ANACOM establishes rules governing responses by operators to customer complaints

ANACOM (Autoridade Nacional de Comunicações) has defined requirements to be fulfilled by operators  in their responses to complaints addressed to them by customers through complaint books (physical or electronic), as from 1 July. The aim is to ensure an improvement in quality in operator responses to complaints, enhancing consumer rights.

With this decision, ANACOM will correct some of the practices currently employed among operators receiving most complaints as regards fulfilment of the legal obligation to respond to complaints submitted through complaint books; under the law, a response much be given in writing and within 15 working days, counted from the date of the complaint. However, in several cases, ANACOM found that responses to complaints were mere formalities, devoid of relevant content as to resolution of the situations giving rise to the complaint, and so undermining the rights of users of communications services.

In particular, in responses to complaints, it has been found that operators often: (a) only note that the complaint will be examined, without explaining the steps that will be taken and without indicating a time-frame for a response; (b) only note that the complaint has been resolved, without saying when, how and under what terms this resolution was reached; (c) fail to address all the problems reported by the user making the complaint; (d) fail to clearly set out the steps taken by the service provider, without explaining the grounds on which resolution of the complaint was based.

Under the requirements now set by ANACOM, operators must respond to complaints using clear and easily understood language and must provide information that is complete, specific and substantiated.

These requirements introduce confidence in the communications market by instilling greater transparency and legal certainty in the response to complaints, both for users and operators, as well as enhancing the exercise of ANACOM's oversight functions, making information on the matters giving rise to complaints available with greater speed and accuracy.

It should also be noted that these requirements represent the minimum standards of quality to which responses should adhere; operators are not prevented from further improving the quality of their complaint handling procedures, for example by responding to complaints within a shorter time frame or using other agile and fast means to resolve issues.

While the law sets out that responses to complaints presented through complaint books cannot be verbal only, in ANACOM's view, the resolution of complaints by telephone or by other means is not prohibited by law or by this decision, where operators deem this the most efficient and effective form of response. However, operators are still required to provide a complete, specific and substantiated response in writing to the complaint submitted.

In its decision, ANACOM also recommends that, whenever the response is wholly or partially unfavourable to the complainant 's position, operators include information in their responses on the right of the complainant to use out-of-court mechanisms for the settlement of disputes, the respective contact information and information on conditions of access. It is important that users obtain this information in the context in which it is most useful, and it is in the best interest of the market that disputed between operators and their customers are settled by third parties.

In this respect, ANACOM has established that this information is also given on customer bills (draft decision determining the minimum detail of information which operators must include in bills made available free of charge to customers requesting detailed information – under public consultation until 3 July).