Ofcom registered 100,000 telco complaints this year

A slew of misleading adverts have clogged the airwaves this year from the major internet and landline providers. Despite having the loudest voice, the real problems lie elsewhere. Ofcom tells us Brits aren’t complaining as much about telecom providers as we once did with grumbles falling by almost 20 percent over the last four years, but there’s plenty that needs fixing.

While individuals may not be running to OfCom to complain, telcos are constantly starting unseemly rows when they can. Notably, Sky and Virgin who have both been using the ASA as a channel to whinge about each other’s misleading advertising.

Rather than misleading adverts generating complaints, it seems the biggest problems are operational. Anonymously talking to us, a top tier telco says most complaints are about call centres and the way staff behave. But they’re trying to fix that. Ofcom agrees that challenges remain. By the end of November it had already received 100,000 telecoms complaints this year – and that’s just the people who can be bothered to pick up the phone to Ofcom.

The organisation said that it continued to receive a high number of complaints about poor customer service. These range from simply being ignored, to staff refusing to escalate complaints to their managers and customers being given incorrect information.

Again, rather than irritating adverts with Speedy Gonzales or the bloke from My Family, a great deal of complaints are about unexplained broadband outages. Ofcom again agreed. Speaking to TechEye a spokesperson told us another popular cause for complaints – silent calls, not the type that include heavy breathing – came up tops in its list. Despite an overall decline, complaints about silent calls have jumped from 6,600 in 2009  to 8,600 in 2010 to date.

Ofcom recently confirmed that from 1 February 2011, companies will no longer be able to call consumers without the guaranteed presence of a live operator more than once a day, reducing the likelihood of receiving repeat silent calls.

The government also recently increased the maximum penalty available to Ofcom for breaches of its persistent misuse including silent calls regulations from £50,000 to £2 million.

Those who have been found guilty of this in the past include Barclaycard, which was fined the then maximum £50,000 in September 2008.

Landline mis-selling is also a real problem, although Ofcom says a significant number of these complaints have been driven by process related errors rather deliberate mis-selling.

For example, a consumer who is moving home asks their provider to transfer their existing service to the new address. But deficiencies in the switching process mean that the wrong line is targeted and a neighbour’s line is transferred instead.

Ofcom is taking enforcement action against companies generating the most complaints, using regulations introduced this year which prohibit mis-selling.

One company that the watchdog pinpointed was TalkTalk. A representative for the organisation told TechEye: “We’ve just launched an investigation into Talk Talk after very high complaints of landline mis-selling.”

Earlier on in the day a TalkTalk representative told us: “TalkTalk has 4.25 million phone and broadband customers and we’ve grown by their recommendation.  We take great pride in providing a high level of service to our customers and always aim to provide the best service possible. Where we are alerted to instances of customers dissatisfaction we always try our utmost to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”

From next year new Ofcom regulations will make it easier for consumers to get help resolving complaints about their phone and internet service. All providers will have to comply with an Ofcom Code of Practice which includes having in place a dedicated complaints process which must be well-publicised.

All communications providers in the UK are required to belong to an alternative dispute resolution service (ADR) – CISAS or Otelo.