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U.K. watchdog says up to £185 million could be paid to consumers for slow repairs, missed appointments.

Ofcom on Friday proposed that fixed-line customers should automatically receive compensation if they suffer from poor service.

Incidents that would entitle users to compensation – either in the form of cash or a credit on their bill – include when an engineer misses an appointment, when a voice or broadband service is not up and running on the day promised by the telco, or when a fault is not repaired quickly enough.

"When a customer’s landline or broadband goes wrong, that is frustrating enough without having to fight tooth and nail to get fair compensation from the provider," said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director, in a statement.

According to Ofcom, each year, 5.7 million fixed-line customers experience a loss of service, 250,000 scheduled engineer appointments are missed, and one in eight installations are delayed, affecting more than 1.3 million people.

Ofcom said that BT, Sky and Virgin Media have jointly drafted a voluntary code of practice that includes automatic compensation, but the watchdog said it does not go far enough to address its concerns.

Under Ofcom’s proposals, it would set the compensation payments, which would vary based on the degree of harm suffered by the end user.

For delayed repairs to loss-of-service faults, the customer would receive £10 per day that the fault is not fixed.

If an engineer misses a scheduled appointment, or gives less than 24 hours’ notice before cancelling it, the customer would be entitled to £30 compensation per missed appointment.

If a telco promises to have a new service up and running by a certain date, but fails to deliver on that promise, the customer would be entitled to £6 for each day of delay, including the missed start date.

"This would mean customers are properly compensated, while providers will want to work harder to improve their service," Fussell said.

Ofcom said its proposals would mean that up to 2.6 million additional landline customers would receive up to £185 million in new compensation payments per year.

In addition, Ofcom noted that around a third of SMEs sign up to residential fixed-line services, and proposed that telcos provide more information to SMEs up front about minimum service levels and any compensation they may be entitled to when problems occur.

The watchdog has launched a consultation on its proposals; interested parties have until 5 June to respond.

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