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Telecoms Complaints Q4 (October to December) 2011

Published 22|03|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 over 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 fourth edition of what is a developing series of quarterly complaints publications. (-2-) It is our intention to develop the scope of the report over time as appropriate. For example, in the previous report, we increased the scope of the reports by including those providers who have 4% or more market share (-3-).

1.4 The scope of the current report has not changed since the previous report. However, we will continue to consider ways in which the report can be further developed, for example, to enable us to publish more detailed data or data covering a larger number of providers.

1.5 There are a number of important limitations that apply to the information we are publishing in this edition, in particular:

  • The data only covers telecoms 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.

1.6 We previously published data for the period October 2010 to September 2011. We have now added data for the period October to December 2011, and the data published here covers the full period from October 2010 to December 2011. The next publication will include data for the period January to March 2012, and is expected to be published towards the end of June 2012.

1.7 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 mitigated over a longer time period.

1.8 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. (-4-) 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 (-5-), and help ensure the data is meaningful for consumers. The main findings by provider and by service, for the current reporting period (Q4 2011), are as follows:

  • Fixed line telephony: The providers covered here are: BT Retail, BSkyB, TalkTalk Group and Virgin Media. TalkTalk Group still generates the highest number of complaints. 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, BSkyB, TalkTalk Group, Virgin Media and Orange Home. Ofcom received fewer complaints about BSkyB and Virgin Media than the other broadband providers. TalkTalk Group continue to generate most complaints, focussing on issues around line faults and other service issues.
  • Mobile telephony (excluding mobile broadband datacards and dongles): Overall, mobile complaint levels are much lower than for fixed line telephony and fixed broadband services. 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 Orange. The significant increase in complaints against Orange was driven by their announcement to increase their monthly plan prices for all customers including those who were tied into existing contracts. Ofcom received the second most complaints about mobile services from 3UK, focusing on complaints about disputed charges and customer services.

Footnotes:

  1.- Ofcom received 112,750 complaints in the year 2010/11. Page 103: 2010/11 Annual Report for the period 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011 http://www.ofcom.org.uk/files/2011/07/annrep1011.pdf

  2.- The first three editions can be found here: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/telecoms-research/complaints/?a=0

  3.- Our initial publication included only those providers that have at least a 5% market share

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

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

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