On 9 February 2024, the telecommunications industry is currently undergoing a digital switchover, transitioning landline services from analogue to digital. This change has raised concerns about how it may impact vulnerable customers, such as those with telecare systems that rely on landlines.
In response to these concerns, Ofcom has announced an investigation into Virgin Media’s compliance with rules designed to protect vulnerable customers during this transition. The telecoms company stated that they are working closely with Ofcom and the government in this matter, but also emphasized the importance of other parties taking responsibility to ensure that everyone receives the necessary support.
These telecare systems often function by having an emergency button that automatically calls for help when pressed through a user’s landline. However, there are concerns about potential vulnerabilities when these services are switched to digital lines. The investigation by Ofcom will focus on Virgin Media’s compliance in two main areas: rules around ensuring uninterrupted access for customers to emergency organizations, and fair treatment of vulnerable customers.
In December 2023, telecoms firms agreed to pause the process of moving customers onto the new digital phone network in response to a number of “serious incidents” involving the failure of personal telecare alarms. Ofcom has been clear with telecoms firms about the importance of identifying and supporting vulnerable individuals, emphasizing the significance of the telephone network in allowing people, especially those who are vulnerable, to contact the emergency services. The regulator intends to publish further information on the progress of the investigation in the future.