Ofcom has announced new reforms to protect consumers against bad practices at broadband and mobile providers. The regulator says the reform will focus on communication which includes poor billing service and debt collection exploiting vulnerable customers. The improvements to the rules will also include nuisance calls and complaints. The reforms include:
  • ban providers from charging for caller display facilities, which can help people to screen nuisance calls. Under the new rules, telephone numbers displayed to people receiving calls must be valid, dialable and uniquely identify the caller. Providers will also be required to identify and block calls with invalid or non-dialable numbers – a feature of many nuisance calls – so they don’t get through to consumers;
  • require communications providers to have clear, effective policies and procedures 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 and appropriately;
  • require all communications providers to offer disabled users access to priority fault repair, third-party bill management and accessible bills. These measures previously applied only to disabled people’s landline and mobile services, and will now be extended to broadband;
  • strengthen complaints-handling rules to ensure complaints are dealt with promptly and effectively, and to keep consumers informed about the progress of their complaint, with faster access to dispute resolution services in cases where they reach deadlock with their provider;
  • require broadband and mobile providers to have fair, transparent debt-collection and disconnection practices in place. This requirement already applies to landline providers; and
  • extend current rules on billing accuracy, which previously only applied to voice call services, to include broadband.

Ofcom says “We have clarified and simplified many of our rules, making them easier for providers to understand. We have also made the regulations simpler by removing rules that are no longer in use.”

The changes will come into effect on 1 October 2018, to allow communications providers to make the necessary preparations.

Craig Simmons, Head of Debt at the Money Advice Service commented: “We are pleased to hear about the new OFCOM rules to ‘protect communications customers and aid enforcement’ The new rules include a requirement for all communication customers to have fair and transparent debt collection practices.

Our stakeholders have told us they want to see fair and consistent debt collection practices from all creditor types, and these new rules will create better support for communications customers in financial difficulty.

We encourage all communication providers to examine our resource “Working Collaboratively with debt advice agencies – a strategic toolkit for creditors” and use it to challenge their debt collection processes and policies. In addition, our ‘creditor toolkit’ includes operational guidance on creditor implementation of the Standard Financial Statement(SFS), the new universal income and expenditure statement, together with a single set of spending guidelines”