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Government and regulation

The TIO makes submissions to regulators and other agencies about trends in dispute resolution within the telecommunications industry.

Through our submissions we provide expert information to different government and industry inquiries about the ways in which issues, legislation or codes of practice can and do affect telecommunications consumers.

In 2011-12 we made 12 public submissions, ranging from feedback to proposed industry codes to submissions to inquiries about debt collection issues and regional consumers.

Highlights

The most comprehensive submissions we made this year were:

Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code draft

We presented an extensive submission in response to the draft TCP Code released for public comment by the industry’s peak body, Communications Alliance in October 2011. In it, we stressed the importance of the TCP Code for all sectors of the industry, highlighting the strengths of the revised code, including the removal of the word “cap” and new rules around clearer pricing information for new consumers. Our recommendations included:

  • Improving the structure and consistency of the draft to make the overall document more accessible and easy to understand.
  • Making the language of the Code more simple to ensure its accessibility for a wider audience.
  • Providing more specific advice about the functions and structure of the Code’s proposed compliance body, Communications Compliance, as the constituent documents were not a part of the Code itself.

Regional telecommunications review

We provided an analysis of the number and types of complaints most commonly received from regional and remote Australia in response to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s (DBCDE) enquiry into regional telecommunications. Among the challenges faced by regional and remote residents as telecommunications consumers, we listed distance, a lack of awareness of rights and limited information on new technologies. We also highlighted some concerning issues faced by Indigenous consumers, who come to us with multiple issues of financial overcommitment, billing, debt collection and credit management. Our recommendations included:

  • Consider placing special obligations on service providers who promote their services in remote areas to have systems in place to ensure cultural awareness among staff about Indigenous communities and issues, and implementing appropriate financial hardship policies as a result of the concerning financial hardship issues faced by Indigenous consumers who have used our services.
  • More education to young people and community workers in regional and remote areas to ensure awareness of their rights and avenues of recourse where they may be unable to resolve complaints with their provider.

Debt Collection Harmonisation Regulation Options paper

This paper, proposed by the Consumer Affairs Forum (formerly Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs), sought to understand the current models of debt collection regulation in different states and territories in order to develop a consistent regulation in Australia by the end of 2012. We highlighted the issues in debt collection practices in the telecommunications industry as evidenced by complaints we receive, like debt collectors that continue to pursue debts that are in dispute or have been paid; debt collectors using harsh, harassing or offensive methods to recover payments; and default listings over debts in dispute or that have been paid. The paper proposed options that may be pursued for a harmonised approach to regulating debt collection practices. We supported those options that included:

  • Licensing, code of conduct and complaint handling rules that would not duplicate or conflict with other regulatory frameworks, providing clarity to consumers and providers about rights and obligations, and best industry practice guidelines.
  • Requirements for debt collectors to provide more information to consumers about the debt, consequences of failing to pay, what to do if a debt is disputed and recourse to independent avenues of redress.
  • Education and training to staff to increase their awareness of the impact that debt collection can have on consumers.
List of submissions

Brendan’s complaint

Brendan's complaint

Brendan contacted us about a debt which was assigned to his name in error.

Brendan told us that two years ago, he went to a provider’s shop to sign up for a new mobile phone plan and was told it was not possible because he had an outstanding internet bill of $430. He told them that he didn’t have a computer at home, let alone an internet service.

The provider acknowledged it was an error in their system, promised Brendan they would rectify it and signed him up for his plan. He used his mobile phone for some months until it was suddenly suspended. Brendan contacted his provider to find out the reason for the suspension, as he had been paying his bills on time. The provider advised him of the outstanding $430 internet debt, which again was acknowledged as an error that would be fixed. Brendan told us that after that, his phone was suspended a number of times for the same error and each time the provider assured him it would be rectified. Eventually, his phone stopped being suspended and Brendan assumed the error had finally been fixed.

Near the end of his contract, he decided to continue with his provider and upgrade his plan. However, the provider said it was unable to make the upgrade until he paid an outstanding amount of $430, which had been referred to a collections agency.

During our conciliation of Brendan’s complaint, the service provider discovered that the reason why Brendan had no knowledge of the wrong debt was because the internet service had been connected by a third person on his account, who Brendan identified as his ex-girlfriend. The collections agency had also sent a bill to Brendan’s previous address.

The service provider waived the incorrect debt and confirmed that the collections agency had not placed a credit default listing against his name. The provider upgraded Brendan to the plan he wanted.

Brendan’s complaint

Brendan's complaint

Brendan contacted us about a debt which was assigned to his name in error.

Brendan told us that two years ago, he went to a provider’s shop to sign up for a new mobile phone plan and was told it was not possible because he had an outstanding internet bill of $430. He told them that he didn’t have a computer at home, let alone an internet service.

The provider acknowledged it was an error in their system, promised Brendan they would rectify it and signed him up for his plan. He used his mobile phone for some months until it was suddenly suspended. Brendan contacted his provider to find out the reason for the suspension, as he had been paying his bills on time. The provider advised him of the outstanding $430 internet debt, which again was acknowledged as an error that would be fixed. Brendan told us that after that, his phone was suspended a number of times for the same error and each time the provider assured him it would be rectified. Eventually, his phone stopped being suspended and Brendan assumed the error had finally been fixed.

Near the end of his contract, he decided to continue with his provider and upgrade his plan. However, the provider said it was unable to make the upgrade until he paid an outstanding amount of $430, which had been referred to a collections agency.

During our conciliation of Brendan’s complaint, the service provider discovered that the reason why Brendan had no knowledge of the wrong debt was because the internet service had been connected by a third person on his account, who Brendan identified as his ex-girlfriend. The collections agency had also sent a bill to Brendan’s previous address.

The service provider waived the incorrect debt and confirmed that the collections agency had not placed a credit default listing against his name. The provider upgraded Brendan to the plan he wanted.