Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Letter from the Ombudsman Service Ltd to the Inquiry Manager, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

  As I said during our telephone conversation, we haven't received very many complaints so far. There are two main reasons for this:

    (i)    the Ombudsman Service can only investigate complaints against members, who are defined as Public Communications Providers (PCPs) in the Communications Act 2003, and the vast majority of our members are the carriers of the calls but have no control over the "end-use" of these calls because they are to non-members, such as ITV and other TV companies;

    (ii)  the large majority of complaints about these calls will already have been made to our members, who will have informed complainants about the situation, ie that they are merely the carriers of the calls and have no control or influence over either the initiation or termination of the calls, and the Ombudsman will only have received a small percentage of such contacts.

  For your information, the Ombudsman's Terms of Reference, require that a complaint against a member company can only be accepted after the member has been afforded a reasonable opportunity to resolve the complaint and has failed to do so to the satisfaction of the complainant. The time-scale for this resolution is 12 weeks and, hence, the Ombudsman would not be able to accept a complaint unless it had been in progress for more than this time. It would also be possible for a member to "deadlock" a complaint and refer the customer to the Ombudsman before 12 weeks had elapsed, when it became clear that no further progress was possible between the two parties.

  Members, such as BT, TalkTalk or Vodafone will have advised complainants to talk to ICSTIS, the regulator of the Premium Rate Service (PRS) industry, or Ofcom, the telecoms regulator. In turn, these bodies will have advised consumers to write to the companies concerned (as you probably know, the ICSTIS web-site enables consumers to identify the companies related to the particular numbers on their bills) in order to seek clarification about the charges and to request a refund, where the customers believe that they have been over-charged.

  The Ombudsman issued an Advice Note to our member companies on 30 October (attached), in relation to Quiz TV complaints. You will note that the note describes the policy that will be employed in accepting and dealing with complaints from consumers about our members. You will also note a reference in the document to "rogue" diallers, which was one of the subjects of a previous Advice Note (in October 2004) which dealt with PRS calls in general.

  As I mentioned during our conversation, the Ombudsman has received a small number of complaints about Quiz TV calls. The majority of them involved the customers' dissatisfaction with the number of calls that had been registered against their accounts. Most customers admitted that some calls had been made but expressed themselves astonished at the numbers which were actually recorded and believed that they had been overcharged by the networks that carried the calls. Almost all customers had been referred to ICSTIS and some had contacted the TV companies concerned in order either/both to claim a refund or to check on the numbers of calls recorded and charged for. Only in a minority of cases was there apparently any ability by the TV company to provide a list of the customer's calls which could be checked against the PCPs' recorded and charged calls. Most TV companies appeared not to have recorded such calls at all. However, further information about this should be obtainable from ICSTIS, which will have assisted consumers on a much larger number of occasions.

  The Ombudsman has received about 25 complaints in all (in the context that we have investigated 5,500 complaints in 2005-06), beginning in early 2005 (about a radio quiz show), followed by occasional cases throughout the remainder of the year, generally about Quiz TV. 2006 also started off with occasional complaints about Quiz TV but the most recent cases have been about QuizMania and the Great Big British Quiz. It is mostly the fixed-line networks that have carried these calls, although a couple of complaints about a mobile have been received. The large majority of the Ombudsman's decisions have been that the network has carried the calls and customers have been charged correctly by the carrier because all of the available evidence indicates that the calls were made from the customer's telephones.

24 November 2006

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