The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) reports in some areas they’ve almost tripled their workload  and it has just been given new powers to handle complaints with a higher total value, which should pave the way for the Ombudsman to deal with more small business issues as they relate to the telecommunications industry. We look at what this will mean for small business, and look at general figures for Telco complaints, and how this may affect consumer credit files and credit file listing complaints.

By Graham Doessel, Founder and CEO of MyCRA Credit Rating Repairs and

From 1 July 2012, the TIO will have the power to give legally binding directions to service providers of up to $50,000 in value, and to make recommendations up to $100,000. This is an increase from direction powers of $30,000 and recommendation powers of $85,000. There will also be a change to the way it classifies a small business.

“The adjustment to our monetary limits means that consumers who previously had disputes too large for us to deal with will now have access to our fast, free and independent service,” Ombudsman Simon Cohen said in a statement to the media last week.

The TIO says the changes will be of particular benefit to small business consumers. At the same time as the constitutional change on monetary limits commence, the TIO will adopt a more flexible approach to defining a small businesses, making TIO services accessible and relevant to these consumers.

New Small Business Definitions for TIO

The TIO can assist small businesses with an annual turnover of less than $3 million and up to 20 employees (or up to 100 staff in the case of seasonal operations or manufacturing businesses).

Even where these conditions might not be met, the TIO will consider other aspects such as the issues in dispute, the nature of the business (for example, whether it is not for profit or it operates from home), and whether the business is independently owned and funded by a small number of individuals who make most of the important business decisions.

In the past, the TIO would also take into account the amount in dispute and the business’s yearly expenditure on telecommunications. These criteria have now been removed.

Prior to these new powers, the TIO announced its intention is to expand its role beyond dispute resolution to helping improve telecommunications services. The TIO says it aims to achieve this by contributing to better customer service and complaint handling and working with industry to identify broader issues affecting consumers.

Consumer Complaint Numbers Through The Roof

In the magazine TIO Talks, it reported on its most recent survey of TIO services. It counted 52,231 new complaints received between January and March 2012. Almost two-thirds were about mobile phone services – with two significant trends in new mobile phone complaints coming from consumer issues about over-commitment resulting from inadequate spend controls, and complaints about excess internet usage charges. It revealed the staggering figures that numbers for internet data usage complainnts  have jumped 180 per cent in 12 months. The TIO Reports:

New complaints about overcommitment caused by inadequate spend controls increased to 4,282 in the January-March 2012 quarter, compared to 2,181 in the same quarter in 2011. In the same periods, new complaints about disputed internet charges increased from 981 to 2,823 (180 per cent).

“It is well known that more internet browsing and downloads are now done on mobile phones and other mobile devices. With this change in consumer behaviour, we have seen complaints about excess data charges almost treble over the last year,” Ombudsman Simon Cohen said.  “The incidence of these complaints will reduce if consumers are only contracted for services they can afford, and where spend management tools such as notifications and usage meters are accurate and reliable”.

Credit File Listing Complaints from Telco Industry

Every day as credit repairers, we forward complaints to the TIO about consumer complaints and bill disputes which have seen them not only having billing issues, but having those issues impact their ability to obtain credit through being defaulted.

We would agree that internet data usage complaints are rampant. Data usage on mobile phones seems to be one of the biggest sources of confusion for consumers. Some clients have trouble understanding their accounts (and often claim the plan they were put on was not appropriate for what they intended to use their mobile and/or internet for), and when they are hit with massive bills, they struggle to make the repayments; others claim they have great difficulty getting billing issues and disputes sorted out at the time they appear, and end up having defaults put on their credit file because they refuse to pay a bill they disagree with; and then some are simply the victim of internal errors within the telco industry – wrong accounts, wrong names, wrong plans, wrong addresses – and all of these things contribute to negative credit file listings that they often don’t know anything about until they apply for credit and are refused.

Understanding Bill Disputes with Telcos

MyCRA’s Legislative Compliance Officer specialising in Telco credit listing complaints has given people a few quick tips to take heed of when disputing Telco bills:

1. Attempt to resolve the dispute with the Telco first. If a bill has just popped up you don’t agree with, let your Provider know, and DOCUMENT ALL CORRESPONDENCE WITH THEM (and document who you speak with).

2. Get all responses in writing. The matter may seem at an end, but sometimes people believe they have sorted it out only to find out later they have been defaulted anyway.

3. If the matter can’t be resolved internally, take your case to the TIO.

4. If at any stage people have a credit file listing from a Telco which they believe shouldn’t be there, they should contact a credit repairer, and give them all the information so far. They can then work on the person’s behalf. Credit file listings can be difficult for the individual to remove. If people request Creditors remove bad credit history, most people are told listings cannot be removed, but can be marked as ‘paid’ if the account was settled. This may not be enough to obtain credit with most lenders in the future, and these listings will be on a person’s credit file for between 5 and 7 years. With their knowledge of credit reporting law, a credit repairer will negotiate with the creditor as well as escalate the matter to the TIO on the client’s behalf if necessary. This gives people the best chance of actually being able to remove bad credit history which shouldn’t be there.

A New Consumer Protection Code

A revised Telecommunications Protection Code is currently being considered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) which, if adopted, will require telcos to provide their customers with notifications when they have used 80% and 100% of their data usage in the plan. After 24 months telcos will be required to extend notifications to voice and SMS usage. These changes come after pressure from ACMA for Telcos to offer better protection for consumers, or face external regulation.

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