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Ofcom streamlines complaints resolution schemes

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Angry phone call.

© Rex Features / Monkey Business Images

Ofcom has announced new streamlined guidelines for the independent bodies that help to resolve customers' landline, mobile phone and broadband complaints which have not been dealt with by their provider.

As part of plans to enable an "improved experience" around consumer complaints, the regulator said that the revamped Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme will act as "independent middleman between communications service providers and their customers when a complaint cannot be resolved".

Ofcom has already approved two schemes - Ombudsman Services: Communications (OS) and the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Service (CISAS) - to act as arbitration bodies around consumer complaints, including the potential award of compensation.

But now the appointed bodies must work under a set of "common principles", said Ofcom, which means abiding by common decision-making principles to ensure there are no inconsistencies in the way consumer complaints are dealt with and resolved.

They must also adopt common guidelines in order to ensure that they are "consistent and fair" when awarding compensation, it added.

Ofcom has a duty to ensure that consumers have access to free alternative dispute resolution services under its core remit.

Following a review of its ADR measures, Ofcom found that OS and CISAS "continue to resolve disputes effectively", but the bodies sometimes delivered "inconsistent outcomes" for consumers.

Ofcom logo
The measures announced today (August 22) are intended to address this issue, and help the schemes to be more "accessible and efficient" with their resolution services.

This is needed because both bodies have recently seen a big spike in applications for resolution, including 17% at OS and 56% at CISAS.

"Effective redress for consumers is essential and by providing a free, independent service to consider disputes, ADR schemes play a key part in this," said Claudio Pollack, the director of Ofcom's Consumer Group.

"OS and CISAS have agreed to the new decision-making principles, and Ofcom has therefore continued its approval of both of these ADR providers."

Following Ofcom's announcement, the Communications Consumer Panel welcomed the move to create a more consistent approach across the Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme.

The body said that both the CISAS and OS must strive to be "swift, fair, free and effective" with complaints resolution, and improve the transparency of language in their customer information.

"Our concerns about compensation levels for consumers have been addressed in Ofcom's statement, and information will now be available to people making a complaint," said panel member Kim Brook.

"However, we would still like to see both schemes use more consumer-friendly language in their customer information."

The Panel also called on Ofcom to publish information on the complaints that are referred to the ADR, including what proportion are upheld.

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