EE fined £1m for “serious failings” in handling customer complaints

The company, which is being bought by BT, had received the most complaints per 1,000 mobile customers for at least four quarters until it was overtaken by Vodafone at the end of 2014. It continues to be the worst in terms of landlines and broadband.

This is according to Ofcom data, which also found that EE did not tell some of its customers that they could take complaints to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) if they reached a “deadlock” with the company. Some customers who asked for a deadlock letter allegedly did not receive one or were told that the company did not issue such letters.

Between July 2011 and April 2014, EE had failed to give customers the correct information about their rights, Ofcom suggested.

The fine is Ofcom’s largest penalty for poor complaints handling in any industry and will need to be paid within 20 days before it gets passed on to the UK Treasury.

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Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer and content group director, said: “It’s vital that customers can access all the information they need when they’re pursuing a complaint. Ofcom imposes strict rules on how providers must handle complaints and treats any breach of these rules very seriously. The fine imposed against EE takes account of the serious failings that occurred in the company’s complaints handling, and the extended period over which these took place.”

An EE spokesperson said that the problem had been spotted in 2013 before Ofcom took action. The company mentioned that as soon as it had been identified, EE began a programme to tackle the situation

The company also suggested that Ofcom’s current figures highlighted that complaints had fallen by 50 per cent in the past year. However, the regulator claimed that the 50 per cent figure related to complaints about mobile services. Complaints about broadband and landlines services rose by 50 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, it said.

“A fine of this size shows how seriously Ofcom is taking failure to follow the rules on complaints – and EE was getting it wrong for almost three years,” said Richard Neudegg, regulations expert at uSwitch.com. 

“Part of the problem is the telecoms market’s complaints procedure is more confusing than other sectors,” he added. “There isn’t one single ombudsman – there are two that companies may direct customers to. This makes it extremely important that information on how to access these is completely clear.”

Furthermore, the Competition and Markets Authority is expected to decide by the beginning of 2016 whether to allow the deal between BT and EE to go ahead and whether to impose further changes. 

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