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Consumer satisfaction with telecoms services

Most telecoms customers are happy with their service. According to Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, 90% of mobile customers were happy with their mobile service in 2020. The satisfaction rate for broadband and landline customers was lower (80% and 77%, respectively). Customer satisfaction is higher for telecoms customers compared to other utilities (energy and water) according to comparisons between regulators.

How are telecoms services regulated?

Government (through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) and Ofcom policy is to encourage a competitive market for telecoms services in which consumers are able to make informed choices and shop around to get the best deals.

Telecoms markets are regulated by Ofcom under the Communications Act 2003 as amended. Under the Act, one of Ofcom’s primary statutory duties is to further the interests of consumers, where appropriate by promoting competition.  In addition, Ofcom must act in accordance with the Government’s Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) for telecommunications. One of these priorities is, “safeguarding the interests of telecoms consumers, including the vulnerable and less engaged, by ensuring they are better informed and protected.”

Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom sets General Conditions of Entitlement on communications providers. These are the regulatory conditions that all providers of broadband, landline phone and mobile services must meet to operate in the UK. They set, for example, the basic requirements for consumer contracts, such as the information that must be provided to customers, and the minimum steps providers must take to support vulnerable consumers.

How is the market working for consumers?

Ofcom has found that overall, telecoms customers can benefit from a wide range of deals that provide good value for money for most consumers. However, research by Ofcom, Citizens Advice and the Competition and Markets Authority indicates that some consumers are not engaging in the market and are paying more for, or receiving less from services than they could. This is particularly a concern to regulators when poor outcomes are experienced by vulnerable customers.

Recent reforms to improve fairness for customers

Ofcom has an ongoing programme of work to promote Fairness for Customers. Recent reforms introduced by Ofcom as part of this work include:

  • Introducing rules to require telecoms providers to send notifications to customers at the end of their contract including information on the best new deals available.
  • Making it easier to switch mobile networks by sending a text.
  • Requiring providers to have policies in place to ensure they take account of the needs of vulnerable customers.
  • Issuing guidance to providers on how they can support vulnerable customers.
  • Introducing a voluntary compensation scheme to automatically compensate customers for delays to repairs and installations.
  • Securing voluntary commitments from most major providers to implement automatic price reductions for out-of-contract vulnerable customers.
  • Establishing a fairness framework to give clarity to industry and consumers about how Ofcom will assess fairness concerns.

Ofcom says it will continue to monitor progress against these reforms and if customer fairness is not improving will consider if further regulatory intervention is required.

Separately, the Government has also consulted on strengthening consumer advocacy in telecoms markets, suggesting establishing Citizens Advice as a new statutory consumer advocate for telecoms. The outcome has not yet been published.

Affordability of telecoms services

The coronavirus pandemic has heightened concerns about the affordability of telecom services. Ofcom reported in July 2021 that 2 million households experienced an affordability issue with their broadband or mobile service in the last month.  

Ofcom considers that targeted discounted tariffs (called social tariffs) have an important role to play to ensure affordable telecoms services for low income households.

There is no mandatory requirement for telecoms providers to offer social tariffs although some providers offer them voluntarily. Ofcom’s July 2021 report on affordability considered there were still gaps in the provision of social tariffs and that all providers could do more to promote the social tariffs they were offering.

Ofcom and the Government have “strongly encouraged” all providers to offer effective social tariffs for low-income customers and to actively promote them to relevant customers. Telecoms industry commentators have highlighted that some small providers investing in new fibre infrastructure may struggle to offer a social tariff without raising prices for other customers, due to small margins in their business.

Ofcom has said it will continue to monitor affordability and consider whether further regulatory interventions are necessary. Ofcom has powers to introduce a mandatory industry-wide social tariff following amendments to the Communications Act 2003 that came into force in December 2020. These powers can only be exercised following a direction from the Government.

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