Vulnerable customers: Ofcom's best practices

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Ofcom sets out how TV, broadband and phone companies should treat vulnerable people and those who are struggling.

What are Ofcom's goals?

One of Ofcom's main goals is to make sure that TV, broadband and phone customers, especially vulnerable people, are treated fairly.

Ofcom wants vulnerable people to receive a high level of customer care so that they can manage their communications services effectively, and get the right deal for their needs, at a fair price.

People suffering from any financial, health or emotional problems should be treated fairly and given the right support by TV, broadband and phone providers, under best practice industry guidance issued by Ofcom this week.

We’re setting out industry best practice to help ensure vulnerable people are treated fairly and sympathetically by their phone, broadband and pay-TV providers.

- Jane Rumble - Director of Consumer Policy at Ofcom

What provider must do

Providers are required to have policies and procedures in place to ensure vulnerable customers are treated fairly, including;

  • Plan for treating vulnerable customers fairly - Providers must publish clear, up-to-date policies which are easy to find and understand
  • Identify and communicate with vulnerable customers - Providers should ask customers whether they have any accessibility or customer service needs that the provider can help with at the earliest opportunity, and offer a range of ways to explain the help, support and services available
  • Keep information about vulnerable customers' needs - Frontline staff should accurately record and update customers' needs in line with data protection legislation.
  • Train staff appropriately - All frontline staff should be trained on how to communicate with empathy and support, recognising that some vulnerable people may be reluctant to discuss their circumstances. They should be prepared to recognise the potential characteristics, behaviours or verbal cues of someone who might be vulnerable and also be completely aware of the additional services available to help them.
  • Monitor and evaluate - Providers should regularly monitor changes in complaints levels, customer service survey results or other customer feedback. They should also consider mystery shopping, as well as focus groups and panels to gain feedback and share best practice.

Best practise examples

Here are some best practice examples of how customers should be treated:

For people who can't pay or who are behind on their bills

Ofcom would expect providers to:

  • Prevent a customer from being disconnected wherever possible, allowing the customer some time to get support, without the threat of legal or enforcement action during that period
  • Offer payment holidays or deferrals, or freeze any extra charges
  • Discuss and offer a realistic, reasonable and flexible repayment plan
  • Refer customers to charities or debt organisations that can provide free support and advice

Victims of crime

Ofcom would expect providers to:

  • Ensure victims don't pay for mobile phone services they have been unable to use if the police take their phone for evidence
  • Listen carefully with compassion and empathy, taking time to ensure the customer has the correct information
  • Avoid pressuring victims to provide any more information than necessary, to avoid them reliving negative experiences
  • Offer new numbers, temporary SIMs or handsets where appropriate

Next steps

Ofcom will work with providers and review the guidance and best practice document over time. They will monitor companies' performance – including against Ofcom's Fairness for Customers Commitments, which are designed to strengthen how companies treat their customers.