Telcos agree to protect personal alarm users when upgrading to digital

Health, Telecoms

  • UK phone providers agree new measures to protect vulnerable customers when upgrading phone lines to digital

  • Technology Secretary asks all providers not to force people to switch over until protection in place  

  • Vulnerable households will have better access to emergency services during power outages 

The most vulnerable people across England will be better protected following an agreement with the telecoms industry to introduce new measures when upgrading phone lines to a digital network, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, announced today (Monday 18 December). 

After becoming aware of serious incidents, the Technology Secretary convened a meeting with the UK’s leading telecoms providers, including Sky, BT, VMO2 and TalkTalk, to discuss urgent mitigations to reduce the likelihood of further incidents, protecting those including the elderly. 

Telecoms providers have now signed a Charter committing to concrete measures to protect vulnerable households, particularly those using personal alarms, known as telecare, which offer remote support to elderly, disabled, and vulnerable people – with many located in rural and isolated areas. 

Phone providers have been upgrading household landlines to digital technology which uses an internet connection, to deliver a modern network which is secure, efficient, and fit for the future. However, the Secretary of State was recently made aware of serious incidents involving telecare users having their devices fail when trying to use them after the upgrade process. 

Though these incidents are confined to a small number of providers, the Technology Secretary has worked with telecoms bosses to ensure robust protections are in place. Under the Charter, all providers have agreed to not forcibly move customers onto the new network unless they are fully confident they will be protected.  

At a meeting with providers and Ofcom on Thursday afternoon (14 December), the Technology Secretary said that protection of vulnerable consumers must be at the heart of efforts.  

Says Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan:  

“It is absolutely right that the most vulnerable people in our society should feel safe, secure and have complete confidence in the services provided to them.   

“That’s why I have brought our biggest network providers and industry regulator to the table, agreeing a cast iron set of principles to reassure people and put their minds at ease.  

“The recent issues families have had to endure are unacceptable and today’s agreements will help to protect consumers in future.”  

Other commitments agreed include: 

  • Providers will conduct additional checks on customers who have already been forcibly migrated to ensure they do not have telecare devices the provider was unaware of, and if they do, to ensure suitable support is provided.  
  • No telecare users will be migrated to digital landline services without the provider, customer, or telecare company confirming they have a compatible and functioning telecare solution in place. 
  • Providers will be required to work to provide back-up solutions that go beyond regulator Ofcom’s minimum of one hour of continued, uninterrupted access to emergency services in the event of a power outage.  
  • They will collectively work with Ofcom and the UK government to agree a shared definition of ‘vulnerable people’ for this transition, so it is no longer dependent on the company.
Chris Price
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