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Services for disabled customers need to be publicised more

New Ofcom research has revealed that communications providers need to do more to publicise services that are available for disabled customers.

Mystery shopping was conducted by Ofcom to see what advice prospective customers were given about these services by BT, Orange, O2, TalkTalk, T-Mobile, Virgin Media, Vodafone and 3.

As part of our wider duty to further the interests of citizens and of consumers, Ofcom has a specific duty to take into consideration the needs of customers with disabilities.

We must ensure that communications providers provide services for disabled customers and that these services are publicised in such a way that allows disabled customers to use and benefit from them.

The mystery shopping revealed that just over a third (37 per cent) of mystery shoppers were provided with information about at least one service available for disabled customers without further prompting.  This figure rose to three quarters (75 per cent) after prompting.

This is a significant drop since Ofcom’s 2006 research when 91 per cent of calls resulted in information being provided about at least one service after prompting.

Mystery shopping

Ofcom conducted mystery shopping between August 2009 and March 2010 to see what advice consumers were given on the phone or by email about services for disabled customers; and what information was available on providers’ websites and how easily it could be found.

Mystery shoppers called on behalf of ‘relatives’ who were  blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, had a cognitive impairment  or were in hospital long term.

Blind or visually impaired customers

Almost one in five (19 per cent) of the mystery shopping enquiries on behalf of blind people resulted in the mystery shopper being told, at least initially, that there were no special services for disabled customers.

Deaf and hard of hearing customers

The most commonly mentioned service for deaf customers was text relay (text relay enables people who are deaf or speech-impaired to make and receive telephone calls using a textphone, with a relay assistant in a call centre voicing what is typed, and typing back what is said). However this was only mentioned in 49 per cent of calls even after prompting (compared to 78 per cent in 2006).

Customers with cognitive impairments or in hospital long term

For people with cognitive impairments or who were in hospital long term, relevant services such as third party account access or bill management were only mentioned spontaneously in 21 per cent of calls  One in five (20 per cent) of callers were told that there were no special services for disabled customers.

Web based and email enquiries

Of 105 email enquiries sent, only 70 per cent received a personal response. 31 did not receive a reply during the mystery shopping exercise.  Surprisingly, replies to email enquiries generally contained less information than those given over the phone even though it would have been possible for the provider to spend time checking which services were available.

Next steps

Ofcom has discussed the findings of the mystery shopping with the relevant providers and has asked them to set out an action plan with reasonable timings for improvements.

Most providers have shown willingness to improve the situation, and Ofcom will be working with them to ensure that this happens.

Ofcom then plans to undertake further mystery shopping and depending on the results will consider taking enforcement action if necessary which could result in a fine of up to 10 per cent of turnover for those failing to meet their obligations.

Read the mystery shopping report

Advice on services for disabled consumers


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