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Ofcom has given telecoms providers just over a year to prepare for new customer protection rules.

The watchdog is implementing new regulations addressing how firms deal with issues such as customer complaints, billing and identifying vulnerable customers.

These will come into effect at the beginning of October next year, so communications providers have time to make the necessary preparations.

Among the new rules will be a tougher complaints handling procedure, to make sure customer grievances are dealt with "promptly and effectively".

Ofcom also wants to ensure consumers are kept informed about how their complaint is proceeding, as well as get faster access to dispute resolution services if they reach a deadlock with their provider.

Broadband and mobile providers will also be required to have fair and transparent debt collection and disconnection practices in place.

Meanwhile, the rules on billing accuracy will be extended to include broadband, as they only apply to voice call services at the moment.

Another key change will be a requirement for communications providers to have clear and effective policies and procedures for identifying vulnerable customers, such as those with physical or mental illness and people with learning or communication difficulties.

Ofcom hopes this will ensure these individuals are treated "fairly and appropriately".

Communications providers will also be required to offer disabled users access to priority fault repair, third-party bill management and accessible bills.

These measures have already been applied to landline and mobile services for disabled customers, but this is the first time they will be applied to broadband. 

Finally, providers of phone services will be banned from charging for call display facilities, in order to help customers screen nuisance calls.

"We have clarified and simplified many of our rules, making them easier for providers to understand," Ofcom said.

"We have also made the regulations simpler by removing rules that are no longer in use."

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