The new Chief Executive of Ofcom has warned UK operators that they must serve customers better or face investigation.

Sharon White, who took up her post as head of the UK regulator in March, has told the country’s communications providers that they must be more transparent in their service offerings and make it easier for customers to amend, cancel and switch contracts.

Operators also need to improve their handling of customer complaints and make them aware of alternative means of resolving disputes with contract providers, White said.

The four key focus areas set out by the regulator include:

  • Making available clear and accurate information in advertising and at point of sale, so that consumers can genuinely compare offers and make effective choices.
  • Ensuring straightforward processes when consumers want to switch, including cancelling services without entanglement - and coordination between providers for a smooth transfer.
  • Setting clear and fair terms with no hidden charges or lock-ins.
  • Setting out simple steps when consumers wish to complain or when things go wrong. This means doing everything possible to avoid a dispute in the first place, including the opportunity for consumers to ‘walk away’ when services fall short. It also means clear signposting of alternative dispute resolution services - which are free to use.

Ofcom warned that operators who fell short of the guidelines would face investigation and potential “enforcement action”.

Last October, UK operator Three was fined £250,000 by Ofcom after it failed to comply with the regulator’s policy on the handling of customer complaints.

White said: “Our job is to ensure that markets work for consumers and citizens, principally by encouraging competition.

“Where markets don’t work well enough - or where competition alone isn’t enough to secure good outcomes for consumers - then we have powers to intervene.”

Ofcom also unveiled new measures to help customers leave or switch service providers.

The regulator has updated its Code of Practice on broadband speeds to allow new customers to walk away from their ISP at any point during their contract, if speeds fall below “acceptable levels.”

From June 20, Ofcom said it will also simplify the process for customers looking to switch between landline and broadband providers that use BT’s Openreach network, which includes EE, Sky and Talk Talk.

Specifically, the regulator will introduce a “One Touch” process that will make the switchover the responsibility of the provider the customer is moving to.

Ofcom is also due next month to put forward new plans to make it easier for mobile customers to change provider.

White said: “Improving delivery to consumers doesn’t just fall at the feet of the regulator. The delivery of first class communications services is primarily the responsibility of providers.”

She added that the new measures would allow customers to take “full advantage” of the competition offered in the industry, claiming: “We have set the bar high for ourselves but also for industry. If we deliver then everyone benefits: consumers and citizens of the country and the businesses who deliver the services we regulate.”

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