Communications sector liaison panel: four things we learned

Ombudsman Services | July 29 2020

comms slp graphic 21-07-2020

On 14 July 2020 we hosted our first virtual sector liaison panel (SLP) for communications providers.

Representatives of 25 of our participating companies attended the webinar, in which we gave a business and finance update and set out our initial approach to Covid 19-related complaints, focusing on three areas:

  • Service installations and fault repairs
  • Customer service
  • Affordability
Line

Here are four key takeaways from the session:

1) Telecoms services are more important than ever

Communications ombudsman Michael Waldron described how lockdown had demonstrated the ever-growing importance of broadband, landline and mobile services in people’s everyday lives. He said;

We’ve seen how important telecoms services are – and especially how critical they are for vulnerable customers. Some people are entirely reliant on these services for all contact. Buying food online and fulfilling essential requirements like medical care appointments.

Michael Waldron, Ombudsman Team

Leanne Proctor, communications sector expert, added that lockdown, during which many people were reliant on broadband and phone services for home working and home schooling, had added to a growing consensus that telecoms services are essential.

2) Communications providers have been affected by Covid-19 in different ways

In the session it was discussed how providers have been impacted to varying degrees by the pandemic and lockdown. While some have continued to operate and handle complaints in a relatively normal way, despite the challenges of remote working and resource issues, others have struggled to maintain service levels for a variety of reasons.

Michael Waldron explained that, when making decisions, Ombudsman Services will consider both customer circumstances and the challenges that providers have faced – ensuring that each case is judged on its own merits. He added that there will be no “blanket approach.”

3) Detail is vital

Following on from the previous point, Leanne Proctor re-iterated throughout the session that, when submitting a case file, providers should include specific detail and relevant evidence on how exactly the pandemic and lockdown had been a factor in a complaint.

It wouldn’t be enough, she added, to simply attribute a shortfall in customer service to Covid-19 without adding detail.

Jonathan Lenton, head of the ombudsman team at Ombudsman Services, had this message for providers;

We won’t assume every complaint we deal with has been affected by Covid-19 – you will need to tell us. Please don’t just cite Covid-19 as a reason why you couldn’t take action – you’ll need to provide the full context within your case files, supported by evidence.

Jon Lenton, Head of Ombudsman

4) The full impact of Covid-19 won’t be known for some time

As Michael Waldron explained, at Ombudsman Services we are only just starting to make decisions on Covid-19 related complaints – due partly to the 8-week rule and resulting time lag in complaints reaching us.

While we have seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 related complaints reaching us in recent weeks, it’s too early to say how sustained and significant this trend will be.

Quite simply, we don’t yet know the true impact of the pandemic and lockdown on consumers, microbusinesses and the telecoms complaints landscape.

We will, however, endeavour to keep communications providers updated and informed as the full picture emerges and our stance on Covid-19 related complaints becomes settled and established.

As Jonathan Lenton said;

The issues thrown up by Covid-19 are sometimes complex and multifaceted, and there's a lot for us all to think about. We are really happy to continue the discussion – please get in touch with your relationship manager if you would like to set up a session to discuss these issues in more detail.

Jon Lenton, Head of Ombudsman

Line

Find out more If you are a member of our scheme, you should have already received the presentation slides and other information from the day, including factsheets on our initial stance on Covid-19 related complaints.

If you haven’t received this information, you can request it by emailing our Relationships team at OSAccountManagers@Ombudsman-Services.org.

Click here to access our library of guidance notes for member companies.