Telecoms switchers baffled by pricing info, say MPs

In the dark over true costs

British punters are getting short-changed by telecoms companies because they struggle to get enough information to properly decide which tariff or deal to accept.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee found that removing price controls has made life worse for fixed line telecoms and utility customers.

Ofcom removed price controls on fixed line services in August 2006. It said at the time that competition was sufficient to safeguard consumers.

The PAC found that one in six telecoms customers struggled to find enough information to help them switch suppliers. The Committee found that a quarter of people who switched energy supplier actually ended up paying more - it urged Ofcom to find out if there is a similar problem with switching telecoms suppliers.

The Committee also recommends that Ofcom audits telecom companies redress and complaint procedures and do more to make sure the public is aware of such schemes.

For its part Ofcom said its own figures showed consumers were spending less on fixed-line services. Average household spending on communications was £93.63 per month in 2007 - a fall of £1.53 (1.6 per cent) on the average spend in 2006.

Ofcom also runs an accreditation scheme for price comparison sites which has approved two: www.simplifydigital.co.uk and www.broadbandchoices.co.uk.

The regulator is currently consulting on changes in the way it monitors quality of service and dispute resolution.

From December Ofcom is launching a voluntary code of practice for ISPs to provide better information on broadband speeds that users are likely to get rather than advertising based on the highest possible speeds the technology could achieve.

The full PAC report is available as a pdf here. ®

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