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Telecoms Complaints Q2 (April to June) 2012

Published 26|09|12

1.1 Ofcom's primary duty is to further the interests of citizens and consumers, where appropriate by promoting competition. In doing so we must have regard to the interests of consumers in terms of price, quality of service and value for money. Consumer information plays a critical role in promoting effective competition across these dimensions and the absence of key information can lead to poor purchasing decisions and inhibit switching.

1.2 On average, Ofcom receives just under 300 telecoms complaints a day from consumers. (-1-) Such complaints are likely to be made where a consumer has been unable to resolve an issue with their provider to their satisfaction. We keep a record of these complaints by service and by provider, and believe that such information is useful for consumers; for example, this data may be relevant to those considering a new service or provider. We note that provider-specific information is also available to guide consumers in areas such as financial services and energy. However, as one of the few regulators that collects its own complaints data, we believe we are the only regulator to publish data of this nature.

1.3 This is the sixth edition in a series of quarterly complaints publications. (-2-) There are three changes that we have made to the current report:

1.4 We now report separately on 'pay-monthly (-3-)' mobile complaints. This does impact on the relative performance of mobile providers in the report. We consider this is a more appropriate method of presenting complaints data because we receive a significantly larger number of complaints from pay monthly than PAYG customers, and providers have different proportions of each type of customer. Showing complaints from pay-monthly customers as a proportion of their pay-monthly subscriber base enables more direct comparison between the data for each provider. In this report, we show the overall complaints numbers for mobile providers (pay-monthly and PAYG) alongside the new pay-monthly only data, and we are consulting on a proposal to remove the overall complaints data from future reports. .

1.5 We have added an 'industry average' column or line to the existing complaints charts (-4-). We consider that this enhancement has the potential to increase incentives on providers to improve their performance relative to the industry average level.

1.6 We have introduced a new chart showing the relative volume of complaints that we receive from consumers across different services.

1.7 There are a number of important limitations that apply to the complaints information we publish, in particular:

  • The data only covers complaints that consumers have chosen to report to Ofcom, and does not represent complaints consumers may have made directly to their providers. As such it will only provide a partial picture of complaints relating to any provider.
  • The complaints data reflects the views of consumers as reported to Ofcom. Ofcom has sought to ensure that its data is sound but has not checked the veracity of individual complaints.
  • Contact with Ofcom may reflect the relative quality of complaints handling services, as well as the quality of service received. Given this, companies with poor complaints handling processes may feature more prominently than those with good complaints handling processes.
  • Ofcom may see spikes in call volumes from customers of certain providers when we publicise certain types of enforcement action, e.g. investigations, fines etc.

1.8 We previously published data for the period October 2010 to March 2012. We have now added data for the period April to June 2012. The data published here for telecoms complaints cover the full period from October 2010 to June 2012. For Pay TV complaints, this report covers a nine month period from October 2011. The next publication will include data for the period July to September 2012, and is expected to be published in December 2012.

1.9 The complaints data in this report has been displayed both by month and by quarter. We believe there is clear benefit to consumers in publishing complaints using both of these formats. Monthly reporting provides an indication of how providers are performing over a short time period; however, this data will be sensitive to particular issues arising within that time period, e.g. price or contract changes. This means the data tends to be more volatile as an individual problem or changes in commercial practice by the provider can lead to a significant increase in complaints across what is a relatively short period of time. The quarterly data is likely to provide a more balanced representation of a provider's overall performance as the volatility will be smoothed over a longer time period.

1.10 Consumers should therefore consider both sets of data carefully when comparing providers' performance. This publication includes complaints data for providers with a market share of 4% or above. (-5-) Given the variation in size of provider, we are publishing complaints as a proportion of subscribers to put the complaint numbers into the correct context (-6-), and help ensure the data is meaningful for consumers.

The main findings for the current reporting period (Q2 2012), are as follows:

  • Overall Complaints: fixed line services generate the highest number of complaints out of the services featured in this report. Ofcom continues to receive fewest complaints about 'PAYG services' compared to the other services.
  • Fixed line telephony: The providers covered here are: BT Retail, Sky, TalkTalk Group and Virgin Media. TalkTalk Group still generates the highest number of complaints which is significantly above the industry average. These complaints continue to focus on billing and customer service issues. Ofcom continues to receive fewer complaints about Virgin Media than the other three main fixed line providers.
  • Fixed broadband: The providers covered here are BT Retail, Sky, TalkTalk Group, Virgin Media and Orange Home. Ofcom received fewer complaints about Sky than the other broadband providers. TalkTalk Group continues to generate most complaints, focussing on issues around line faults and other service issues. Talk Talk and BT generated above industry average complaint levels this quarter.
  • Pay-monthly mobile telephony (excluding mobile broadband datacards and dongles): The providers covered here are 3UK, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile. Ofcom received fewer complaints over the period in question about O2 compared with the other five providers, while it received the most complaints about Three. The complaints against Three appear to have been driven by complaints relating to disputed charges and customer service issues. Three, Orange, T- Mobile and Vodafone generated above industry average complaint levels this quarter.
  • Pay-as-you-go mobile telephony. None of the mobile providers featured in this report has generated an average of 30 complaints or more a month during this quarter.
  • Pay TV services: The providers covered here are Sky, BT Vision, and Virgin Media. Ofcom received fewest complaints over the period in question about Sky compared with the other two providers, while it received the most complaints about BT Vision. Complaints about BT Vision were partly driven by issues related to their sales processes and problems with billing. BT Vision and Virgin generated above industry average complaint levels.

Footnotes:

  1.- Ofcom received 102,150 complaints in the year 2011/12. Page 115: 2011/12 Annual Report for the period 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012

  2.- The first five editions can be found here: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/telecoms-research/complaints/

  3.- Customers who have a contract with their mobile provider

  4.- This figure is based on the providers included in the report, rather than the smaller providers that we cannot report on

  5.- As well as having at least a 4% market share, providers must also generate at least 30 complaints per month.

  6.- Complaints are displayed per 1000 customers. This enables the providers to be compared on a like-for-like basis.

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