THE ICSTIS CODE OF PRACTICE - DRAFT EIGHTH EDITION

Commentary and discussion

Introduction - ICSTIS and the Code of Practice

ICSTIS, the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services, regulates the content and promotion of premium rate telephone services (PRS). It is a non-profit making regulatory body funded by the industry.

Set up in 1986, ICSTIS is responsible for setting and reviewing standards relating to the content and promotion of premium rate services through its Code of Practice. It investigates public complaints, monitors services, recommends measures to achieve compliance with the Code and publishes information relating to its work. ICSTIS consists of a Committee of ten members which adjudicates on cases and sets policy for the regulation of premium rate services. The Committee is supported by a full time Secretariat.

ICSTIS implements two codes of practice. The ICSTIS Code of Practice sets out the regulations for the advertising and content of all premium rate services, live and recorded. The ICSTIS Live Conversation Services Code of Practice, or 'Live Code', sets out additional rules relating solely to live premium rate services. Committee decisions about complaints are reported in the ICSTIS Monthly Report.

The Code of Practice is now in its seventh edition. This was published in May 1995. The fast rate of change in the industry means that the provisions of the Code need to be kept under review.

The current review of the Code has been carried out for a number of reasons: there has been a proliferation of new services operating at different tariffs, a build-up of important Committee case and policy decisions, and a need to incorporate the results of a number of different premium rate sector reviews into the Code. Requests for change and clarification have also been received from the industry and consumer groups.

How the Code review is being conducted

Work on the Code started with the formation of a Code Working Party, made up of four Committee members. All recommendations for changing the Code made since publication of the seventh edition were considered in detail. These came from the industry, consumer groups and from the Committee.

Consultative meetings were held with service providers, network operators and consumer groups to listen to their ideas and thoughts on the content and presentation of the new Code. The draft Code was prepared incorporating this work, as well as the results of reviews into the competition and virtual chat services sectors

The next stage of the review is to obtain comments from a wide range of sources, including the industry, government, other regulators and consumer organisations. The consultation will run until 10 October 1997. The results will then be collated, discussed by the Committee and incorporated into the eighth edition of the Code, which will be published in December. It is intended that the new Code will come into effect in January 1998, giving service providers time to amend any services which need to be changed to meet the requirements of the new rules.

How to read the draft Code

This draft looks quite different from the last edition. However, much of the change is a result of redrafting to clarify the current provisions, rather than substantive change to the meaning of the Code. This editing aims to enable newcomers to the industry to easily understand ICSTIS' requirements. Furthermore, it should also assist current industry members when designing or operating new services.

One of the main messages that came out of the industry meetings was that service providers wanted as much guidance as possible on how to interpret the Code. It was also requested that the Code be made easier to read with the introduction of page numbers and an index. (NB An index is not included in the draft Code but will be when the finalised Code is published in December.)

The Code has been divided into a more logical sequence than previous editions. The introduction, which outlines the scope of the Code, is followed by a set of administrative provisions. These relate to the operation of services as well as the steps which must be taken prior to setting up a service. General provisions, applicable to all services, and those relating specifically to the promotion and content of services come next, followed by the particular categories of service which require additional measures. Information on ICSTIS' procedures and sanctions is given at the end.

In this draft Code, the paragraph number relating to the equivalent paragraph in the previous (seventh) edition is given in brackets and underlined after each provision. This will help readers to see the origin of the new provision. Changes which affect the meaning of the provision are shown in italics. Sections which have been removed have been shown struck out. Minor changes in wording which do not affect meaning but improve clarity are not indicated.

In the following section of this document, the draft Code is set out on the left-hand page with a corresponding commentary, highlighting key points, on the right-hand page. Any additional policy issues on which the Committee would like comments are also set out in the commentary alongside the relevant Code provisions. These have been raised in the form of questions and appear in bold type.

Respondents are also encouraged to comment on the unchanged sections of the Code as well as the overall order and presentation.

Commentary to the ICSTIS Code of Practice draft eighth edition - August 1997

1. The redrafted introduction brings ICSTIS' terms of reference to the beginning of the Code. It goes on to cover the scope of the Code and makes reference to all the documents which service providers should be aware of before operating services, including the Code of Practice for Live Conversation Services and any relevant guidelines. Definitions of all the main terms used within the Code are also given.

1.4.1 The definition of a premium rate service has been amended to make clear that 'pay for product services' are included. Pay for product services are services which enable the caller to pay for a product or service via the telephone bill.

