EE Hit With £1m Fine For Mishandling Customer Complaints

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Operator falls foul of Ofcom’s requirement to have disputes settled in a quick and timely fashion

EE has been fined £1m by Ofcom following an investigation that ruled the operator had not dealt properly with complaints from its customers.

The industry watchdog announced the punishment this morning, stating that EE had hot provided customers with ‘adequate information’ about their right to escalate complaints over its service.

The punishment comes as part of Ofcom’s attempts to make sure operators are treating their customers in a far manner.

Unfair

ofcom-colour_logo_72dpiThe claims cover over three years, with Ofcom’s investigation stretching from 22 July 2011 and 8 April 2014.

Between these dates, Ofcom says that EE failed to send out written notifications to a number of customers mentioning their right to take their complaint to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme, an action which can happen up to eight weeks after they first raised their complaint.

EE also failed to state in its Customer Complaints Code that, where relevant, customers could access its ADR scheme by requesting a ‘deadlock letter’.

A number of customers who had requested a ‘deadlock letter’ during this time were not sent them as required, and in some cases customers were told by EE that letters of this type were not issued.

In addition, between July 2011 and February 2014, EE sent paper bills to Orange customers and written notifications to Orange, 4GEE and T-Mobile customers that did not reference that they can use its ADR scheme for free.

The fine, which will need to be paid within 20 days following today’s decision, is part of Ofcom’s wider monitoring and enforcement programme to ensure communications providers are dealing with customer complaints appropriately and fairly.

“It’s vital that customers can access all the information they need when they’re pursuing a complaint,” said Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer and content group director.

“Ofcom imposes strict rules on how providers must handle complaints and treats any breach of these rules very seriously. The fine imposed against EE takes account of the serious failings that occurred in the company’s complaints handling, and the extended period over which these took place.”

EE was keen to stress that it had upped its game since the time in question, however.

“This fine relates to our historic performance regarding complaints handling, collected from 2011 to April 2014,” an EE spokesperson told TechWeekEurope. “While this in no way excuses it, it is important to note that we identified issues in our complaints handling and began our programme to tackle these problems head on in 2013, before Ofcom started their investigation. We have made considerable improvements since then.

“Ofcom’s current figures highlight that complaints into Ofcom about EE have fallen by 50 percent in the past year alone and, while even 1 complaint is 1 too many, we’re working tirelessly not only to improve the handling of complaints but also to identify root causes, and fix problems customers have with us, to ultimately achieve our goal of offering the best service in the market.”

Hit hard

phonecallEE is not the first operator to fall foul of Ofcom’s policies – last October; Three was hit with a £250,000 fine for nearly identical failures to follow its guidelines on how to deal with customer complaints.

Ofcom found that Three did not handle some customer complaints in “a fair and timely manner”, with some complaints being closed without the company establishing that they were fully resolved.

Other cases did not get logged as customer complaint calls when they should have been, meaning that they were not dealt with or even looked at by Three’s formal complaints process, and the company also failed to make customers sufficiently aware of their right to escalate a complaint to ADR.

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