First telco Consumer Safeguard Review report published
The federal government has published the report into the first part of the three-part Consumer Safeguards Review into reducing the volume of telecommunications-related consumer complaints.
The review includes 32 recommendations aimed at improving and expediting telecoms complaint handling processes.
The recommendations demonstrate that the government has decided against the proposal to scrap the industry-funded Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and replace it with a new external dispute resolution body that is independent from the industry.
Instead, the review recommends implementing reforms to the current TIO scheme, including improved complaint handling processes that would expedite the time it takes for a complaint to be evaluated and subsequently resolved.
The review also recommends giving regulator ACMA observer status at TIO board meetings and introducing requirements for the TIO to be more transparent with its decision-making, and to be more proactive with its engagement with stakeholders including through the establishment of consumer and industry advisory forums.
Meanwhile, the industry would be required to provide additional complaint data to the ACMA, and the review recommends that ACMA analyse and publicly report consumer complaint information regularly.
Telecommunications industry body the Communications Alliance has welcomed the decision to retain the TIO. But Chairman John Stanton has argued that some of the recommendations in the review could threaten the ombudsman’s independence.
“Industry has never controlled the TIO — nor should we. By the same token, we do not believe that the TIO should be placed under the control of ... ACMA,” he said.
“Also, given the very extensive record-keeping rules that have just been put in place by the ACMA, and the fact that the new Complaints Handling Standard is still being implemented — as highlighted by the government’s paper — we would have concerns about too hastily implementing the recommendations related to those brand-new instruments.”
Stanton called on the government to draw up a regulation impact statement to determine whether additional layers of regulation would add value for consumers, or merely drive up the cost of compliance for the industry.
Meanwhile, the review recommends amendments to ACMA’s complaints handling standard including additional minimum requirements for the industry to follow.
It also includes recommendations for improved industry processes for handling complaints, such as the development of a template for a complaints handling procedure.
The government has also released the consultation paper for the second part of its three-part review into telecommunications complaints. This part of the review is based on the principle that all Australians should be able to connect to a reliable fixed broadband service.
“The consumer safeguards we have in place today are designed around the old telephone network. The ongoing relevance and usefulness of these protections is diminishing as Australia’s telecommunications environment and consumer use evolves,” Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said.
“Broadband is now considered as essential as electricity or water. Consumers expect to get connected and stay connected, and if something goes wrong it needs to be fixed, and fixed quickly.”
The final part of the three-part review will focus on choice and fairness in the retail relationship between the customer and their provider, he said.
Una Lawrence, Director of Policy at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), welcomed the recommendations in the report.
“We are very pleased to see recommendations about improving complaint handling by the industry, which is a big pain point for consumers. Improvements to the existing rules will make it easier for consumers to find the information they need about how to lodge complaints, and fast track processes so urgent issues are resolved quickly,” she said.
“It is also good to see the government acknowledge that overseas call centres can present real difficulties for telco consumers. We hope the industry will take up the report’s recommendation encouraging the establishment of more on-shore centres, as well as better support for small business customers. Unresolved complaints can be catastrophic when trying to run a business.”
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