There have been some discussions about the introduction of new tariffs which would enable the growth of these services. This has prompted discussions with the industry on whether the Code should contain additional consumer safeguards for these services. Work in this area is ongoing and will be reported in due course.

2.2 This contains information about the Code and services that service providers need to know before setting up a service. This includes the requirement for service providers to give ICSTIS information about the numbers a company will be operating and the name of the person to contact in the event of any problems.

QUESTION 1

2.2.5 From time to time decisions about cases setting new precedents, or the need to give service providers information about procedural matters, has resulted in the issuing of guidelines. These guidelines are not binding on the Committee or the industry but are intended to be helpful to the industry in showing how the Codes might be interpreted in certain circumstances. 'Live Premium Rate Services ­ Guidelines for Applicants' is an example of this, as are the new guidelines on the legality of competition services. However, the Committee has not fully co-ordinated the publication of these guidelines before now. Some service providers have requested that these guidelines are more readily available to avoid the possibility of Code breaches occurring.

Two examples of how these guidelines might look are given in Annex A.

A full list of the guidelines, and which versions are in use, will be made available in each ICSTIS Monthly Report, on the ICSTIS website and from the Secretariat. As and when new guidelines are issued, or old ones altered, a notice will appear in the Monthly Report and on the website. It is hoped that the industry will find this a useful step forward and comments on the idea are requested.

2.3 In all ICSTIS documents, the word 'approval' has been changed to 'permission'. This change has been made to avoid giving the impression that ICSTIS endorses a particular service.

2.3.1 This provision has been expanded to explain that the different categories of service requiring prior permission will be published as an ICSTIS Guideline (see Annex A). The provision also makes clear that additional conditions may be applied when permission is given.

QUESTION 2

The ICSTIS prior permission service began in 1994 with the introduction of the £1.50 per minute tariff. From time to time there has been debate about whether a charge should be made for this service. To date, charges have not been made for the work involved in granting prior permission, even though in some instances this has been very time-consuming. The Committee now requests comments on whether some of the costs of the prior permission service should be met by service providers, particularly if the time spent processing an application is above average. Comments are also requested on how a payment system, if appropriate, might work.

2.4 The Code Working Party looked in some detail at data protection issues, particularly with regard to Calling Line Identification (CLI). However, at present there appears to be no need for a Code change because developments in this area do not currently appear to impact on premium rate services. However, further developments will be followed closely.

2.5 The requirements regarding replacement of services on the same numbers (paragraphs 1.3.6 and 1.4.6, seventh edition) have been combined and put in this section. It states that services should not be replaced by services which are inappropriate or might give offence to people expecting the original service. An extreme example of this might be if a children's service was replaced with a sexual service.

3.2 Premium rate services can be advertised in media other than print publications. To reflect this, specific guidance is given for certain media. Premium rate services are now frequently advertised on the Internet so it has been added to the list of non-print media.

3.3 This section alerts service providers to the fact that they may have to abide by other Codes depending on the medium in which they are promoting their service.

3.6.1b The word 'improper' has been changed to 'unfair' because the Committee felt that this was more appropriate to the intention of the provision. 'Improper' was felt to be too high a test.

QUESTION 3

3.7.2 This provision of the Code, which exempts services costing less than 50 pence from giving pricing information, has worked well since its introduction, giving service providers more freedom when promoting these low-cost services. However, since the publication of the seventh edition of the Code, two types of service have caused problems with pricing awareness and comments are requested as to whether they should be excepted from the scope of this paragraph because of the consumer harm that the omission of pricing information has caused:

1. Practical joke services. These are recorded services which people are duped into calling. They are promoted by word of mouth, answerphone, fax machine or leaflet and invite people to call a telephone number as a matter of urgency. Callers are then greeted by a voice-activated message which, in the majority of cases, misleads callers into believing that they are having a live, conversation, the content of which has, on occasion, been distressing. These services often last less than a minute, so no pricing information has to be given in the promotion. This adds to the deception on which these services rely.

2. Competitions which encourage repeat calling. An example of this would be a competition in which the thousandth caller wins. Callers hoping to win sometimes call the number repeatedly, unaware of the high cumulative costs they are incurring.

QUESTION 4

3.7.3 The current Code requires promotions in television programme time to give spoken pricing information. However, concerns have been raised about the prominence of pricing information in paid-for advertisements. It is therefore suggested that all television promotions, both in programme time and in paid- for advertisements, should give spoken pricing information.

