Ofcom Slaps Three With £250,000 Fine For Poor Customer Service

Penalty comes following accusations that Three mishandled customer grumbles

Industry regulator Ofcom has hit mobile firm Three with a £250,000 fine for failing to follow its guidelines on how to deal with customer complaints.

As part of its investigation into all the UK’s major phone operators, Ofcom found that Three did not handle some customer complaints in “a fair and timely manner”, with some complaints being closed without the company establishing that they were fully resolved.

Other cases did not get logged as customer complaint calls when they should have been, meaning that they were not dealt with or even looked at by Three’s formal complaints process.

These breaches of Ofcom’s monitoring and enforcement programme meant that Three did not make customers sufficiently aware of their right to escalate a complaint to alternative dispute resolution (ADR), an important piece of consumer protection which allows customers to refer complaints that cannot be resolved with their provider to an independent body to reach an impartial judgement.

However paper bills sent to Three customers failed to mention this fact – a requirement from Ofcom for all communications providers.

Ofcom LogoFalling short

“When things go wrong, customers are not only entitled to complain to their provider, but must have confidence that their complaint will be dealt with fairly,” said Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer and Content Group Director. “That’s why we impose strict rules on providers on how they must handle complaints.”

“We treat any failure to follow these rules very seriously. The fine imposed on Three takes account of the shortcomings in its complaints handling, but reflects that the harm to consumers in this case was limited. The company fully co-operated with our investigation and has now taken steps to ensure it’s compliant with the rules on complaints handling.”

Despite the fine, Ofcom was keen to stress that Three fully cooperated with the investigation and has since taken steps to ensure it is now compliant with its complaints handling obligations, as well as also taking steps to remedy its breaches where it could.

The company’s customer service staff also won praise for their efforts in helping to mitigate the effects of the breach.

“Customer service and complaint resolution is really important to us,” a Three spokesperson said in response to the fine. “Ofcom’s own figures, collected over the past three years, reflect a huge shift: we have become the least complained about mobile operator in the UK in 2014.

“Ofcom identified issues with our complaints handling process back in Spring 2013. Since then we have worked closely and openly with Ofcom to address these as part of the broader effort to improve complaint resolution, contacting all the customers that might have been impacted. Delivering a great customer experience remains an absolute focus across the business.”

Three had previously won praise from Ofcom earlier this year after an investigation by the regulator found that it was the only major UK operator to sell all of its handsets unlocked. The operator had also backed reforms to Ofcom as part of a move to ensure regulatory decision could be easily overturned, joining forces with Which? and TalkTalk in a public campaign.

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