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Virgin Media O2 is the most complained about UK telecoms operator across the board, but the regulator is blaming itself, at least in part.
January 26, 2024
Ofcom's new customer complaints figures show that Virgin Media clocked up significantly more complaints than its rivals in the landline, fixed broadband and pay TV markets in the July-September period, while its O2 arm was the most complained about it mobile, admittedly by only a small margin.
Virgin Media is perennially at the wrong end of the table for regulatory complaints in the fixed market, but the latest data marks a new low. Ofcom received 32 complaints per 100,000 customers for Virgin Media in the fixed broadband space during the period in question, compared with 18 for the next worst performer NOW Broadband and just five for Sky at the top of the table. It was a similar story in the landline sector (see charts), while in the TV market Virgin Media received twice as many complaints as the other three competitors together.
However, Ofcom reminds us that in July it announced it was investigating Virgin Media's business practices, specifically with reference to customers' difficulties leaving the operator and problems with the way it handled complaints.
"We acknowledge that this announcement could have prompted more customers to complain to us about Virgin Media, and that this could have been a contributing factor in its complaints volumes for the quarter covered by this report," Ofcom said.
Indeed, its data shows that complaints made against Virgin Media were mainly around how the telco handled customer complaints.
"The launch of our investigation into Virgin Media in July, looking at difficulty cancelling and complaints handling, has led to more customers coming forward to share their experiences with us," added Fergal Farragher, Ofcom's Consumer Protection Director. "Our investigation continues and updates will be published on our website," he said.
While there clearly is a reason for Virgin Media's performance in this Ofcom report, let's not waste too much sympathy on the operator. It's unlikely that its customers have complained to Ofcom merely because the investigation prompted them to think of doing such a thing. Surely it's likely that disgruntled customers who might otherwise have suffered in silence have made the effort to complain because they now believe something might actually come of it.
So, rather than Virgin Media's data being artificially inflated, it's actually more likely that its rivals' numbers are. Virgin Media is quite possibly giving us a truer picture than the broader Ofcom data suggests.
Overall, complaints to the regulator about landline, fixed broadband and pay TV services were up by low single digits per 100,000 compared with the previous quarter, while pay monthly mobile complaints were virtually flat.
"The slight increase in complaints on the previous quarter shows that providers must continue to focus on improving customer service," said Farragher.
Given what we have just seen from Virgin Media, there's more than a slight hint of stating the obvious in that statement.
Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.
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