Comments are requested on the feasibility of this and whether there could be alternative methods of increasing the prominence of pricing information in paid-for advertisements in particular.

3.8.1, The requirement for naming the country of termination for international services

3.8.2 has been removed. However, a new provision has been added requiring that a statement appears on the promotional material making it clear that an international call is involved. The reason for this is that the names of some of the countries where these numbers terminate might be unfamiliar to the general public. It was felt that a general statement indicating that the call is an international one, would be of more use to the consumer. For the avoidance of doubt, this does not exempt service providers from the requirement to give call cost information.

3.8.3 During the initial consultation carried out with the industry, service providers emphasised that they would like to have as much contact with their callers as possible. This has been reflected in this provision using the phrase "so that customers can contact them directly". The provision has also been widened to allow a helpline number to be given instead of an address.

The Code previously contained an option to allow PO Boxes to be used. However, experience has shown that this can be abused and there have been cases where the PO Box has been false or has proved to be an ineffective way of making direct contact with services providers. The Committee is proposing to remove this option but would welcome further comments.

3.8.4 Some promotions for services are intended to stay in use for long periods. Over time, the call charges for the number may change from the one stated in the promotion. In cases where this occurs, service providers will now be required to put a statement at the beginning of the service informing callers of the new rate(s). This codifies current practice.

3.10c This paragraph, which was originally put in place to combat a particular type of competition service which encouraged fraud/unauthorised use, has been amended so that it does not preclude 'pay for product' type services.

3.11 This paragraph has been removed because it is felt that this issue is better dealt with under the delay/misleading provisions (3.10b/3.6.1a).

4.1 The Committee considered lowering the age limit from 18 to 16. A number of representations have been made over the life of the current Code to the effect that it was no longer appropriate to apply the restrictions of the children's services section to 16 to 18-year-olds in particular. References have been made to codes and regulation in other media sectors which fix an age limit at 16.

4.1.1.a Having given careful consideration to the age limit which should be fixed the Committee takes the view that it should remain at 18 largely because this is the age limit below which it is not possible to enter into a telephone service contract.

4.1.1.b The Committee is mindful of the comments and representations which have been made and proposes to review and clarify the way in which it will determine which services fall into the category of children's services and are, therefore, bound by the provisions of this section of the Code. In determining which services are "aimed at or would reasonably be anticipated to be particularly attractive to persons under 18 years of age", the Committee will take a number of factors into account.

In the past the Committee has relied heavily on the readership/viewership figures of the publication/medium in which a service was promoted to determine whether or not the publication, and therefore the service, was aimed at children. Paragraphs 4.1.1c and d have now been removed and the Committee's new approach extends the range of factors beyond this. The Committee proposes to work to a new set of criteria, which will be published as an ICSTIS Guideline, as follows:

"The following is a list of the factors which will be taken into account

when the Committee is assessing whether a service is a children's

service for the purposes of paragraph 4.1.1b of the ICSTIS Code:

attractiveness to children,

None of these factors will be taken in isolation.

The Committee is of the view that this approach ensures appropriate safeguards for the most vulnerable users of premium rate services while allowing it to take account of a broader range of relevant factors in determining what should be considered as a children's service. This will enable a more pragmatic and targeted application of these important provisions of the Code.

4.2 Research and consultation has been carried out with regard to premium rate telephone competitions, resulting in two documents: Premium Rate Telephone Competitions in the UK: An ICSTIS Consultation Document (June 1996) and a follow-up Statement (December 1996). The main areas of enquiry focused on fair play, the amount of revenue generated by such competitions and legality. Many detailed and helpful submissions were received in response to the two documents. The provisions set out below represent the Committee's final proposals for regulation in this area.

4.2.1 ICSTIS has looked carefully at the legal status of many premium rate competitions. The Committee acknowledges that there are substantial grey areas and that ICSTIS is not the appropriate forum in which to decide the complex questions of law which could arise in many cases. However, ICSTIS believes that there are certain competitions which are without doubt unlawful and which have the potential to cause serious consumer harm. ICSTIS is of the view that it should continue with its practice of referring apparently illegal services to the police. In addition, ICSTIS intends to adopt a new policy in respect of potentially illegal services, where there is no doubt as to legality and potential serious harm. No amendments to the Code will be necessary. This policy will not be implemented until the new Code of Practice comes into force.

1. In cases in which ICSTIS is given clear, expert legal advice that a service appears to be plainly illegal and has the potential for serious harm, it will raise a breach of the Code with the service provider. If, following receipt of the service provider's response to the alleged breach of the Code, ICSTIS receives expert legal advice that there remains no doubt that the service is illegal, ICSTIS will proceed to adjudicate in accordance with the Code. ICSTIS will also notify the police of the service.

