Phone sales code not broad enough

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am


Fierce competition in the market has prompted the use of aggressive and sometimes unscrupulous sales practices in promoting internet and mobile phone services. Customers are often persuaded to believe that what is on offer is too good to resist and therefore rush to make decisions which they may regret afterwards. The rising number of complaints against telecommunication operators has prompted the implementation of a voluntary code of practice giving a cooling-off period starting from this month.

This is a long overdue step to provide better protection for customers. Unfortunately, its scope is inadequate. The seven-day period only applies to contracts involving sales staff knocking on doors. Deals made in the street or in response to telephone cold calls are not covered. The explanation given by the telecoms watchdog Ofta is baffling. It argues that elderly people are more vulnerable when aggressive sales staff turn up at their homes in the evening, whereas customers who receive cold calls or are accosted on the street can choose to hang up or go away.

This narrow scope appears unjustified when complaints are on the rise. Last year, about a quarter of the 5,711 complaints against telecom operators were related to contractual disputes, up 54 per cent from 2009. Victims of such improper sales practices should be entitled to the same protection, regardless of how or where they have fallen prey. There is no place for pressure selling and misleading tactics. The rising complaint figures have made broader protection all the more important.

Our telecommunications industry enjoys a good reputation because of the quality of its services. It is to be hoped the new measures can bring about healthy development and boost public confidence. If the voluntary code, which is being adopted by 11 companies covering 98 per cent of the market, proves inadequate, one of broader scope with mandatory provisions should be considered.