Telco industry complaints fell by 4 per cent in what the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) called “a financial year of two distinct halves” for internet and landline-related complaints.
During the financial year 127,151 complaints were made to the TIO by residential consumers and small businesses, according to the Ombudsman’s Annual Report 2019-20, with 16,675 of these escalated.
Complaints about mobile services were relatively stable at 39,701, down by 1 per cent, but it was internet and landline services that varied significantly, which ended the year at 58,873 complaints, down 2.6 per cent.
In the first half of the financial year, complaints about internet and landline services were in line with the previous quarter’s decline, but the second half, which contained natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, “tested the resilience of networks and telcos”, according to the TIO.
In the third quarter, bushfire and flood season saw complaints about not having a working phone or internet service increased by nearly 70 per cent, quarter-on-quarter.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic in the fourth quarter drove complaints about uncontactable providers for the whole year up by 1,480.3 per cent, year-on-year.
Telecommunications industry body Communications Alliance welcomed the overall fall in complaints and noted the report needs to be read in context — particularly the uncontactable provider complaints, which the body said came from a low base of 127 complaints the year prior.
“The sustained decrease in complaints over the past three years – and during the very challenging circumstances of 2020 – is the result of significant work by telcos to improve the customer experience while continuing to deliver lower costs and increased value,” said Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton.
“This decrease has coincided with increasing numbers of connections, meaning that the rate of complaints-per-service has fallen even more rapidly."
Judi Jones, Australia's Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, said the lessons learned during the rollout of the NBN over the last three years reinforced Australia’s telecommunications sector, but this did not fully prepare it to deal with the challenges experienced in the latter half of the financial year.
“These lessons have strengthened the telco ecosystem with industry, government, regulators, advocates, and Ombudsman, each playing a part to ensure continuity of service for consumers in the face of great change. But as this year’s events have shown us, there is always more work to do,” she said.
“Each day, my office strives to resolve phone and internet complaints more effectively and efficiently. We are making significant progress in moving to be an agile organisation flexing to respond to the complexities of the changing telecommunications landscape.
“This was tested during the transition to working from home at the beginning of the pandemic, and I am proud of the way we looked after our people while continuing to deliver our service for telco consumers and their providers.”
The bulk of the complaints came from residential consumers at 108,763, while small businesses made 18,478 complaints.
For residential consumers, the most complained-about issue was service and equipment fees. Small businesses, meanwhile, faced the most difficulty with no or delayed action by providers.
Telstra had the lion’s share of complaints, increasing by 0.3 per cent over the financial year to 66,612, making up 52.4 per cent of all complaints over the 12 months.
This was followed by Optus, which saw its complaints fall by 17.1 per cent to 26,205, or 20.6 per cent of all complaints during the financial year.
TPG came third, fielding 5.1 per cent of all complaints, or 6,471. This was an increase for the telco by 20.3 per cent from the last financial year – the largest percentage rise of all the top 10 telcos.
Meanwhile, MyRepublic came in 10th as it made up only 0.6 per cent of all complaints with 769, down 40.2 per cent from the financial year prior.