The purpose of our code of practice
- Ofcom is the regulator for the telecommunications (or 'phone' as we will say here) industry.
- Ofcom has told companies who provide phone services ('phone companies') to produce a code of practice (which we will call a 'code'). The code will apply to phone companies who sell and market phone services to residential customers (also called consumers) or small businesses (defined by Ofcom as a business employing 10 or fewer employees). We, Plusnet, are one of these phone companies.
- Phone companies must produce a code to cover situations where a customer transfers their phone call service or phone line service (or both) from one phone company to another. An example is a transfer to or from us to another phone company.
- The transfer in question must be for the customer's ordinary fixed phone line, which is sometimes called a 'narrowband' or 'dial-up' line. This does not apply to transfers for mobile, cable or 'broadband' lines. Broadband is a high-speed connection to the internet through your phone line. With broadband, you can use your phone and internet at the same time. You cannot use your phone and internet at the same time with a narrowband line.
- All phone companies, including us, who supply these calls or lines must have their code in place, and keep to it, by 26 May 2005. Each code must reflect certain guidelines set by Ofcom ('Ofcom's guidelines'). However, phone companies can adopt other standards of behaviour on top of those set out by Ofcom. This is what we have done in our code.
- Ofcom has the power to take action against a phone company to enforce the code in cases where:
- a phone company has no code in place;
- a code does not properly reflect Ofcom's guidelines; or
- a phone company fails to keep to those parts of its code that reflect Ofcom's guidelines.
- This is our code.
- Our code sets out the standards of behaviour that we, our employees and other people acting on our behalf (called 'salespeople' here) will keep to in marketing and selling our phone services to our residential and small-business customers. This code applies to transferring customers' call services or lines (or both), as described in paragraph 3 above. Unlike other phone companies, our code also applies when we provide you with a new or extra phone line. Finally, our code applies when we provide you with a new broadband line, or transfer your existing broadband line to Plusnet.
- Our code sets the standard of behaviour you can expect from us whenever we contact you for sales or marketing purposes. This code also describes some of our internal procedures for recruiting and training salespeople (please see appendix 1 for details).
- Ofcom introduced the need for codes because, in its view, phone companies mis-selling fixed-line phone services is a significant problem in the UK. Ofcom felt that the previous protection (in 2004) was not good enough. There is no legal definition of 'mis-selling'. In general terms, Plusnet and other companies understand mis-selling to refer to sales and marketing practices that are misleading, deceitful or where the phone company applies too much pressure on you to transfer. Most people agree that these practices are unacceptable, and most of them are illegal.
- One of the worst types of mis-selling is 'slamming'. Slamming happens when another phone company places an order to transfer your phone calls service or your line (or both) to themselves without your knowledge or permission. Ofcom takes this practice very seriously. We are allowed to cancel transfer orders if our customers believe that they have been slammed.
- As well as slamming, there are other types of mis-selling. For example, a phone company could make exaggerated claims about the savings you could make if you transfer to them. Or, a phone company could apply too much pressure on you to transfer, or even mislead you about their relationship with another phone company. To reduce the chance of you becoming a victim of mis-selling, you may find it helpful to refer to the tips in appendix 2.
- Most mis-selling in the UK arises from transferring call services over narrowband lines, or transferring the lines themselves, from us to other phone companies. The phone services industry has set processes in the UK that apply to these transfers. The processes have not stopped the growth of mis-selling. Fortunately, most phone companies treat their customers and potential customers fairly and honestly. However, some phone companies, and salespeople working for otherwise trustworthy phone companies, do not.
- We take mis-selling very seriously. We are working with Ofcom and the rest of the industry to reduce the mis-selling of phone services.
- We have extended our code to cover broadband and decided that our code should cover not only customer transfers but extra and new lines as well.
- Our code is set out in detail below. We pride ourselves on meeting all the standards placed on us, whether these are legal, set by Ofcom or internal processes. We will regularly review our processes and systems, and the performance of our salespeople, to make sure that we continue to do the things we say we will. If you would like to comment on the code, or our complaints procedure, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, you can write to us at Customer Services Director, Plusnet, The Balance, 2 Pinfold Street, Sheffield, S1 2GU.
