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Ofcom fines EE £1 million for poor complaint handling

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has fined mobile phone network EE £1 million for failing to tell customers of their right to take complaints to an 'alternative dispute resolution' (ADR) scheme. 03 Jul 2015

Customers have the right to take a complaint to an ADR scheme eight weeks after they first raise a complaint. EE should have told the customers this in writing, Ofcom said, between 22 July 2011 and 8 April 2014 it did not do so. 

EE should also have used its customer complaints code to explain that customers could access the ADR scheme by requesting a 'deadlock' letter, but failed to do so, Ofcom said.

A number of customers who did request deadlock letters did not receive them, or were told that these were not issued, Ofcom said.

EE also did not mention that the ADR scheme could be used free of charge in its paper bills and written notifications to customers, Ofcom said.

"ADR is an important part of consumer protection," Ofcom said. "It allows customers to refer complaints that cannot be resolved with their provider to an independent body which can reach an impartial verdict."

Access is free to customers and communications providers offering services to individuals or small businesses with up to 10 employees must be a member of one of two ADR schemes, Ofcom said. These are the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) and Ombudsman Services: Communications. EE is a member of CISAS, Ofcom said.

EE has now changed its customer complaints code to include reference to its obligation to issue a deadlock letter, and updated its paper bill and written communications to tell customers that they can use ADR at no cost.

As a result of Ofcom’s investigation, EE has amended its customer complaints code to include a correct reference of its obligation to issue a ‘deadlock letter’. EE has also amended the information provided on its paper bills and in its written notifications to make sure customers are informed that they may use ADR at no cost to themselves, Ofcom said.

EE has 20 working days to pay the £1 million, Ofcom said.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom consumer and content director, said: "It’s vital that customers can access all the information they need when they’re pursuing a complaint."

"Ofcom imposes strict rules on how providers must handle complaints and treats any breach of these rules very seriously. The fine imposed against EE takes account of the serious failings that occurred in the company’s complaints handling, and the extended period over which these took place," he said.

A spokesperson for EE said: "This fine relates to our historic performance regarding complaints handling, collected from 2011 to April 2014. While this in no way excuses it, it is important to note that we identified issues in our complaints handling and began our programme to tackle these problems head on in 2013, before Ofcom started their investigation. We have made considerable improvements since then."

"Ofcom’s current figures highlight that mobile complaints into Ofcom about EE have fallen by 50% in the past year alone and, while even one complaint is one too many, we’re working tirelessly not only to improve the handling of complaints but also to identify root causes, and fix problems customers have with us, to ultimately achieve our goal of offering the best service in the market," the spokesperson said.

The investigation into EE is part of a wider monitoring and enforcement programme to make sure complaints are handled fairly, Ofcom said.