns a company’s general commercial practices or terms of service. If this is the case, we will provide you with a full explanation and signpost you to the appropriate organisation.
We consider the complaint is vexatious
A vexatious complaint is one that a customer raises deliberately to cause frustration or inconvenience to a company. We do not dismiss complaints on this basis regularly. If a company believes that a customer is behaving in this manner, we would usually expect them to provide evidence to support this.
We consider the complaint is frivolous
A frivolous complaint is one that has no real merit or value. It could be that we consider the complaint is about a trivial matter. On the other hand, it could be that the facts of the complaint are so obvious as to mean further investigation is not necessary, as the complaint has no prospect of succeeding. Sometimes when we investigate a complaint, we will decide that the company has not done anything wrong. However, we can only establish this after an investigation. We do not reject complaints based on a company’s belief it has no case to answer.
We understand that complaints affect different people in different ways, and rejecting a complaint as frivolous is not something we do lightly. If we do this, we will provide a full explanation as to why we cannot proceed.