Recruiting and training our sales people
- We take great care in making sure that we recruit the right salespeople. In many respects, they are the public face of Plusnet. It is very important to us that you have confidence in them, and that they treat you fairly and politely. So, we take all necessary steps to make sure that our salespeople are straight talking and respectful. When we allow other companies we work with to promote and sell our services to you, we make sure that they have the same qualities. As you would expect, as a minimum we make thorough checks on everyone who applies to become a salesperson with us.
- Once we are happy we have the right salespeople, we make sure that they have all the training and briefing they need, to give you all the information you need. As well as providing initial training, we provide updates and refreshers for our salespeople. These give them information on a whole range of issues, such as our latest products and services, new legal requirements, how we deal with complaints and, of course, new codes of practice.
- We recognise that these are parts of our business that you don't normally see. If you would like more details about how we recruit and train our salespeople, please see appendix 1.
- Most of our contact with customers, especially with residential customers, takes place over the phone. However, you may contact us in other ways. You can look at the products and services featured on our website at http://www.plus.net/ and order on-line. And, of course, there may be circumstances in which we meet you face-to-face.
A. Phone Calls
- If we call you, we will let you know who we are at the beginning of the call. We will also let you know why we are calling. If you do not want us to continue, we will of course end the call immediately. We will also take care not to abuse the trust of potentially vulnerable customers by making sales presentations to them.
- We will give you accurate descriptions of the services we are promoting. We will explain the main details and the price (including extra charges) of the services. In some cases, we may also refer to the services offered by phone companies that compete with us. If so, the information will be factual. Any comparisons we make will be fair and unbiased.
- We will of course be happy to answer any questions you may have.
- If you show an interest in any of the services we are offering, we will let you know about any cancellation rights that may apply. If you are a residential customer, you will be able to cancel without charge at any time up until we provide the service. If you are a business customer, you can usually cancel up until we provide the service. However, you may have to pay us any costs for the work that we have done in preparing to provide the service.
- We will let you know when you are making a contract with us. By law, contracts do not need to be signed (or even made in writing). So, in many cases, when you order a phone service over the phone and we agree to provide it, a contract is made between us there and then which we must both keep to.
B. On-line at www.plus.net
- You will be able to access the same range of information as described above. If you order a phone service from us, we will send you an acknowledgement quickly.
i Residential customers
- If you are a residential customer, there may be some limited situations in which you have face-to-face contact with us for sales and marketing purposes. However, please note that it is not our current policy to promote and sell our services to residential customers by visiting your home when you have not asked us to. This is sometimes called 'doorstepping' or 'doorstep selling'. We think that, unless you have agreed to a visit from us, it is not appropriate for us to visit you. We are trying to persuade the rest of the phone industry to take this view too. So, please be wary if anyone visiting your home offers you phone services and claims to be from or linked to us.
- However, you can rest assured that if we do visit you, we will take appropriate steps to make sure that you can be certain that the salesperson represents us, and that they will deal with you in a professional way. We will take reasonable steps to keep ourselves informed of any local authority or password schemes that relate to doorstep selling. We will also take care not to abuse the trust of potentially vulnerable customers by making sales presentations to them.
- We will not visit you before 8am or after 8pm, unless you have asked us to.
- Each of our representatives will have an identity badge. This will show his or her name and the name of their company. The badge will also show a photograph of the representative. This information will be displayed clearly (and can be provided in Braille if you ask).
- If the timing of the visit is not convenient, or if at any stage you want to end the discussion, we will of course leave your home immediately.
- We will give you an accurate description of our phone services. We will explain the main details and the price (including extra charges) of our services. In some cases, we may also refer to services offered by phone companies that compete with us. If so, the information will be factual. Any comparisons we make will be fair and unbiased.
- We will of course be happy to answer any questions you may have.
- If you show an interest in any of the phone services we are offering, we will let you know about any cancellation rights that may apply. As a residential customer, you will be able to cancel without charge at any time up until we provide the service. You may also have the legal right to change your mind up until about seven days after we have visited you.
ii Business customers
- For business customers, we believe that visits from other traders promoting their services are a normal part of everyday business. So, we may visit our customers' business premises to promote our phone services without making an appointment. If we do this, we will apply the same standards of behaviour as we would for our residential customers.