2. If there appears to ICSTIS to be a breach which is serious but in respect of which ICSTIS, on the basis of expert legal advice, perceives that there is doubt as to whether the service is in breach of the law or not, ICSTIS will not proceed under its Code but will continue its practice of referring such cases to the police.

Many service providers obtain legal advice before running competitions and, while there are exceptions, make every effort to avoid operating illegal services. ICSTIS considers that service providers would benefit from an ICSTIS Guideline, which would apply in the absence of fraud or other significant abuse:

a) Where the call costs the same as or less than a first-class stamp, ICSTIS will not intervene, even if the service might otherwise appear to be a lottery or an unlawful prize competition, or

b) Where there is a prominent alternative entry process (and not one which appears only in small print among 'rules of entry'), ICSTIS will not involve itself as to whether or not a lottery exists.

4.2.2 The two minute limit before competitions have to indicate the likely playing time or full cost of the call (as well as information on how the competition operates) has been removed. A 50 pence limit has been introduced in its place.

The new Code will retain the pricing information exemption in respect of calls which cost less than 50 pence. ICSTIS' research showed that the exemption caused few problems in practice and that its retention was favoured by service providers. (However, see QUESTION 4 for an exception to this rule - services which encourage repeat calling.)

If no changes were made to the current Code, three levels of charge information for competitions would exist. Those costing less than 50 pence would not have to display pricing information (although most do in practice). Those costing between 50 pence and approximately £1.00 (two minutes at the 50 pence per minute tariff) would have to display only price per minute information. Those costing above approximately £1.00 would have to display the likely playing time or full call cost.

The differences in the pricing information requirements for competition services costing under 50 pence, between 50 pence and £1.00 and, in principle, over £1.00 are anomalous. Ensuring that consumers have adequate information about a service before they make a call is a cornerstone of the Code. With competitions, consumers want to be able to gauge what their stake is going to be against the value of the prize.

It is therefore proposed that all competitions which can cost more than 50 pence display either the full cost of the service or the price per minute and likely playing time. This amendment brings this section of the Code into line with the general Code provisions relating to pricing information (3.7.1).

4.2.3 This provision has been amended in line with other provisions in the Code where callers have to give confirmation that they wish to continue. In view of this, what was formerly expressed in amounts of call time is now expressed in terms of call spend.

4.2.4 The Committee found little support for banning competitions aimed at children. However, its concern at the level and types of prize aimed at children was echoed in the responses to the consultation document. Competitions aimed at children will therefore be restricted to offering non-cash prizes with a retail market value of less than £500.00. Comments are requested on the level of this limit.

4.3 Virtual chat services, which allow callers to exchange messages, have been the subject of ICSTIS research and consultation. A consultation document, Virtual Chat and Live Premium Rate Services, was published in March 1997 with the consultation period ending in April. The Committee has carefully studied the responses to the document and has held further discussions with service providers over maximum call costs.

The Committee's final proposals for regulation in this area are contained in a separate document, Virtual Chat and Live Premium Rate Services - An ICSTIS Statement. This has been published simultaneously with this draft Code. For the sake of completeness, the Code amendments which are required to bring the proposed changes into force have been included in the draft Code, but all the detailed background discussion to the changes is contained in the Statement. The consultation period on the Statement is the same as for the Code. Comments should be made to the ICSTIS Secretariat by 10 October 1997.

4.3.1 This provision defines virtual chat services as opposed to live services. Virtual chat services are characterised by a number of elements: callers send and receive separately recorded messages and cannot make direct contact or hear what is being said to them instantaneously.

4.3.2 Services which allow contact details to be exchanged between participants must comply with all the rules in the contact and dating section which are applicable to the particular service.

4.3.3 This provision sets out the minimum training so that all employees of service providers who participate, either as passive monitors or actively in conversations, are trained in the provisions of the ICSTIS Code. This mirrors the requirements for operator training in the ICSTIS Live Code.

4.3.4 ICSTIS has received complaints from a small number of telephone subscribers who a,b allege that their phones have been used without their permission to call virtual chat services. It is important that these consumers are able to seek compensation. ICSTIS, network operators and service providers are going to be working together to develop a system for dealing with these problems. However, it is important that, in the absence of a formal compensation scheme such as that which exists for live conversation services, consumers can be assured that valid claims will be met. In order to ensure a consistent approach across the industry, ICSTIS is proposing to build on the good practice that already exists in relation to the handling of complaints and payment of compensation. Any further recommendations will be contained in an ICSTIS Guideline.

