Insights Ofcom consults on proposals to update its Treating Vulnerable Customers Fairly guidance to encourage telecoms firms to do more to help customers struggling to pay bills

According to recent Ofcom research, around 1.1 million households (5%) are struggling to afford their broadband. That rises to around one in ten among the lowest-income households.

With affordability problems only likely to worsen this year because of the cost-of-living squeeze, Ofcom is proposing to update its Treating Vulnerable Customers Fairly guidance to include further practical steps that it expects providers to take to better support their customers.

Under the proposals, providers will be expected to adopt the following best practice:

  • emphasise the help and support available to people struggling to pay: this includes offering and promoting special discounted packages to financially vulnerable customers, known as “social tariffs”; Ofcom research shows that millions of families could save an average of £144 each year on their broadband bill; providers should also proactively signpost other means of available support, such as payment deferrals or payment plans;
  • get in touch with customers in different ways: to increase the chances of reaching customers in debt to offer support, firms should use a range of communications channels, such as letter, email, phone and text, and rotate between them;
  • work more closely with debt charities and signpost free advice: communications with customers in arrears should include clear information about the free debt advice available and make it as easy as possible for free debt advice organisations to represent their clients; and
  • avoid imposing service restrictions to force payment: restricting or disconnecting the services of someone who is particularly reliant on them to push them into paying outstanding bills should be avoided or limited; steps should be taken to understand a customer’s individual circumstances before instructing debt collection services; any agencies used should have strong policies for treating vulnerable customers fairly.

Ofcom is inviting views on its proposed guidance by 12 May 2022 and intends to publish its final decision in autumn 2022. To access the proposals and for information on how to respond to the consultation, click here.