Telecoms regulator Comreg has been described as "toothless" for failing to rein in Eir over its "disastrous" customer service record.
Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks Kieran O'Donnell said it was completely unacceptable that Eir customers were subject to such poor customer care and that the watchdog in charge of the sector was unable to act.
Mr O’Donnell was speaking as Comreg officials appeared before the committee to discuss Eir and other issues related to the telecoms sector.
Comreg chairman Garrett Blaney told the committee that the regulator had experienced a sharp increase in complaints about Eir, with consumers complaining about problems contacting the company.
Of the 5,354 complaints resolved by the regulator in the first nine months of 2020, two-thirds (3,477) came from Eir customers, he said.
Mr Blaney said Comreg had taken a number of steps to mitigate the impact on customers, including engaging with the company on a fortnightly basis.
However, it was important to note that it is Eir’s responsibility to fix the underlying problems with its customer care operation, he said.
“It is Eir that hires and trains care agents. It is Eir that decides on their mandate and incentives.”
“And it is Eir that provides them with IT systems. Comreg will continue to press Eir to resolve these matters expeditiously,” he said.
Mr O’Donnell and other committee members asked Mr Blaney and his colleagues what sanctions Comreg could impose on Eir for providing such a poor service.
But Comreg's Robert Mourik said the regulator had no specific powers to sanction Eir or any other company on their customer care metrics and was therefore limited in what it could do.
The law limits the regulator to simply making sure there are arrangements for customer complaints, he said.
Mr O’Donnell responded by saying: “So in summary Comreg are utterly toothless as regards Eir customer care, the law needs to be changed”
“We need you as Comreg to write to us and tell us specifically what legislation is required,” he said.
Last month, Eir chief executive Carolan Lennon apologised to the Oireachtas for the fall-off in customer service standards during the pandemic.
Ms Lennon said the company saw an increase in wait times and a rise in the number of calls handled due to the loss of on-site support systems.
She also said at the worst point the company had received around 230,000 calls a month.
Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley asked the Comreg officials if they thought Eir was "gaming the system" by providing poor customer service in the knowledge it would not be sanctioned.
He also noted that the telecommunications firm had not passed on the recent VAT reduction to customers.