Handling consumer complaints

29 January 2020, Sarah-Louise Prouse, Policy Executive

Today we published our latest Tribunal decision, against the Level 2 provider Unicate Ltd. The Tribunal upheld several breaches of the PSA Code of Practice against the provider and regarded the case as ‘very serious’ overall. 

One of these breaches was of rule 2.6.1, which sets out how consumer complaints should be handled. The rule requires that consumers have complaints resolved quickly, easily and fairly and that any redress is also provided quickly and easily. The Tribunal found that Unicate’s complaints handling procedure wasn’t good enough and amounted to a breach of rule 2.6.1.

Customer service and complaint handling are extremely important to us, and our Code contains clear requirements for industry. We also have comprehensive Guidance for providers on how consumer complaints and refund requests should be handled

Consumers’ expectations
Through consumer research conducted by market research company Futuresight into customer care and complaint handling, and more recently refunds, we have a clear understanding of what consumers expect when they contact providers to complain.

We also know that consumers’ experiences can be poor. Consumers expect it to be easy to find providers’ names and contact details. They do not expect to have to make multiple calls or contacts to various other parties, either in the phone-paid value chain or to the PSA in order to establish who they should contact and how. Many consumers describe having to do this as “going around in circles”.

When contacting providers, consumers expect to be responded to promptly and to be kept informed about the status of their complaint. Our Code requires complaints to be handled promptly at all stages within a process that is clear to the consumer. Our complaint handling guidance advises that where consumers leave messages or send an email, they should be responded to within one working day and resolution should be offered within five working days.

Where refunds are offered, consumers expect to receive them quickly and easily too. Many expect the way that they receive refunds for phone-paid services to be the same, or similar, to the way that they receive refunds for other forms of payment. However, they would also be happy to have a choice about how they receive their refund.

What we’re doing to raise standards in the market
We recognise that there is room for improvement with complaint handling and refunding procedures within the phone-paid market. 

We will enforce against poor customer service and complaint handling, as the publication of today’s adjudication demonstrates. But we also recognise that industry often needs help to get things right. We are currently consulting on new guidance to enable providers to meet consumer expectations and improve the experience of receiving refunds for phone-paid services. As always, we welcome your views on this: the consultation on refunds guidance can be found in full here.

This year, we are also undertaking a comprehensive review of our Code of Practice, which will include consideration of complaint handling procedures and consumer refunds. We will keep you updated on the progress of this review.