Ofcom slaps £1M fine on EE for poor handling of customer complaints

Ofcom on Friday imposed a fine of £1 million (€1.4 million/$1.5 million) on EE for misleading customers who made complaints about the company's mobile and fixed voice and data services.

According to the Guardian, this amounts to Ofcom's biggest penalty for poor complaints handling in any industry and is also the regulator's fifth-biggest fine overall.

In essence, EE failed to tell customers about their right to an independent review under an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme.

Ofcom noted that ADR is an important part of consumer protection as it allows customers to refer complaints that cannot be resolved with their provider to an independent body, which can then reach an impartial judgment.

An investigation conducted by the regular found that between Jul. 22 2011 and Apr. 8 2014, EE did not provide certain customers with accurate or adequate information about this right of referral.

In one example of non-compliance, the regulator noted that EE had failed to state in its Customer Complaints Code that customers could access its ADR scheme by requesting a "deadlock letter". Operators are obliged to send these letters when they are unable to make further progress in a dispute, in order to inform the customer that the complaint will not be taken further.

Ofcom said EE, which is in the process of being acquired by BT, has now 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 also recently released data on the volume of complaints it receives about telecoms operators in the UK. In the mobile services market, Vodafone continued to generate the highest volume of mobile complaints per 1,000 customers (0.14), a similar level to the fourth quarter of 2014 and well above the industry average of 0.08 complaints per 1,000 customers.

Both EE and Talk Mobile also generated complaints volumes that were above the industry average (0.10 and 0.11 per 1,000 customers respectively), although both providers did see a reduction in complaints since Q4 2014. Virgin Mobile, O2 UK, Three UK and Tesco Mobile all generated complaints volumes below the industry average.

For more:
- see this Guardian article
- see this Ofcom release
- see this separate Ofcom release

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