Telecommunications-related complaints from small businesses has hit a five-quarter high amid calls from the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) to reform current regulatory safeguards.
Complaints from small businesses rose 28 per cent, quarter-on-quarter, for the three months to September 2020, up to 5,527 complaints, according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s (TIO) Quarter 1 (Q1) 2020-21 Complaints Report.
This accounted for 16 per cent of all complaints, which the TIO claimed was both the highest volume and proportion of complaints from small businesses for the last five quarters.
In fact, the small business complaints drove an increase in overall complaints by 3.4 per cent quarter-on-quarter, to 34,476. Meanwhile, residential complaints fell slightly by 0.2 per cent over the same period, to 28,949.
Judi Jones, Australia's Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, said the increase in complaints from small business was “concerning", especially with the country navigating the economic disruption caused by the pandemic.
“I have said before the relationship between small businesses and their providers is vital to the businesses’ ongoing success. Any issues between a small business and their provider in the delivery of a service can have significant consequences and I urge the parties to work together on solutions," she said.
“For the third quarter in a row we are seeing incremental growth in overall complaints. We are continuing to share the insights learned from our data our with the telcos to improve the consumer experience.”
The most significant issue that small businesses faced, according to the TIO report, were related to multiple services with a single telco provider. Increasing in severity were complaints about not being able to contact a provider and business loss compensation, which rose by 47 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively.
The majority of the top telcos by complaint numbers were down in volume and proportion compared to the previous quarter, with one of the few exceptions being Telstra in the number one spot, which saw an increase of 27 per cent over the quarter, to 22,154.
Southern Phone and Boost were also up, seeing complaints reach 467 and 300, respectively.
2019-20 complaints down, but telco reform ‘strongly’ supported: ACMA
Additionally, ACMA released its own complaints research for the 2019-20 financial year, claiming the results pointed to reform of the current telco consumer protection regime.
While the industry body said telco complaints were down for the previous financial year by 17.5 per cent, down to nearly 1.4 million, its research noted two-thirds of businesses faced at least one issue or fault in the six months prior to the research, with business internet issues making up 52 per cent of issues or faults.
Additionally, 42 per cent of businesses said loss of internet services or outages were labelled as major.
As a result, the Authority is aiming to protect customers from "irresponsible telcos that rip off consumers", according to ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin.
“We propose that clear and properly enforceable rules made by the regulator replace current co-regulatory arrangements to deliver essential safeguards for consumers,” she said.
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