EE lands £1 million fine over complaints handling failures

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Ofcom has slapped Everything Everywhere (EE) with a whopping £1,000,000 fine for failing to comply with the regulatory body’s rules on handling customer complaints. The fine was imposed after Ofcom’s investigation into EE that looked into company’s methods of dealing with customer complaints.

Ofcom’s investigation, which was for the period from 22 July 2011 to 8 April 2014, found that the EE did not provide certain customers with accurate or adequate information about their right to take their complaint to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme.

The telecoms company further failed to send out written notifications to a number of customers that should have referenced their right to take their complaint to ADR 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’.

The investigation found that EE didn’t send the ‘deadlock letter’ to a number of customers who had requested them, 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.

For those of you who are not aware, the ADR is an important part of consumer protection that allows customers to refer complaints that cannot be resolved with their provider to an independent body which can reach an impartial judgment.

Complaints can be taken to ADR if they remain unresolved after eight weeks or if a stalemate is reached (i.e ‘deadlock’) between the customer and the provider before eight weeks.

Access to ADR is free of charge to customers, and all communications providers offering services to individuals or small businesses with up to 10 employees must be a member of one of two approved ADR schemes.

The two ADR schemes are the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) and Ombudsman Services: Communications. EE is a member of CISAS.

Ofcom imposed that fine on EE as it failed to comply with its complaints handling obligations. EE has already amended its Customer Complaints Code to include a correct reference of its obligation to issue a ‘deadlock letter’.

Further, the telecoms company has also amended the information provided on its paper bills and in its written notifications to make sure customers are informed that they may use ADR at no cost to themselves.

Ofcom has also decided to impose a financial penalty of £1,000,000 against EE as a result of its contravention. The penalty is payable to Ofcom and then passed on to HM Treasury. EE is required to pay the penalty within 20 working days of receiving the decision.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer and Content Group Director, said: “It’s vital that customers can access all the information they need when they’re pursuing a complaint.

“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.”