• Hannah Phillips

Stronger Safeguards For Telco consumers

Last Thursday Minister for Communications Senator Mitch Fifield announced Telcos will be held to account for resolving consumer complaints quickly and effectively under new rules proposed by the government.

Minister for Communications, Senator Mitch Fifield released a consultation paper on proposed new rules to ensure that consumers can access an effective complaints handling and redress scheme that requires transparency and accountability of telecommunications providers.

“Consumers are fed up with poor service and inadequate safeguards when their telco fails to address a complaint,” Minister 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.”

“For example, the TIO had more than 158,000 complaints last year, compared to just over 2,000 complaints to the New Zealand Telecom Dispute Resolution service and around 9,000 complaints to the Canadian telecommunications complaints scheme. Australians are being let down by a system which isn’t working.”

The existing complaints handling regime is almost totally reliant on industry self-regulation.

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.

This paper proposes a range of measures to improve complaints handling, including:

· Telcos will continue 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), which must include transparent escalation processes.

· A new External Dispute Resolution body, independent of industry, 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.

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