Telco watchdog Oftel today announced its plans to set up an ombudsman to resolve disputes between consumers and telcos.

The ombudsman will provide consumers with independent and impartial advice in the hope of settling disputes quickly and efficiently before they reach court proceedings.

"The ombudsman will provide consumers with an important service, a free and easy-to-use scheme to resolve any dispute with their telephone company over their bill or terms and conditions under which their telephone service is provided," said David Edmonds, director general of telecommunications.

Oftel currently receives hundreds of calls each month from people who are disenchanted with their provider for one reason or another.

"Providing a definite point of contact for customers means they are saving money on legal advice and they can talk to a human being and rationally decide on points of action," said a spokesperson at Oftel.

The watchdog has been in close talks with consumer groups to ensure effective implementation of the scheme.

"Often the main frustration for a consumer is that they don't know who to contact for help in these situations," said a spokesman at the Consumers Association "The benefit of this scheme it that it provides them with a definitive source of help," he added.

A timetable for implementation of the scheme was also announced, starting with the selection of a governing board comprising public interest members. The appointment of an ombudsman is expected early next year.