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Ombudsman's message transcript

In the 2011-12 financial year, the TIO received 193,702 new complaints – two per cent fewer than in the previous financial year.

There has been a significant trend, since April 2012, of reduced complaints, with the last quarter being our quietest for almost two years. This is a positive sign that reflects the focus by a number of telcos on improving their customer service.

Complaints about mobile phone services make up almost 2 out of every 3 new complaints. These complaints increased by almost 10 per cent during the last year.

I am concerned about substantial increases in complaints for financial over commitment, unexpectedly high bills and disputed data and roaming charges for mobile services. These complaints demonstrate the urgent need for stronger spend management tools and better information for consumers about mobile products and costs. The new Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, which began on 1 September 2012, should stop many of these complaints if it is fully implemented.

Disputes about unaffordable bills also demonstrate the need for flexible and responsive approaches to assist consumers. This year, we have sponsored an ongoing discussion with industry, consumer and regulatory stakeholders, with the aim to establish a best practice framework for assisting consumers in financial hardship.

More small businesses – some 27,000 of them – have contacted the TIO to make a complaint in the past year. To promote our accessibility to this important part of the Australian community and economy, we have changed how we define small business, and increased the monetary limits for complaints we can determine to $50,000.

Conciliation, which was fully in place by September 2011, is delivering fast and fair dispute resolution. Substantially fewer cases now require extensive investigations, and service providers are increasingly engaged in solving complaints earlier. Consumer satisfaction with conciliation is very high, at over 90 per cent.

Our 2012 annual report is titled Preparing for the future, and reflects our focus on preparing for a telecommunications industry that is continually changing and converging – with new technologies, services and products. We have reviewed our vision, roles and business strategies, resulting in an expanded remit for the TIO, where our focus is not only on solving complaints, but also working to improve customer service and complaint handling in the telecommunications industry.

Our work this year has been made easier by the strong support from our Council and Board.

I am also extremely proud of the work of my TIO colleagues during the past year. Our employees have been innovative, engaged and resilient in the face of substantial changes. I present this report of our work on their behalf.

Simon Cohen

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman