EAO guidelines for making a complaint
The Equality of Access Office is required by section 10.22.3 of the Undertakings to publish guidelines on handling external complaints from communications providers about BT's compliance with the Undertakings. The EAO published draft guidelines on 1 December and asked for stakeholder feedback on them. The final guidelines published below reflect that feedback. They were approved by the Equality of Access Board on 30 January. The Board also agreed to review the guidelines in due course.
EAO guidelines for the handling of external complaints from Communications Providers about BT’s compliance with the Undertakings
1. Following Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Telecommunications, BT committed to establish the Equality of Access Board (EAB) supported by the Equality of Access Office (EAO) to monitor and report on BT’s compliance with undertakings published on 22 September 2005 (‘the Undertakings’).
2. The EAB and EAO have a number of specific obligations regarding complaints, including monitoring complaints handled elsewhere in BT and tracking internal complaints from BT employees. These guidelines focus solely on the EAO’s responsibilities for handling external complaints.
3. These guidelines explain how the EAO will deal with complaints, including the process that will generally be followed if a Communications Provider wishes to complain to the EAO about BT’s compliance with the Undertakings, and how the EAO will handle any such complaints.
4. The guidelines apply only to BT’s compliance with the Undertakings, not to BT’s wider compliance and regulatory framework, or to BT’s overall service levels.
5. The Guidelines will be reviewed regularly by the EAB to ensure they remain fit for purpose.
The EAO’s obligations for handling external complaints
6. Section 10.22 of the Undertakings sets out the role of the EAO in support of the EAB’s obligations regarding complaints:
"The role of the EAO shall be to:
10.22.2 consider any complaint brought to it by a Communications Provider that these Undertakings have been breached, report its decision to the EAB and once the EAB has noted or responded to the EAO, the EAO shall report back to the complainant on the action, if any, taken by the EAB as a result of the complaint;
10.22.3 publish guidelines for dealing with such complaints. It shall inform Ofcom of any such complaints within a reasonable time of their receipt;
10.22.4 produce reports to the EAB on the nature, type and pattern of complaints from Communications Providers relating to these Undertakings;"
7. The Undertakings themselves do not prescribe how the EAO should handle complaints but do provide that the EAO will publish guidelines for dealing with them. The process set out in these guidelines is designed to produce efficient and effective resolution of complaints for both the complainant and for BT.
8. The EAO’s complaints handling process is delivered by the EAO’s Investigations Manager who is responsible for ensuring that all complaints are handled in accordance with these guidelines.
Submission standards and the EAO enquiry phase
9. The EAO will acknowledge all complaints it receives via letter or email within two working days. Each complaint the EAO receives will be subject to initial consideration during an enquiry phase to ensure it meets the EAO’s submission requirements and, if necessary, for the Investigations Manager to seek further and better information in respect of the complaint (see Annex 1 for more details).
10. Having considered each complaint received, the EAO will initiate investigations into a complaint from a Communications Provider where the complaint meets the following criteria:
The complaint is about compliance with the Undertakings, the complainant is able to identify both the specific Undertaking or Undertakings concerned and the nature of the compliance issue raised.
A senior officer of the Communications Provider provides a statement supporting the complaint and confirming that the facts submitted are correct and complete to the best of their knowledge.
11. The submission guidance in Annex 1 also makes clear that an EAO investigation will generally be more effective if the complainant:
Has attempted to resolve the issue with an appropriate BT manager, typically in the relevant BT Line of Business.
Provides reasonable prima facie evidence in support of the complaint.
Where appropriate, provides evidence on any impact of the alleged breach on their business (since this might assist the EAO and EAB in judging the materiality of the alleged breach).
12. The Undertakings clearly state that the EAB has no remit in respect of ‘conduct of claims or litigation’. The EAO will liaise with BT’s Director of Litigation and as part of the EAO’s consideration of any complaint, which is also the subject of a claim or litigation, may decide to await the outcome of that claim or litigation before considering the complaint further.
13. The EAO will aim to complete the enquiry phase within 10 working days of acknowledging the complaint and will inform the complainant whether or not the EAO is opening an investigation. At this stage, the EAO will inform Ofcom of the complaint, which it has considered and whether an investigation has been opened.
14. When a complaint, following consideration by the EAO, does not result in an investigation, the EAO will explain its decision to the complainant and, in appropriate circumstances, suggest an alternative means of resolving the issue. For example, a complaint about BT’s regulatory compliance which falls outside the Undertakings, may be addressed to BT’s Director of Regulatory Compliance.
15. Complainants have no right to appeal the EAO’s judgment on whether the complaint meets its submission standards, though they are free to resubmit a complaint once it is amended to take into account the EAO’s comments.
