Eight week and deadlock letters - best practice guide for communications providers

Guidance last updated July 2019

Introduction

Communications providers often ask us to work with them to help ensure their alternative dispute resolution (ADR) signposting letters are clear and effective.

This guidance sets out what we consider to be best practice. It also sets out our approach to complaint acceptance.

General Conditions – October 2018 changes

In October 2018 Ofcom removed the terms “Deadlock Letter” and “Written Notification” from the General Conditions and replaced them with a single definition of an “ADR Letter.”

The revised Complaints Code of Practice for Customer Service and Complaints Handling requires communications providers to issue an ADR letter to a complaint in two scenarios:

Scenario 1: deadlock

In the first scenario, the provider must issue an ADR letter if it has informed the complainant about the outcome of the complaint, the complainant is unhappy with the outcome and the communications provider does not intend to review the complaint further – ie the complaint has reached deadlock.

Since October 2018, the customer is no longer required to request that the communications provider issues a letter referring them to ADR. Providers are instead expected to proactively issue ADR letters once a complaint has reached the point of deadlock.

Scenario 2: eight weeks

In the second scenario, providers will be required to issue a complaint if it remains unresolved after eight weeks.

Therefore, while the distinction between deadlock letters and eight-week written notifications is removed from the amended version of the General Conditions, providers are still required to issue an ADR letter at deadlock and/or at eight weeks.

For this reason, we have provided our view on best practice for the ADR letters that are issued at both deadlock and eight weeks.

What should ADR letters include?

In addition to Ofcom’s Complaints Code of Practice for Customer Service and Complaints Handling, we have a number of recommendations about what ADR letters should include and these are set out below:

  1. The purpose of the letter should be clear. It should explain that the complainant has the right to refer their complaint to Ombudsman Services: Communications because either the communications provider has not been able to identify a resolution to the complaint which is acceptable to both parties, or because the complaint has been ongoing for eight weeks.

  2. We consider it good practice for a provider to confirm its current (or final) position in respect of the complaint. A deadlock letter is the provider’s final opportunity to set out their view and convince the complainant they have been treated fairly – to do this, the provider should set out their view of the complaint, confirm where they agree/disagree with the complainant and set out any offer. An eight-week letter is an opportunity for the provider to apologise for the time it has taken to handle the complaint, to explain the reason why it has not been dealt with sooner and to set out what action is now being taken. The information should be succinct so that the purpose of the letter – that the complainant has the right to ADR – is not obscured.

  3. If the letter includes an offer to resolve the complaint, any conditions should be made clear – i.e. whether it is time bound, whether the offer will be withdrawn if the complainant decides to refer their complaint to Ombudsman Services. We think it is important that complainants are fully aware of any conditions attached to an offer prior to being asked whether or not they wish to accept.

  4. The letter should include all our contact details across the range of channels we offer, so the complainant can contact us by their preferred method. As our online form is the most efficient way for us to receive complaints, we would be grateful if providers encouraged complainants to follow this route where possible.

  5. The letter should explain key features of our service – that we are independent, free of charge to the complainant, we can require a range of awards and complainants are not bound by our judgement.

  6. It is useful for providers to ask the complainant to tell us that they have received an eight-week or deadlock letter.

  7. The timescale for bringing complaints to Ombudsman Services: Communications should be clear – i.e. 12 months from the date of an ADR letter issued at the point of deadlock.

  8. The letter should inform the complainant as to whether the provider intends to take further action following the letter. Deadlock letters should make it clear that the complainant has reached the end of the process and that the provider does not intend to review the case further. Eight-week letters should confirm whether the provider intends to continue its investigation into the complaint.

  9. We encourage the use of our branding on letters. Please contact us if you wish to use our branding and we will provide the necessary templates.

SAMPLE ADR LETTER TO BE ISSUED IF THE COMPLAINT IS UNRESOLVED AFTER EIGHT WEEKS

We are writing to let you know that eight weeks have passed since you first told us about your complaint.

PERSONALISATION – We suggest an apology, an explanation for why the problem is still ongoing and information about what the provider is now doing to put things right. The section should be no more than three paragraphs long – to ensure the purpose of the letter is clear

Taking your complaint further

As it has been over eight weeks since you first complained, you have the right to ask Ombudsman Services: Communications to consider your complaint. You’ll find their details below:

Website: www.ombudsman-services.org/communications

Phone: 0330 440 1614

Post: Ombudsman Services: Communications, PO Box 730, Warrington, WA4 6WU

If you have access to the internet, you will be able to register your complaint online via

Ombudsman Services’ website.

The Ombudsman is there to resolve disputes between communications providers and their customers. It is free to use their services, and they are totally independent – so they do not take sides.

If you agree with their decision, we have to act on what they say. This may mean we have to apologise, explain what has gone wrong, correct the problem or give you a financial award. You do not have to accept their decision.

Please make sure you mention you have received this ‘eight week’ letter when you contact them

What happens next?

We will carry on working to put things right and will be in contact again in due course.

Purple Line

SAMPLE ADR LETTER TO BE ISSUED IF THE COMPLAINT HAS REACHED DEADLOCK

I am sorry that we have been unable to resolve this matter to your satisfaction. You have now reached the end of our complaints process. This is our final position and we are now at ‘deadlock’. Our final position

Briefly explain your position – setting your view of the complaint, identifying areas of agreement and disagreement, and any offer you wish to make. If the offer is timebound or conditional, explain here. The section should be no more than three paragraphs long – to ensure the purpose of the letter is clear.

Taking your complaint further

As we have been unable to reach a solution, you now have the right to ask Ombudsman Services: Communications to consider your complaint. You’ll find their details below:

Website: www.ombudsman-services.org/communications

Phone: 0330 440 1614

Post: Ombudsman Services: Communications, PO Box 730, Warrington, WA4 6WU

If you have access to the internet, you will be able to register your complaint online via Ombudsman Services’ website.

The Ombudsman is there to resolve disputes between communications providers and their customers. It is free to use their services, and they are totally independent – so they do not take sides.

If you agree with their decision, we have to act on what they say. This may mean we have to apologise, explain what has gone wrong, correct the problem or give you a financial award. You do not have to accept their decision.

Please make sure you mention you have received this ‘deadlock’ letter when you contact them.

What happens next?

If you would like to accept our offer of resolution, please let us know. As this letter represents our final position, we do not intend to carry out a further review.