Mobile phone service faults and the rise of smartphone use led to a record number of new complaints the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) received during 2010-11, totalling 197,682, an increase of about 18 per cent on the previous year.
In the TIO annual report, the majority of issues reported about smartphones related to disputes on internet charges. Complaints were also made about the bill total (10,425 issues - a 52 per cent increase), as well as complaints about early termination fees (5,748 issues - a 9.6 per cent increase).
More than half the new complaints were about mobile phone services, an increase of 51 per cent from the previous year. Of these, more than 32,000 were about Vodafone, almost tripling the number of its new mobile phone complaints when compared to the previous year.
The most common mobile phone complaint issue was about service faults, with 56,475 new complaints made to the TIO, a 180 per cent increase. Consumers were most concerned about poor mobile coverage and service drop-outs.
“The record number of complaints made to the TIO is disappointing. Customers who have complained to us have been frustrated not only by mobile telephone problems, but also by deficient customer service and complaint handling,” Ombudsman, Simon Cohen, said.
The TIO stated many of the remaining new mobile phone complaints could be attributed to inadequate information provided to consumers about the costs associated with smartphones and related billing disputes.
For example, it recorded a 26 per cent increase (to 4,222) in disputes about Internet charges on mobile services. Of the 10,469 issues reported to the TIO about inadequate spend controls, 7,844 were exclusively about mobile services – an increase of 119 per cent compared to the previous year.
“It is in everyone’s interest to make sure there are effective and easy-to-use monitoring tools available to consumers to track their own usage. Service providers should also monitor customers’ usage and notify them if they are accruing unexpectedly high bills to avoid people not being able to pay their bills and facing credit and debt collection problems as a result,” Cohen said.
Complaints relating to landline, Internet and mobile premium services (MPS) all reduced during the past year.
“MPS complaints are down almost 50 per cent, which reflects positively on stronger government and industry regulation,” he said.
Complaints about Internet services (wired such as home ADSL or wireless internet such as dongles) were down 13 per cent to 37,092.
The TIO said this may be attributable in part to more affordable internet plans with generous data allowances, either as part of bundled packages or standalone deals, now being offered by the industry.