House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee inquiry into Digital Regulation
1. General comments
1.1 We welcome the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee inquiry into digital regulation. We have provided comments which are most relevant to the first two questions. As this inquiry progresses, we would be happy to provide further data and insights to the Committee that might be useful and to provide oral evidence if appropriate.
2. About Ombudsman Services
2.1 Ombudsman Services is a not-for-profit private limited company established in 2002 which runs a range of discrete national Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes across different sectors, including the sole ADR scheme in the energy sector, the Ofgem-approved Energy Ombudsman. We also operate in the communications sector and run an appeals service in private parking. In 2020 we received 160,024 initial contacts from complainants and resolved 65,668 disputes. In the energy sector we received 115,523 initial contacts and resolved 51,451 cases, and in the communications sector, we received 44,237 initial contacts and resolved 14,217 cases. We also received over 58,000 appeals in our private parking appeals service.
2.2 We operate at a critical juncture between suppliers, consumers and the government to resolve complaints and mediate disputes. Our work covers key areas of infrastructure, from smart meters and energy networks to 5G and fibre broadband. In order to streamline our work in the energy sector, we operate a tripartite model between ourselves, Ofgem and Citizens Advice. This enables clear communication and the sharing of data and insights to help deliver better innovation and competition that results in positive outcomes for consumers. This practice enables us to drive up standards in the industry by encouraging collaborative approaches to making improvements, managing expectations and informing policy.
2.3 We invest heavily in building this data and insights capability. Our focus has become more explicitly systemic and preventative as we have built up expertise in understanding where consumer trust is under threat and how best we can work with industry, regulators and policymakers to recover it.
3. Responses to questions
3.1 Digital technologies have transformed our economy, our society and our daily lives. They are now a fundamental part of our everyday existence - in work, at home, for our leisure and social activities and our interactions with essential services. It is going to be important to keep pace with the dramatic speed of technological change to ensure that benefits of digital technologies can be realised for consumers, the risks are minimised while also ensuring business can deliver digital services and innovate in this space. Digital services operate in different sectors and will impact consumers differently. There’s an opportunity to consider new and more agile regulatory frameworks and not just ‘drag and drop’ traditional ways of working.
Digital technologies and activities may need a particular regulatory approach. We think consumers should remain protected when they transition to new technologies and use new digital services and products.
3.2 For the Digital Regulation Co-operation Forum (DRCF) (comprising Ofcom, the Competition and Markets Authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Financial Conduct Authority) formed in 2020, there is still an opportunity to help inform and build a regulatory framework which considers how digital services cross traditional sector boundary lines and creates conditions for a joined-up approach.
3.3 Indeed, we think that it is important to consider how cross-sector working operates across different industry stakeholders. Digital markets will continue to transform society, bringing significant benefits to consumers, but the magnitude and pace of digital changes can also bring with them the risk of significant consumer harm. So we also think it is important to consider how stakeholders from regulation, consumer advocacy and redress can work together to identify gaps, and ensure positive consumer outcomes. As mentioned, we already operate with a tripartite model between Ofgem, Citizens Advice and ourselves to identifying gaps and challenges early, taking a preventative approach helping to influence and shape consumer outcomes.
22 August 2021