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Ofcom's new 'fairness for customers' commitments

Ofcom's new 'fairness for customers' commitments

We all want to be treated fairly when we look for broadband, phone or pay TV deals and feel like, whatever provider we choose, they've got our best interests at heart.

Unfortunately, this hasn't always been the case and, while the level of complaints made by consumers against these firms has fallen over recent years, there are still a range of common issues many of us face.

If you've ever spent time on the phone trying to contest a billing charge or going through multiple people to cancel your account when you want to switch providers, you'll know how frustrating it can be to feel you're not being listened to.

Thankfully, efforts are being made to change this, and one new initiative that would make a big difference was unveiled this week by Ofcom. Called the Fairness for Customers commitments, this involves a series of guidelines set out by the regulator to ensure the industry is maintaining high standards in how it treats its customers, whether you're signing up for a new deal, trying to get a problem resolved, or looking to move to a new supplier.

So what do the commitments say and how could they help you get a better broadband experience?

A fair, well-informed deal

Among the commitments is a requirement for providers to ensure they are offering broadband, phone and TV packages that meet their customers' needs and have a fair approach to pricing, with all the costs being clear and easy to understand.

They should also support customers by giving them all the information they need to make informed decisions, spelling out what options are available before, during and at the end of a contract.

As part of this, providers must also ensure that customers who are leaving do not face extra barriers or hassle compared to those who are signing up to new services.

One way this may be done is through new notifications that will be sent to broadband users when they are coming up to the end of their contract. These plans, which were announced last month and come into effect next year, will see providers spell out any price increases that will occur at the end of a contract and what their best deals currently are, allowing customers to make an informed decision about whether that sign up for a new contract, continue on an out-of-contract basis, or switch to a new broadband supplier.

Improved support for customers

The Fairness for Customers commitments will also set out what suppliers must do to provide support for consumers when things go wrong. This includes taking steps to boost the reliability of services, providing prompt responses to fix problems and taking appropriate action to help their customers if issues arise.

If a company can’t fix problems with their services within a reasonable period, customers should be able to walk away from their contract with no penalty.

The guidelines also require providers to understand the "characteristics, circumstances and needs" of customers to highlight those who may be especially vulnerable and ensure they receive fair treatment and equal access to services. This may be due to disability, age, mental illness or having recently been bereaved.

Who's taking part in the commitments?

As is often the case with Ofcom guidelines, while the Fairness for Customers commitments will be binding on participating providers, there is no obligation for broadband companies to sign up in the first place, and many smaller providers may choose not to do so.

Currently, all of the major players in the UK — including BT, EE, O2, Plusnet, Post Office, Sky, TalkTalk, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone — have signed up, and Ofcom has said it will be monitoring companies' practices closely and will step in where they see providers falling short.

Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: "I welcome the commitments the providers have made, and the action they’re taking to ensure customers are treated fairly every step of the way.

"Great service cannot be optional. It has to be the norm. That hasn’t always happened in the past in broadband and mobile services, but there is now a growing belief from providers that putting customers first is paramount."

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