Struggling phone, broadband and TV customers will be offered payment holiday under new Ofcom rules

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PHONE, TV and Broadband providers could be given payment holidays thanks to new guidance issued by the communications Watchdog today.

Ofcom has published new best practice guidelines showing how providers can protect their most vulnerable customers.

There are specific suggestions for how firms should deal with anyone who is behind on their bills or a victim of crime.

The suggested best practices for anyone who is struggling to pay what they owe or has missed a payment are:

Ofcom has also suggested measures for providers dealing with victims of crime. These are:

The suggestions are not exhaustive and will be reviewed over time. But Ofcom says it expects providers to take note of the guidance with immediate effect.

The watchdog’s package of best practice guidance also includes measures to help providers identify and support vulnerable customers.

The watchdog said this is particularly important at the moment because of coronavirus, but noted that anyone can become vulnerable due to physical or mental health problems, debt or unemployment, bereavement or becoming a victim of crime.

Ofcom also says it will be monitoring companies’ performance – including against the Fairness for Customers Commitments, which are designed to strengthen how companies treat their customers.

These are the strict requirements that say providers must have policies and procedures to make sure that vulnerable customers are fairly treated.

The new guidance is designed to highlight the practical steps Ofcom expects providers to take to ensure fair treatment of vulnerable customers, in light of these rules.

Here’s what your suppliers should offer under the new rules:

Ofcom says companies must publish clear, up-to-date policies which are easy to understand.

It is recommending that providers consult with experts, consumer bodies and charities to strengthen their understanding of different vulnerable customers’ needs.

The watchdog says providers should therefore ask customers at the earliest opportunity whether they have any accessibility or customer service needs.

Supplier should also offer a range of ways to explain the help, support and services available – such as online forms, phone, post, email, web chat or video and text relay.

Ofcom says that frontline staff should accurately record and update vulnerable customers’ needs in line with data protection legislation.

This should then be shared with other frontline staff on controlled internal systems, to avoid customers having to repeat themselves if passed to another department.

The watchdog says that all frontline staff should be trained on how to communicate with empathy and support, recognising that some people who are struggling may be reluctant to discuss their personal circumstances.

They should also be trained to recognise the potential characteristics, behaviours or verbal cues of someone who might be vulnerable, and be fully aware of the additional services available to help them.

It says that specialist teams who primarily deal with vulnerable customers, including those in financial difficulty, may benefit from additional training.

The regulator says providers should frequently monitor changes in complaints levels, customer service survey results or other customer feedback.

It adds that they should also consider mystery shopping, as well as focus groups and panels to gain feedback and share best practice.

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