OFCOM has announced that it is investigating whether BT's subsidiaries EE and Plusnet have failed to comply with new rules intended to provide consumers, small businesses and not-for-profit customers with information they need to help make informed choices about the services they are being offered. OFCOM's action is a reminder to altnets and other broadband providers of the importance of ensuring that your standard terms and conditions and contracting process comply with OFCOM rules on fairness and transparency.
OFCOM introduced new rules in June 2022 which require communication providers to give consumers, micro and small enterprise and non-for profit customers clear and simple information before entering into a binding contract for broadband or mobile services.
This information includes a summary of the main terms of the contract and certain pre-contract information, that help the customer to make an informed decision. The contract summary and contract information should follow a prescribed format and include the specified information and must be provided before the contract is created.
In the case of the contract summary, this should be a one page document, using the specified headings with text in a font size of at least than 10 points, including information on the services, price, duration, renewal and termination, and certain other information. The pre-contract information provides additional information including information on what to do if you have a dispute and rights to cancel.
Providers must also make this information available in any reasonably acceptable format required by a customer because of their disabilities. For example, in Braille or large print. This must be provided free of charge.
The OFCOM investigation
OFCOM's announcement of its investigation into BT follows an earlier investigation commenced in relation to BT's subsidiary EE, which commenced in October 2022. That investigation has now been merged into the wider investigation.
In its announcement OFCOM has said that its investigation will consider whether BT has contravened the provisions in the General Conditions relating to contract information and contract summaries and the provision of information in alternative formats as a result of suspected breaches by each of EE and Plusnet.
OFCOM's General Conditions set out detailed requirements in relation to contract terms for consumers and small businesses, including how rights and obligations in relation to things like cost increases, rights to terminate and add-on services must work. Together with the requirements for pre-contract information and contract summaries, these can be complex.
Unlike many other consumer protection laws, these rules apply not just to consumers, but also to micro and small businesses and not-for-profits.
The detailed rules can create particular challenges for altnets and smaller operators who do not have the internal resource to review their contracting processes and ensure compliance with the latest OFCOM requirements.
If you would like to discuss the OFCOM action, the rules in the general conditions, or your business's customer terms and conditions of supply and contracting processes, please contact Martin Sloan or Jennifer Murphy.