Govt kick-starts “overdue” telco consumer safeguards review

Govt kick-starts “overdue” telco consumer safeguards review

Comes as the TIO reveals a 204 per cent surge in NBN-related complaints for the six months ending December

Credit: Dreamstime

The Federal Government has kicked off the first part of a review into consumer safeguards in the country’s telecommunications sector, releasing its terms of reference for the review as Australian telco complaints skyrocket.

The Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on 17 April released its latest complaints figures for the six months ending December last year, revealing a 204 per cent surge in National Broadband Network (NBN)-related complaints from July to December 2017, compared to the same period the year prior.

Overall, the TIO found that complaints about landline, mobile and internet services increased by 28.7 per cent compared to the same six month period in 2016, with the complaints handling body receiving a total of 84,914 complaints.

“The TIO’s six-monthly update report released today shows that the existing model for complaints handling and redress is not working,” Australia’s Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, said. “Customers are continuing to experience poor service, and are unable to get their service provider to satisfactorily resolve issues.

“The fact that complaints to the TIO are still high across all types of fixed line and mobile services clearly shows that telcos need to lift their game.

“I have already directed the ACMA [Australian Communications and Media Authority] to put in place rules to support a better consumer experience during the NBN transition, including a complaints handling standard. It is now time to look at the effectiveness of consumer protections across the board,” he said.

Indeed, the ACMA is currently consulting on a number of proposed industry standards, including the provision of information to consumers about retail services supplied over the NBN and the handling of complaints made by consumers to retail carriage service providers (CSPs).

Now, the Federal Government’s review into the matter is set to be undertaken in three parts, the first of which will be to ensure that consumers have access to an effective complaints handling and redress scheme that provides transparency and holds telcos accountable for their performance.

It will also look at ensuring consumers have reliable telecommunications services including reasonable timeframes for connections, fault repairs and appointments; as well as potential compensation or penalties against providers.

The third part will focus on ensuring consumers are able to make informed choices and are treated fairly by their provider in areas such as customer service, contracts, billing, credit and debt management, and switching providers.

According to the Government, the first stage of the review will examine the existing model for handling consumer complaints and will identify improvements to drive better outcomes for users.

The Department of Communications and the Arts plans to release a subsequent discussion paper on redress and complaints handling for consultation with industry and the public.

Recommendations for redress and complaints handling will be provided to the Government in coming months, while recommendations for all three parts of the consumer safeguards framework to be provided to the Government for consideration by the end of 2018.

The local telco industry peak body, the Communications Alliance, welcomed the review, while at the same time suggesting it could have come sooner, claiming that the review was first flagged to commence in 2016.

“The review is overdue, and industry is keen to engage closely with relevant stakeholders on all parts of the review to produce an efficient and fit-for-purpose framework for consumer safeguards – including through the use of updated Industry Codes,” Communications Alliance director program management, Christiane Gillespie-Jones, said.

“Of course, we are not satisfied with the high numbers of complaints that we are currently seeing, and industry recognises that more needs to be done to improve the overall customer experience,” Gillespie-Jones said.

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