A new provision in the sanctions section (paragraph 5.7.2h) has been added so that if a breach of 4.3.4a or b occurs, service providers can be required to pay compensation. These provisions will only be applied if all other avenues of dispute resolution have already been exhausted.

4.3.4c As is the case with dating services, virtual chat service providers should use all reasonable endeavours to ensure that no one under the age of 18 uses virtual chat services. This provision reflects what is already fairly standard practice in the industry. When applying this provision, the Committee will be aware of the difficulties facing operators in identifying minors.

4.3.5 Some virtual chat service providers employ people to talk on their services. It was felt by the Committee that services promoted as dating services should make this clear to avoid potential callers being misled, should they be seeking to make a date with someone.

4.3.6 It was felt that the best way of keeping callers informed of how much time they are a,b spending on line is to give an indication of how much time has been spent after every £10.00 of call spend. Callers will also be requested to give a positive response to confirm that they want to continue the call. If callers fail to do this, they will be disconnected.

QUESTION 5

4.4.2c The requirement to collect advertisers' names and telephone numbers on dating services was put in the Code to enable people to be traced or where personal details have been placed on a service for malicious purposes and the person behind this needs to be identified. The main problem with it is that it is hard to be confident that the details given are correct. Comments are therefore requested on whether or not this provision should remain in the Code.

4.4.3a This paragraph has been altered to require the information about publications in which advertisements will appear in to be included in the promotion, rather than 'agreed with the service provider'. This is because many dating services are now automated. This information should also be given before a call is made because it might influence decisions to use the service.

4.4.3d This paragraph has been added because there have been a small number of complaints from callers who have found themselves forced to leave a voice message on the service when they did not wish to. If they had been aware of this at the outset, they would not have called the service.

4.4.4d It is suggested that provisions mirroring those in the virtual chat section

4.4.5 requiring affirmations and cost warnings to be given should be applied to dating services. Failure to do this could cause confusion for services which act as both virtual chat and dating services.

4.5 These provisions have been reworded to clarify their meaning, making it a requirement to be specific in the promotional material as to the actual amounts of money being paid to the charity.

4.6.4b This paragraph has been amended in line with other paragraphs which contain call cost warnings. What was formerly stated in terms of time is therefore now expressed in terms of call spend.

4.7.4 The requirement to proof tips to a third party has been removed and replaced with a clause requiring substantiation of past selections to be available. This substantiation could take the form of evidence that tips have been proofed to a reputable, independent third party. This advice will be incorporated into an ICSTIS Guideline. The reference to ICSTIS providing a proofing service has also been removed as this was found to be impractical and, in any case, there was very little demand for it.

4.11.4 This paragraph has been clarified to ensure that service providers advertising adult services in non-print media do so in areas to which access is restricted in the same way as top shelf magazines in print media.

QUESTION 6

  1. Experience of the operation of adult services on domestic premium rate numbers and international numbers shows that calls to these services can generate high telephone bills, some of which are caused by unauthorised use. Adult services can be live conversations or recorded messages. The ICSTIS Live Conversations Services Code of Practice requires that all services obtain ICSTIS' permission to operate. As part of this procedure, conditions, such as a maximum call cost, may be applied. In addition, providers of all live services are required to pay compensation where it is established that calls have been made as a result of unauthorised use.

However, no such controls exist to address similar problems with high bills and unauthorised use which may result from calls made to recorded services of a sexual nature. In the wake of the return of adult services to the domestic market, and in order to address this anomaly, it is recommended that call cost warnings and affirmations are introduced for recorded services. Comments are invited on this proposal. An alternative to this proposal would be to introduce a maximum call spend which may be considered more appropriate. If so, suggestions for the appropriate level of such a maximum would also be welcomed.

4.12 It has been decided to place the requirements which were set out in this paragraph in the specific sections where they should apply. This will make it easier for service providers to see what obligations are being placed upon them.

The sections affected are:

5.1 This paragraph has been moved from the introduction to the procedures section because it principally relates to complaints panels. Complaints panels, which adjudicate on cases, consist of three Committee members.

5.2.1 The one-month time limit for the receipt of complaints has been removed. This is because complaints may arise some time after the premium rate call has been made. Sometimes a problem with a premium rate call may only come to a complainant's attention when the phone bill is received, which can be up to three months after the call was made.

