Mobile and broadband provider EE has been fined £1 million for failing to tell customers who'd complained about its service that they could take gripes to a free independent arbitrator. But affected customers may still be able to take their complaint further.
Communications regulator Ofcom found that between July 2011 and April 2014 EE, which includes Orange, 4GEE and T-Mobile, failed to:
- Tell customers that they could take their complaint to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service if they didn't get a response from EE within eight weeks.
- Tell customers their complaint could be taken to an alternative dispute resolution service if they reached a stalemate or 'deadlock' before the eight weeks was up.
- In addition, those who did request a deadlock letter from the provider, were not sent them meaning they couldn't take their complaint to an ombudsman-style service, and in some instances EE lied to customers saying it didn't issue these kinds of letters.
Just last week we reported how EE came last in our biannual home phone customer service poll with 25% of its customers rating it 'poor' compared with only 30% rating it 'great'.
On its broadband service, 40% rated it poor, in comparison to 28% rating it 'great'. See our Plusnet tops the customer service tables again, while AOL and EE take the wooden spoon for more info.
If you're unhappy with your provider, see our Cheap Broadband, Cheap Mobiles and Cheap Home Phones guide for the best deals. Also, see our How to Complain guide for help escalating your complaint. You can also use our free Resolver Tool to complain.
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EE didn't tell me I could take my complaint to an ADR. Can I do so now?
All communications providers must be a member of one of two ADR schemes:
- Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) – of which EE is a member of.
- The Ombudsman Services.
CISAS rules say that customers must send their complaint to it within 12 months of first complaining to a company. However, it adds that in "exceptional circumstances", if both the customer and the company agree, or if in its opinion the company has unreasonably delayed handling the complaint, CISAS can extend this period.
So if EE didn't tell you that you could take your complaint to CISAS meaning you didn't take it any further, it may be worth raising an old, unresolved complaint to see if it'll be looked at under CISAS' "exceptional circumstances" clause.
'Vital customers are fully informed of their rights'
Steve Nowottny, consumer and features editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, says: "If someone is unhappy with the way their complaint is handled by the company they're complaining to, it's vital they're fully informed of their right to take it elsewhere.
"It's great to see Ofcom take a tough stance on companies which fall short – many people simply won't know they have the right to appeal, so it's important they're told about it.
"Alternative dispute resolution schemes are free to use and operate independently to investigate complaints, so are an essential avenue for those who feel their complaint has fallen on deaf ears.
"It's also worth noting that while EE insists the problems it's been penalised for have long since been resolved, many customers are still unhappy with its customer service today. In MoneySavingExpert's poll last month it took the wooden spoon for home phone customer service, while 40% rated its broadband customer service as poor."
'We have made considerable improvements since then'
An EE spokesperson says: "This fine relates to our historic performance regarding complaints handling, collected from 2011 to April 2014.
"While this is in no way excuses it, it is important to note that we identified issues in our complaints handling and began our programme to tackle these problems head on in 2013, before Ofcom started its investigation. We have made considerable improvements since then."