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Home / News / Eir fined €7,500 over complaints regulations breaches

Eir fined €7,500 over complaints regulations breaches

A court has heard telecoms company Eir employed a deliberate policy aimed at preventing customers from logging complaints.

District Court Judge Anthony Halpin branded the company “a disgrace” and said it should apologise to its staff, who were threatened with disciplinary action if they did not adhere to the policy.

Eir was today fined €7,500 after pleading guilty to 12 counts of breaching regulations governing how complaints should be handled by providers.

The telecoms regulator ComReg told the court its investigation uncovered a training manual where staff were told not to process complaints unless customers used certain “trigger words” which indicated they were aware of their rights or aware of regulations.

Customers who did not use the words or phrases were simply left with unresolved complaints or promised a call back.

Legal representatives for Eir apologised to the customers in question and offered to make a donation of €20,000 to charity but Judge Halpin said it was not a suitable case for a charitable donation and imposed fines totaling €7,500.

The judge said the company should also apologise to its staff, who had been threatened with disciplinary action if they complied with Irish law.

The judge said he could not believe what he was seeing in the training manual which he believed could not have been reviewed by the company’s legal department because that section would have “stood out”.

Barrister Shelley Horan told the court that ComReg had carried out an investigation and discovered that the company had made a deliberate decision to handle complaints in a manner that had the effect of preventing customers from logging a complaint.

ComReg compliance manager Michelle O’Donnell told the court it had received a number of complaints from Eir customers alleging they were unable to make a complaint or that complaints remained unacknowledged or unresolved for several weeks or months. She outlined regulations which dictate that complaints must be dealt with within certain time frames and that customers must be given unique numbers, transferred to a complaints line or section of the website along with other obligations. These had not been complied with, she said.

As part of the investigation in January 2023 a “complaints management manual” was discovered which had in a red box: “Under no circumstances are the complaints number or complaints webpage address to be provided to any customer. An agent found to be doing this will be subject to a disciplinary under call avoidance.”

Another part of the manual suggested that complaints should only be progressed if customers used certain trigger words or phrases including “I want a reference for ComReg” or “I want to log a formal complaint”.

If the customer merely said “I want to complain” or “I want a supervisor” the complaint was not progressed in line with regulations and customers were sometimes offered a call back.

Ms O’Donnell said Eir was in breach of the regulations by not allowing customers to make a complaint at the first point of contact, not providing a complaint number or response within two days, not resolving complaints within ten days or if not resolved providing the customer with an email address. She said in the ten cases before the court today, customers had to contact the company numerous times and promised callbacks did not take place. She said the complaints in these cases were only resolved after ComReg intervened.

Asked to give an example of the consequences of Eir’s policy she said in one case a customer wanted to complain that her mobile phone was dropping calls. A local engineer had told her there was a problem with a mast. After setting up a community Facebook page she discovered others were having similar problems.

Over the course of six months she made 13 calls to eircom, sent five emails and contacted them eight times through social media. On multiple occasions she requested a complaints number but was told she did not need one and there was nothing wrong with the mast.

As a result of not being able to make a 999 call for medical attention, she had to drive her daughter to A&E, the court heard. She was also unable to take delivery of a C-Pap machine (which assists with breathing) for her father because the delivery person could not contact her. Ms O Donnell said the woman’s father ended up in hospital as a result.

Counsel for Eir Hugh McDowell said he was instructed to apologise to the customers, to the court and to ComReg for the failings. He said that since these breaches were identified Eir had taken immediate action to improve compliance. Additional training and staff had been put in place and the complaints team now review the log on a daily basis, he said.

Mr McDowell also said that over the two years covered by the summonses before the court, the company received 4.6 million calls to customer care and there had been a general downward trend of complaints since then.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic had an effect in that many staff members were working from home and were not as amenable to training and instruction. There had been significant improvements since then, he said.

He said that in January and February this year Eir had 402,000 calls to customer care and only 58 from ComReg, the lowest ever received. He said Eir had also paid €10,000 to cover ComReg’s legal costs.

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