- As a business customer, you can usually cancel your contract up until we provide the phone service. You may have to pay us any costs for the work that we have done in preparing to provide the phone service.
Entering into contracts
- As we have explained above, by law, contracts do not have to be signed or even made in writing. Standard terms and conditions (called 'conditions' here) apply to all the phone services we provide for residential customers. You should be aware that a contract can be made without you having to fill in an order form or sign a contract (although if you order online, we may ask you to confirm that you accept the relevant conditions).
- For business customers, in many cases you will have to fill in an order form and sign a contract. We will make sure that any forms you have to sign are straightforward. We will also make sure that the purpose of each form is clear to you. In particular, any forms that are part of a contract will contain clear wording to tell you this (next to the signature box, if any).
- If someone wants to enter into a contract with us, we will take reasonable steps to make sure that they are 18 or over. If the contract in question is to transfer a phone service to Plusnet, we will try to get confirmation that the person we are dealing with is either the account holder or someone authorised to make the order.
- When you enter into a contract with us, we will let you know how you can use any cancellation rights that you may have.
- You can get a copy of many of our conditions at http://www.plus.net/terms/. You can find details of our services at http://www.plus.net/.
- 'Preference' services allow you to say that you do not want to be contacted by certain organisations offering you certain services or goods by, for example, phone, fax or post. We will of course respect your wishes if you have registered for the telephone preference service, the mailing preference service or the fax preference service. In each case, if we do not have your permission to contact you, we will not do so for marketing purposes. Also, we will not send you marketing emails if you have told us that you do not want to receive them.
- Our advertising will be legal, decent, honest and truthful. It will meet the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, which is managed by the Advertising Standards Authority. It will also meet the Radio Advertising Standards Code and the TV Advertising Standards Code. Finally, as one of the founder members of the Direct Marketing Association, we will meet their Direct Marketing Code of Practice.
Transferring calls and narrowband lines
- As we explained in paragraph 9, these transfers to and from Plusnet will follow set processes in the phone industry (which also apply to transfers between other phone companies). We will of course follow these processes carefully. If you transfer from Plusnet, we will send you a standard email confirming the transfer. We have agreed the content of this letter with Ofcom and the industry. You will also receive correspondence from the phone company which you are transferring to. Our email will also include a Plusnet number for you to ring if you believe you have been slammed (see paragraph 11).
- If you transfer to Plusnet, we will send you an email within five days of accepting your order. The email will include details of the phone service and the lines to be transferred. It will also include the estimated date for providing the service. You should also be aware that under the industry-agreed process, you are allowed to cancel your order without charge up until shortly before the transfer is due to take place. This right applies no matter whether you are a residential customer or a business customer. This right is separate from any legal rights you may have to cancel.
Our legal responsibilities
- Finally, we will keep to all our legal responsibilities that apply to sales and marketing. The law is there to protect you. In appendix 3, we have put together some answers to frequently asked questions about rights and responsibilities. These of course apply no matter which phone company has contacted you. So, just in case you become a victim of misselling, you may find this information helpful. However, this information is provided for general background purposes only. You should get your own legal advice where necessary.
- We will do everything we can to follow our code at all times. However, despite our best efforts, things can sometimes go wrong. If they do, we want to know so we can put them right as quickly as possible. So, if you have a complaint about our sales or marketing activity, please call us on the appropriate number:
- If you are a residential customer, please phone 0800 432 0200
- If you are a business customer, please phone 0845 002 0170 or 0114 296 5182
- If you prefer to put your complaint in writing, please address it to the Customer Services Director, Plusnet plc, The Balance, 2 Pinfold Street, Sheffield, S1 2GU. We will normally respond to your letter by phone. We will gladly confirm any particular points in writing, if you want us to.
- Our customer service advisers will aim to deal with your complaint as quickly as possible. If you are not happy with the way we have handled your complaint, please ask to speak to the manager. The manager will review it and try to sort out the matter.
- You can see details of our Complaint Resolution Procedure at http://www.plus.net/support/customer_service/contact_us/code_of_practice.shtml#12
Appendix 1 - Recruitment and training
We take the recruitment of salespeople very seriously. As well as keeping to current employment law, we check the following when recruiting new salespeople.
- Behaviour and appearance.
- Any criminal offences (through a basic disclosure certificate).
- Photographic proof of identity.
