Tuesday, 23 November 2010

£millions of outstanding credit unclaimed by consumers

Ofcom has called on consumers to check that they aren’t owed money when they switch their communications services to a new provider.

Ofcom has gathered data that suggests that over the past two years there have been around 2 million consumers who have left their communications provider, without claiming at least £10 million owed to them.

The money owed could be for having paid for line rental in advance or for promotional credits that customers may have been given during their contract. Consumers often don’t know that they are owed money by their landline, mobile, broadband or pay TV provider.

Making it easier for consumers to be refunded

Ofcom has worked with communications providers to encourage them to make changes to their processes and to automatically refund credit to their contract customers.

Initially, of the major providers Ofcom spoke to, only BT, Orange and Post Office automatically refunded outstanding credit to their customers, no matter what amount was owed.

Following discussions:
  • T-Mobile has agreed to automatically refund all outstanding credit and Vodafone for all customers who pay by direct debit.
  • Virgin Media and Virgin Mobile automatically refunds its customers for amounts over £1 if they terminate their contracts before 28 days, and from December 2010 the process will be automated for all customers (for amounts over £1).
  • O2 will automatically credit amounts over £20.
  • Customers of Sky, Talk Talk (including AOL and Tiscali) and Three will need to contact them directly to arrange a refund, but our conversations with these providers have led to improved information being given to consumers about their outstanding credits.
Ofcom welcomes this increase in transparency which means that in all cases consumers should be informed by their provider if they have outstanding credit, and what they need to do to reclaim it.

Nevertheless, Ofcom thinks that industry best practice should mean that all providers refund customers the outstanding credit they are owed automatically, and without any further action needed by the consumer.

Consumer guide

To help consumers claim outstanding credit, Ofcom has published a guide which provides a clear overview of the credit refund processes of the main communications providers. The guide can be found here: http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/files/2010/10/how-to-claim-credit-refunds.pdf.

Ofcom’s Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: “Consumers were telling us that they found it difficult to claim unused credit from their providers when they left their contracts. Taken together, people have been millions of pounds out of pocket as a result.

“We hope that automated refund processes, clearer signposting by providers and our new consumer guide should help consumers claim back money that is rightfully theirs.”

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Maximising your mobile coverage

Ofcom today published a new consumer guide to help people maximise their mobile coverage.
The guide covers:

Postcode checkers

Before signing up to a service, check the coverage provided by the mobile operators. All operators have online “postcode checkers” which can give an indication of 2G (voice and text) and 3G (mobile broadband) coverage.

Returns policy

Check the terms and conditions about rights to cancel before buying. If necessary, discuss any specific concerns or requirements with a sales representative before signing a contract.
Mobile operators and phone shops may, under certain circumstances, cancel a contract and let customers return a phone within a certain period if they are not getting a good signal.
For example, some operators have a network guarantee which allows customers to return a phone under certain circumstances if they are unable to get a signal. However, this varies by operator and retail outlet.

Try before you buy

Choose SIM-only monthly contracts or pay-as-you-go to try out different providers. This allows consumers to test coverage from different operators without being locked into a long-term contract.

Improve indoor coverage

Coverage inside buildings can be worse than outside because the building can act as a shield to mobile signals. There are two ways that can improve indoor coverage using a fixed broadband connection:
  • a small router-like device called a “femtocell” which boosts mobile coverage via a broadband connection; and
  • some operators allow calls and mobile data to be routed across a home Wi-Fi network.
Separately, Ofcom has today published initial research into mobile not-spots in the UK.
Ofcom is continuing research into mobile not-spots and will publish further findings next year.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Ofcom progresses plans for new wireless technology

Ofcom announced how a new form of wireless communication called “white space technology” will work in practice.

This follows an earlier consultation, exploring the potential of the technology, which could be used for a wide range of innovative applications. For example, technology manufacturers have suggested that it might wirelessly link up different devices and offer enhanced broadband access in rural areas.

The technology works by searching for unused radio waves called “white spaces” between TV channels to transmit and receive wireless signals. Compared with other forms of wireless technology, such as Bluetooth and WiFi, white-space devices are being designed to use lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV. Signals at these frequencies travel further and more easily through walls.

Today’s consultation sets out the processes needed to successfully launch the technology and how new devices will be made available to consumers without the need for a licence.

For the full article click here