What happens when I complain to the PSA?

11 September 2018, Simon Towler, Policy and External Relations Director

Continuing our series of blogs examining how the PSA advances the interests of consumers, Policy and External Relations Director Simon Towler explains how consumer contacts help us investigate and regulate effectively. 

Insights from consumers are essential to our work. Our vision is a healthy and innovative market in which consumers can charge content, goods and services to their phone bill with confidence. We're here to advance consumers’ interests in the phone-paid services market, and we wouldn't be able to do this without the information consumers provide us with every day. 

It’s vital that we understand which services are being used by consumers, what they’re offering, what consumers are enjoying and the issues that consumers are experiencing. We receive hundreds of thousands of contacts from consumers every year: 213,600 in the 2017/18 financial year (mostly consumers checking service details), some of which are complaints about specific services. Last year we took 15,800 of these.

This information from consumers helps provide the evidence we need to act against service providers who are not complying with our Code of Practice. Where possible, we will try to enforce our Code quickly, informally and with the co-operation of the service provider. However, where necessary, we do launch formal investigations and gather evidence to present to a Tribunal. 

We have sent a strong message to the few, more problematic areas of the market in the last year, issuing £3.8 million in fines and barring 9 companies and individuals from the market. 

Consumer information also enables us to tighten or adapt our rules to meet their needs. As new services and technologies emerge, consumers help to keep us informed of trends and new developments. 

For example, we recently had a spike in complaints about online competition and online adult services paid for through a phone bill – often by subscription. It became clear from listening to your views and hearing about consumer experiences with these services that the regulation around them needed adjustment.

We tightened our regulation, bringing in new Special conditions at the start of 2017, with the mobile network operators also taking action in parallel. Since then, complaints about these services have come down by over 90%, a strong indication that consumer harm has been reduced. 

This year, we are also opening a review into our regulation of services charged on a subscription basis – the source of most of our current complaints. We're also looking into refund mechanics with the intention that consumers can get their money back from the service provider promptly and easily when they're entitled to it. Both areas of work have been guided by information and feedback from consumers. Our ongoing dialogue with just some of the millions of consumers that use phone-paid services makes the market work better. 

Fair and  proportionate regulation are essential to supporting and facilitating the many phone-paid services which consumers want. Whenever you vote in a TV talent show, stream your favourite track, purchase in-app or in-game content, or subscribe to entertainment platforms you want to access, our aim is for you to be able to enjoy these services with confidence. With your continued help, we can ensure the right regulatory protections are in place.