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Customer service warning by Ofcom

Published 11/06/2015

Searches using mobile devices are surging ahead
Searches using mobile devices are surging ahead

Ofcom's new chief executive is to warn the industry that it must improve its service to customers, who still find it "too difficult" to change provider and cancel contracts.

In her first speech since being appointed as the head of the media regulator, Sharon White will say that although customer service has improved, consumers remain frustrated with services that are now essential.

Speaking at a conference hosted by consumer group Which?, Ms White will say: "When Ofcom was established, access to a reliable internet connection and mobile phone was nice to have.

"Now it is essential to the functioning of the economy, to the way people work and live their lives.

"Improving delivery to consumers doesn't just fall at the feet of the regulator. The delivery of first-class communications services is primarily the responsibility of providers."

She will tell providers that they must improve in four areas by giving consumers better information to help them compare deals, ensuring straightforward switching, adopting clear and fair contracts, and handling complaints better.

New measures "to better protect and empower consumers" will include a strengthened code of practice on broadband speeds, allowing customers to leave a contract if speeds fall below acceptable levels and new processes to make switching broadband and landline providers easier.

The regulator also said it planned to make it easier for consumers to change mobile providers.

It said that although it was a "light-touch regulator", it would intervene if markets were not working in the best interests of consumers.

Ms White will say: "Our job is to ensure that markets work for consumers and citizens, principally by encouraging competition.

"Where markets don't work well enough - or where competition alone isn't enough to secure good outcomes for consumers - then we have powers to intervene."

From June 20, a new process will place responsibility for switching between landline and broadband providers who use the Openreach network - such as BT, EE, Sky and TalkTalk - with the company the customer is moving to.

Ms White will say: "This will make a real difference for consumers and will encourage more people to take full advantage of competition in the sector.

"Once this is in place, we will next month turn our attention to improving consumer switching between mobile networks."

Ms White was a Treasury official before taking over the £275,000-a-year role from Ed Richards, who led the watchdog for eight years.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said he welcomed the "very clear commitment" made by Ms White.

He said: "We hope the rapidly changing communications industry responds positively, recognising that providers must raise their game in providing services that most people now see as essential to their daily lives."

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey welcomed the strengthened code of conduct for broadband and mobile operators.

He said: " This is brilliant news which has the Government's full support and these new measures will deliver a much better deal for consumers.

"I am very pleased that all of the UK's largest service providers have signed up to the strengthened code of conduct which makes it easier for customers to vote with their feet if they are not getting the service they have paid for."

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