Strengthening telephone regulations

New telephone regulations have come into force which aim to strengthen consumer protection. The regulations, brought in by the communications watchdog Ofcom, came into force on 1 October and follow a review of the rules which all UK communications providers have to follow. Consumers may already have seen the effect of some of these changes as communication providers have had a year in which to modify their systems in order to comply with the new requirements.

The changes are designed to improve protection for consumers in three key areas starting with measures aimed at reducing nuisance calls. One of the key problem areas for nuisance calls is the fact that recipients are unable to easily identify who is calling. The new regulations aim to mitigate this in two ways; firstly by banning telephone companies from charging for caller display, and secondly by requiring companies to ensure that the telephone number displayed is valid. As part of this Ofcom now requires companies to identify and block calls displaying invalid telephone numbers.

Whilst the changes only affect UK providers, there is some provision for calls which may originate from abroad; particularly important when it comes to some types of nuisance call. Effectively this will require communications providers to allocate one of a set of ‘dummy’ numbers to calls originating outside the UK; thereby making it easier to identify and block nuisance calls from overseas.

The second area in which regulations been strengthened relates to the way in which vulnerable customers are treated. Communication providers have been required to introduce policies for identifying and interacting with vulnerable customers. These have been defined by Ofcom as including “people with learning or communication difficulties or those suffering physical or mental illness or bereavement.”  Provision of services for vulnerable customers may include areas such as priority fault repair to ensure that people don’t become isolated from family, friends and the wider society.

One area in which this may be particularly pertinent is in the provision of services for the elderly. In December 2016, Ofcom research revealed that for landline only homes, ie those without a broadband connection, 18% were aged over 75 and didn’t have a mobile phone as a back-up, whilst a further 20% were aged over 75 but did have a mobile.

Finally the new regulations look to strengthen the handling of complaints and customer requests. Not only does this include a requirement for prompt acknowledgement of customer concerns, it also requires communication providers to provide ongoing information about the progress of any complaint and fast access to dispute resolution services if required. There is also new guidance in respect of contract cancellations including enabling customers to cancel via phone, email or web chat. One key measure here is the requirement to ensure that any incentive schemes for customer service agents do not encourage poor behaviour.

Commenting on the strengthened regulations Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, Lindsey Fussell, said: “It’s important that our rules keep pace with developments in the communications market, and continue to give consumers the protection they need.

Written by Alison