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Community engagement

The TIO’s outreach program helps ensure that we are accessible to all Australians, especially people who are beyond the reach of traditional news media, and also informs us of important developments that are occurring in particular communities.

In 2011-12, TIO officers reached out to consumers at 102 events across all states. Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) consumers were the focus of our outreach efforts during the year.

Consumers in financial hardship

In November 2011, we facilitated a forum between consumer representatives, financial counsellors, regulators and telecommunications service providers, to discuss financial hardship policies in the telecommunications industry. About 25 people discussed how telecommunications debt was affecting people in hardship and possible ways that this could be alleviated. The forum has resulted in a continuing dialogue which is working on the development of a common hardship policy for the telecommunications industry.

A first this year was our attendance at financial counsellors’ conferences in all states except the Northern Territory and Tasmania, and sponsorship of the national financial counsellors’ conference in Melbourne.

Culturally and linguistically diverse Australians

Cultural and language barriers may mean that people who are newly arrived in Australia need extra assistance accessing the TIO. We publish our information in a variety of languages and invite consumers to contact us by using the telephone interpreter service.

We also undertook a series of activities to reach out to CALD communities, particularly refugees who have recently arrived here. These activities took us to migrant resource centres in every state capital and also to Cairns.

Thanks to the help of the Footscray Community Legal Service, the TIO, in partnership with other Melbourne-based ombudsman services, continued its participation in Bring Your Bills days throughout the western suburbs of Melbourne. During these visits, we spoke directly to people about their telecommunications complaints, and lodged matters on their behalf with the information we gathered. We ensured that the people we spoke to were aware of our services and we provided information that would equip them with the knowledge to resolve their current complaints and ways to prevent any further issues occurring.

Indigenous Australians

In August 2011, we visited Darwin and Alice Springs to speak to Indigenous community legal centres about some of the issues their clients faced. Community members told us of cases where people on low incomes and with little financial literacy had been sold post-paid mobile phone plans with the potential to lead them into big debts. Despite limited mobile coverage by some providers in central Australia, some Indigenous consumers told us about being sold plans with the assurance that their new phone would work in their community. When they discovered that they did not have coverage, it was difficult in some cases to get a resolution.

In late 2011 the TIO used the information gained in discussions with intermediary agencies that work with Aboriginal clients during an outreach visit to the Northern Territory to inform a submission made to the Regional Telecommunications Review

View a full calendar of events in 2011-12.

A calendar of future events is available on our website.

Phillip Money
Community Relations Manager

Phillip Money

Time at TIO: eight years

My role involves principally working with vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers to tell them about the TIO’s existence and also to provide them with the means of access to the TIO.

Because it’s difficult to engage with all consumers effectively on a one-on-one basis we have to prioritise which consumers we have to reach out to. Therefore it is the view of the organisation that the consumers we should engage with are vulnerable and disadvantaged.

What I most like about my role is that I can hear people’s stories directly from them. After years of going through spreadsheets with complaints, the discussions I’ve had with consumers have brought these complaints to life.

A common theme I’ve found in those discussions about people’s complaints is that they end up in trouble because they don’t seem to understand what they’ve got themselves into. A good example was from a Burmese woman who spoke at the hardship forum the TIO facilitated this year. She said a lot of Burmese people spend years in refugee camps before coming to Australia, and don’t have much experience of mobile phones. From that, they come into a situation where they’re offered very sophisticated technology that can run up a large amount of credit in a short time.

The hardship forum we facilitated this year is one of the personal highlights of my role. I felt that we reached some common goals between community, government and industry quite quickly, and that was really quite rewarding.

It has been an enormous privilege to have had my horizons widened and expanded in this role.

Phillip Money
Community Relations Manager

Phillip Money

Time at TIO: eight years

My role involves principally working with vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers to tell them about the TIO’s existence and also to provide them with the means of access to the TIO.

Because it’s difficult to engage with all consumers effectively on a one-on-one basis we have to prioritise which consumers we have to reach out to. Therefore it is the view of the organisation that the consumers we should engage with are vulnerable and disadvantaged.

What I most like about my role is that I can hear people’s stories directly from them. After years of going through spreadsheets with complaints, the discussions I’ve had with consumers have brought these complaints to life.

A common theme I’ve found in those discussions about people’s complaints is that they end up in trouble because they don’t seem to understand what they’ve got themselves into. A good example was from a Burmese woman who spoke at the hardship forum the TIO facilitated this year. She said a lot of Burmese people spend years in refugee camps before coming to Australia, and don’t have much experience of mobile phones. From that, they come into a situation where they’re offered very sophisticated technology that can run up a large amount of credit in a short time.

The hardship forum we facilitated this year is one of the personal highlights of my role. I felt that we reached some common goals between community, government and industry quite quickly, and that was really quite rewarding.

It has been an enormous privilege to have had my horizons widened and expanded in this role.