5.3 The informal procedure has been in use for some time and should therefore be set down in the Code. As well as describing the procedure, the factors which can be taken into account when determining whether the procedure should be used are also described. It should be noted that the exact combination of factors which would lead to the informal procedure being used cannot be stated because each case is treated on its individual merits.

5.5c As one of its sanctions, ICSTIS can require network operators to withhold any outstanding payments from the service provider. However, it may also do so in the context of the emergency procedure, before adjudication has been made.

5.7.2h A sanction which requires virtual chat service providers to pay appropriate compensation has been added. This corresponds to paragraphs 4.3.4a and b.

5.8.1 Service providers are given clear guidance about the procedure for oral hearings, including the requirement to put reasoned requests for such hearings in writing.

5.9.3 ICSTIS' policy on the review of sanctions and adjudications has been more clearly laid out.

Because the Code of Practice is unlikely to be the first port of call for most complainants, the information on how to complain has been made very much more general, with the emphasis placed on how ICSTIS can be contacted.

QUESTION 7 - COMPLAINTS AND REDRESS

Some complaints and comments made to ICSTIS do not involve a breach of the Code. Many calls to ICSTIS' freephone number concern technical difficulties, disputed items that appear on bills, other problems with services or just general comments. ICSTIS' currently either gives complainants details of the service provider(s) concerned or passes details of complaints (with the complainants' permission) to the service provider(s) concerned. ICSTIS then has no further involvement unless the complainant is so unhappy with the service provider's response that they come back to ICSTIS, but this happens infrequently.

Service providers have stated on a number of occasions that they wish to have closer contact with their customers and are happy to meet reasonable claims. Service providers clearly see callers to their services as their customers. They wish to encourage direct contact in order to quickly identify problems and try to ensure that callers re-use their services. Many service providers use customer helplines promoted in advertising or during services to enable direct customer contact. Again, unless a caller is very unhappy, they will not make further efforts to pursue the matter and possibly contact ICSTIS.

Oftel has recently proposed the introduction of a premium rate helpline:

"…it is proposed that a simple statement be put on bills carrying PRS calls which identifies a free 'PRS helpline', whereby a customer with a problem relating to a PRS call can phone to have their query dealt with or find out who to contact if they are not satisfied with the service provided."

At the moment ICSTIS carries out this task to a degree, as it receives many requests for information about services and service providers, often from callers referred by network operators. The Oftel proposal is currently being discussed but whatever form the helpline finally takes, the intention is to enable greater contact between service providers and their customers.

This draft Code suggests changes which would formalise a system of complaint handling and redress for virtual chat services. These proposals are discussed in detail in the statement on virtual chat and live premium rate services published at the same time as this document. The main proposal is that ICSTIS and representatives of the virtual chat service providers will draw up a good practice guideline on the handling of complaints and payment of redress. Network operators have indicated that they wish to be involved in these discussions insofar as they extend to the treatment of disputed items on telephone bills.

This guideline, which it is suggested operates in the same way as the other ICSTIS Guidelines proposed in this draft, could cover such matters as the definition of a complaint, time limits for dealing with complaints, procedures for dealing with complaints made via telephone helplines and informing complainants how they can take matters further, if they are unsatisfied with a service provider's response. It is ICSTIS' intention that this work will build on the good practice which already exists in the industry.

The developments outlined above share many common elements. Industry estimates indicate that virtual chat services now account (in terms of revenue) for a substantial part of the premium rate industry. Discussions concerning complaint handling practice will therefore affect many service providers. ICSTIS is happy to see the spread of service provider helplines and welcomes the good practice as regards complaint handling and redress that already exists in the industry. The introduction of the Oftel premium rate helpline will increase contact between service providers and their customers.

ICSTIS would like to build on industry initiatives and open discussions with the whole premium rate industry with a view to ensuring that such good practice is applied across it. In this way consumers can be sure that their complaints and requests for redress will receive consistent treatment regardless of whom they contact initially: their telephone company, a service provider, the premium rate helpline or ICSTIS.

The Committee welcomes comments on the proposal to develop a good practice guideline on complaint handling and redress involving representatives from the whole premium rate industry. What could, or should, be covered by such discussions?

Conclusion

This consultation is intended to be an open, two-way process. The Committee welcomes comments on any part of this consultation document or the Code itself. In addition, if consultees have particular points they wish to raise with the Committee, meetings can be arranged. Please contact the Secretariat to arrange times and dates.