Completing an investigation
16. The EAO will issue guidance to the complainant on how long an investigation is likely to take at the conclusion of the enquiry phase. The EAO will aim to complete all investigations within 2 months of opening them. It will issue guidance to the complainant if it is clear at the outset that the investigation will take longer or if it later believes it cannot complete the investigation within 2 months.
17. The EAO will keep BT, the complainant and Ofcom informed about the progress of the complaint on a regular basis. The EAO’s Investigations Manager will be the main point of contact for complainants, BT and Ofcom.
18. Section 10.23 of the Undertakings places an obligation on BT to ‘ensure that the EAO has reasonable access to information held by BT that it needs to fulfil its role.’ The EAO is also able to draw on the expertise of functions within BT including BT’s Internal Audit and Regulatory Compliance department (section 10.24).
The outcome of an investigation
19. In accordance with the Undertakings, the EAO has to report its decision to the EAB, and once the EAB has noted the decision or responded to the EAO, the EAO will report back to the complainant on the action, if any, taken by the EAB as a result of the complaint.
20. There are, therefore, a range of possible outcomes to complaints brought to the EAO by Communications Providers. The following is an indicative, rather than exhaustive list:
The EAB has concluded that there are no grounds for action arising from the complaint, since the Undertakings are being delivered by BT as required.
The EAB has concluded that there are no grounds for action since BT has already taken remedial action in response to the Communications Provider’s complaint. Note that section 10.17 of the Undertakings requires the EAB to report non-trivial breaches to Ofcom, even if remedial action has been successfully implemented.
The EAB has concluded that although BT is complying with the Undertakings, it has recommended that BT provide clearer advice to staff about a particular issue arising from the Undertakings.
The EAB has recommended remedial action to BT to ensure compliance with the Undertakings. The EAO may also be able to report on BT’s response to the EAB.
The EAB notifies Ofcom of a non-trivial breach in the Undertakings (which must be done within 10 days of the breach being brought to the EAB’s attention) and has recommended remedial action to plug the breach immediately.
21. The EAO will inform the complainant of the action, if any, taken by the EAB as a result of the complaint. Ofcom will also be informed.
22. Annex 2 provides a flowchart representation of the complaints handling process.
Publishing details of investigations
23. The Undertakings do not require BT to publish or otherwise disclose confidential information, other than to Ofcom. The details of a complaint are considered to be confidential, in relation to both BT and the complainant. The EAB believes that it is likely that a complaint will be resolved more quickly if it is handled on a confidential basis. Accordingly, the EAO and EAB will not make public information about the progress of individual complaints, beyond the complainant, BT and Ofcom unless on a case by case basis the complainant indicates a preference for doing so and subject to any legal or contractual responsibilities that BT may have.
24. If complainants are not satisfied with the EAO’s complaints process, they can submit their complaint to Ofcom at any point during the process.
Format for submitting a complaint to the EAB
1. Complaints should be submitted in writing to:
The Investigations Manager
Equality of Access Office
pp A9.29, BT Centre
81 Newgate Street
London EC1A 7AJ
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
2. The Investigations Manager can also provide informal advice on how to submit a claim to the EAO or on which alternative complaints procedures are available if the EAO is not an appropriate route.
3. The EAO will inform BT Group and any relevant BT LoB when a complaint has been received which relates to a product covered by the Undertakings and which is managed by that LoB The EAO will send BT Group and the relevant LoB a copy of the complaint. If the complaint contains confidential information, the complainant should provide a separate non-confidential version of the complaint.
4. Unless the complainant specifically requests otherwise, the EAO will inform BT of the business name of the complainant. The EAO recognises that in some cases the complainant will wish to remain anonymous (where for example the complainant feels disclosure might prejudice ongoing commercial relations). In such circumstances the complainant must recognise that their anonymity might hinder the effectiveness of the investigation.
5. A submission should contain the following information:
- A summary of the complaint.
- Details of the relevant part or parts of BT relevant to the complaint.
- Details of the complainant’s relationship with BT.
- A contact name of the manager within the complainant with whom the EAO shall liase in respect of the complaint.
6. The investigation of a complaint is likely to be significantly assisted if the complainant is able to provide additional information along the following lines:
- Confirmation of the BT service, product or process concerned, with particular reference to the specific requirement in the Undertakings.
- An explanation of the reasons for the complaint and reasonable prima facie evidence in support.
- Evidence of an attempt to resolve the complaint with a relevant manager in a BT Line of Business or in BT Group.
- How the complaint has affected the complainant’s business.
- Any solution which the complainant wishes to propose for addressing the complaint.