A deaf friend of mine who I will call Anna has given me permission to write about a recent experience she had with a mobile phone company. We hope this post will inspire more deaf and disabled people to make initial complaints about discriminatory and poor service.
Text access to companies is best but won’t always help
Like many deaf people, Anna prefers to use text communication methods like text messages (SMS), email and web chat when contacting companies. Unfortunately on this occasion the web-chat advisers said they were unable to assist with Anna’s issue even though other deaf people reported being able to use web-chat for identical issues with the same company.
Company refusing to take a relay or interpreted call from a deaf person
When Anna phoned up using Next Generation Text Relay (an official service provided by BT and mandated for by OfCom), several advisers refused to accept the call citing ‘data protection’. This meant Anna’s issue did not get resolved, wasted a lot of her time and caused her a lot of stress.
Anna looked up the company Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) email address at http://ceoemail.com. Anna wrote a complaint including the following information:
- The date and time of the web-chat and attempted relay calls so the company could trace any records they had.
- Brief details of the issue she had been trying to resolve.
- Names of the advisers she had spoken to and a summary of what each one of them had claimed. In this section Anna was clear that she felt the problem was caused by a company training issue or lack of policies on access for deaf customers rather than individual advisers as several gave the same data protection excuse.
- How much time Anna spent which was wasted.
- Why Anna felt she had been discriminated against because of her disability (deafness) and why this was not lawful under the Equality Act 2010.
- Quotations and links from the OfCom website [3rd item down] about it being unlawful and citing data protection not being a valid reason to refuse relay or interpreter assisted calls.
- A reminder that she had been a loyal customer of the company for many years but was considering moving to a competitor.
- Description of how the refusal of the company to deal with her issue by web-chat or take her call by relay had negatively impacted on Anna’s confidence, wellbeing and ability to manage her own affairs.
- A request for the company to reimburse Anna for her call costs and time as well as improving their staff training.
- Ending with a reminder that if the response was not satisfactory that Anna would not hesitate to escalate to the appropriate regulator. She asked for a response within a reasonable 10 working day timescale.
While Anna was very upset and angry, she kept her letter polite and formal throughout – avoiding angry words or bad language. She used a small part of her letter to describe how the discrimination had affected her and made her feel. The structure Anna used can be copied and adapted by anyone wanting to make an initial disability discrimination complaint to an organisation.
Other useful links about this issue are:
- Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) confirming in writing that data protection is not a valid excuse to the Telecoms Access Group (TAG) Newsletter.
- Equality Human Rights Commission (EHRC) publication called “What Equality Law means for your business“.
The purpose of this kind of letter is to give the organisation a chance to “put things right” as well as making sure that bad experiences are documented.
The company responded to Anna within 3 days with a somewhat scripted but actually good response from a named complaints handler called M who said:
- The complaint had been investigated and upheld which meant M on behalf of the company recognised there was a problem.
- The Company did have policies for dealing with disabled and deaf customers but in Anna’s case staff had clearly not followed them.
- Promised to investigate further to ensure the “problem” did not happen again.
- Apologised for poor service “not up to our usual high standard” (organisations avoid admitting to discrimination by framing it as poor service).
- Explained how M could resolve Anna’s outstanding service issue directly.
- Offered £50 compensation payment.
Anna responded to the Company to thank them for their prompt response, remind them that training their staff is a priority and that she would accept the £50 compensation.
Anna will also be keeping copies of her original complaint materials, letter and reply in case the organisation makes the same mistake again…
The Company responding in the way they did was the best possible outcome for themselves and Anna at this stage – once the obviously undesirable discrimination had happened.
Anna got her complaint on record with the Company, and gave them a chance to “put things right” by allowing them a chance to investigate and deal with short or long term issues. The payment of compensation is small but significant. The fact Anna has achieved this result is extremely useful if the Company discriminates against Anna again in future.
From the Company’s point of view, by acknowledging the problem (which Anna can clearly prove happened), dealing with immediate issues, stating that they do have a policy and will investigate why staff didn’t follow it and paying £50 compensation the Company have limited the legal risk to themselves in this instance. This is because their response would be seen to be “reasonable remedy” – no ombudsman, regulator or the courts would support Anna if she demanded any different outcome at this point.
Needing to make further complaints
I hope to write another post about what happens if discrimination keeps happening and further complaints have to be made soon.