New rules to protect consumers from landline phone mis-selling and ‘slamming’ - where people are switched without their permission - have been introduced today (18 March) by Ofcom.
The communications regulator plans to fine companies breaking the new rules by up to 10% of their turnover.
It currently receives around 750 complaints each month from victims of mis-selling and slamming practices. In one case, a telecoms company sales rep visited a disabled man and pressurised him into switching supplier after claiming there were problems with his existing phone line.
In another instance, one phone supplier took over a consumer’s phone line from his existing provider, even though he had not agreed to anything or signed a contract. When he disputed the transfer, he was told he’d have to pay a penalty of more than £300 to break the contract.
“It is not acceptable for consumers to suffer from companies engaging in dishonest sales and marketing activity,” says Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom.
The new rules, called General Condition 24, will prohibit telecoms providers from “engaging in misleading and inappropriate sales and marketing activity or slamming consumers”.
They also set out the type and level of information that needs to be made available to new customers before the service has been transferred.
For example, they must provide important information about the key terms and conditions of the service, such as contractual liabilities and cancellation rights.
What is slamming?
Slamming is where customers are switched from one company to another without their knowledge or consent. In some cases, customers only become aware of this when they receive a bill from a new company.
How to avoid being slammed
* Be wary of giving out personal information over the phone
* Only agree to something over the phone if you’re sure who you are talking to and what you’re signing up for; if you’re not sure, ask the caller to post the information to you first
* Ask to see identification from doorstep sellers to check that they are representing the company they say they are
* Don’t give out your direct debit details unless you’re certain you want to switch phone companies
* Don’t sign anything unless you’ve read it and are sure of what you’re signing up for
What to do if you’ve been slammed
The switching process has a number of safeguards built into it to ensure people are protected from being slammed.
For example, you should receive a letter from your previous phone company, and from your new provider, confirming that you are moving provider.
If you think you’ve been slammed and don’t actually want to switch, then Ofcom recommends you call your old phone company. However, if you’ve simply changed your mind about switching, you’re best contacting your new supplier; if you do this without 10 days, it will stop the switch.
Victims of slamming should also register a complaint through Ofcom's online complaint form.