- Qualifications (where necessary).
- Proof of entitlement to work in the UK.
- Proof of National Insurance number.
- Proof of address and written references from the last two employers
We keep our salespeople's sales records (including all recordings and notes on sales) for at least six months, even if they leave.
Also, if any of our salespeople leave us, we will take items such as identification badges from them, and remove their access to our systems.
All reward and payment systems for our salespeople are documented and are designed to encourage responsible and ethical sales practices.
All of our salespeople receive thorough training to make them aware of our range of products and services, and to make sure they know about our legal responsibilities. Everyone dealing with sales and marketing receives appropriate training. In our customer support centre, there are also regular briefings and refresher training to provide updates. This training includes:
- product knowledge;
- available tools and internal systems;
- call handling and customer service skills;
- regulatory compliance.
Appendix 2 Tips on how to avoid mis-selling
This code outlines the high standards that you can expect from us when marketing and selling our fixed-line phone services. Unfortunately, some phone companies, and salespeople working for otherwise trustworthy phone companies, may not treat their customers and potential customers as fairly and honestly as we do.
To help you avoid becoming the victim of mis-selling and other dishonest sales practices here are some tips.
If a salesperson visits you at home
- Ask to see the salesperson's identity card and make a note of his or her name and the company they represent.
- Call the company concerned if you're not sure to confirm the identity of the salesperson.
- Tell the salesperson if you don't want to hear about their offer, and don't invite them in if you don't want to.
- Don't sign anything if you don't want to, or be pressurised if the offer is only available if you sign up immediately.
- If you do agree to something, be careful about what forms you are given to sign be certain that you are only signing for the service that you want.
- Ask how the savings being claimed are worked out and what calls of the type you make will cost.
- If you are a residential customer, make sure you get a written notice telling you about your right to cancel.
- Make it clear whether you are accepting or refusing the offer.
If a salesperson phones you
- Make a note of the salesperson's name and the company he or she represents, and the time and date of the call.
- Ask the caller to be very precise about what savings he or she claims you will make ask how the savings are worked out and what calls of the type you make will cost.
- Don't give out your bank account details to confirm your identity.
- Be careful giving out your bank account details over the phone unless you are certain who you are dealing with and why they need the details (for example, paying by direct debit).
- If you just want information on products, services or call costs, say so clearly and never give out your bank account details. Phone companies should give you details of their service, without you having to order anything.
- Make it very clear whether you are accepting or refusing the salesperson's offer.
Appendix 3 Questions and answers about your general legal rights
The questions and answers below relate to issues that may arise in selling and marketing fixed-line phone services. They apply no matter which phone company has contacted you. So, just in case you become a victim of mis-selling, you may find this information helpful. However, it is provided for general background purposes only. You should get your own legal advice where necessary.
1. Can a contract be made without me signing anything?
Yes. Contracts can be and are often made over the phone, face-to-face or on-line without you having to sign anything.
2. Do I have to be given any information before I enter into a contract?
Only if you are a consumer (residential customer), and have had no face-to-face contact with the phone company (for example, if a contract is made over the phone or on-line). Then, the phone company must give you some important information before you enter into a contract. This includes a description of the phone service, the price, your right to cancel and any minimum term that applies. Most of this information has to be confirmed in writing.
3. When do I have a right to cancel?
If you are a consumer (residential customer), you will normally have a legal right to cancel without charge unless the contract was made at the phone company's normal business premises. The cancellation period will normally be for 7 calendar days or 7 working days, depending on how and where the contract was made. You have no such legal rights as a business customer. However, under industry-agreed processes, both consumers and business customers have the right to cancel without charge up until shortly before the transfer is due to take place, when transferring calls or narrowband lines to or from Plusnet. Clearly, this may be very significant for business customers.
4. Can the terms and conditions apply if I haven't seen them?
Yes. You may often have an opportunity to see the terms and conditions before entering into a contract, but they may still apply even if you don't.
5. Am I bound by all the terms and conditions in a phone company's standard contract?
Not necessarily. Just because a condition is included does not automatically mean that the phone company will be able to rely on it. Some conditions may be challenged because they are 'unfair'. There are many types of condition that may be considered to be unfair in consumer contracts. The scope for unfairness in business contracts is considerably less.