The Federal Government has launched the first part of its Consumer Safeguards Review consultation which addresses consumer redress and complaints handling.
The consultation period goes from 5 July to 3 August, and this is the first stage of a three-part consumer safeguards review announced in April.
“Consumers are fed up with poor service and inadequate safeguards when their telco fails to address a complaint,” Minister for Communications, Senator Mitch Fifield said.
“Complaints about customer service and billing continue to be the top issues reported to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), and complaints in Australia are far too high.”
The paper proposes a range of measures to improve complaints handling starting with telcos to have primary responsibility for dealing with complaints in line with the new regulated standards for complaints-handling enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
A new independent external dispute resolution body should be established to deal with complex complaints. This body should have the power to compel providers to take remedial actions, which could include financial compensation and/or the ability to issue fines.
The ACMA should have responsibility for collection of data relating to industry performance and complaints, and should publish reports detailing analysis of this data to better allow industry and government to resolve systemic issues. ACMA should also provide transparency of complaint levels for each telco to the market.
The Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on 17 April released its 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 existing complaints handling regime is almost totally reliant on industry self-regulation, according to Fifield's office.
Controls on industry behaviour are largely contained within industry codes, monitored by a regulator required to give industry every opportunity to remedy its own behaviour; and the independent TIO is owned and funded by industry.