The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has always been the main resource to use when you've experienced a billing or service problem with a phone company or internet service provider (ISP) and can't get the problem solved by talking to the company directly. From July 1, its ability to do that will be enhanced with the ability to handle complaints with a higher total value and more flexibility when dealing with small business problems.
Picture by Andrew Mager
Previously, the TIO was not allowed to issue legally binding directions on complaints where the disputed amount was over $30,000, and could not even offer non-binding recommendations if the total of the complaint was over $85,000. Those numbers have now risen to $50,000 and $100,000 respectively.
"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.
Given the size of those figures, more complaints from small businesses are now expected to fall within the TIO's orbit. Problems reported by small businesses to the TIO have increased faster than those from individual consumers in recent times.
The TIO's rules allow it to consider small business complaints for companies which have an annual turnover of less than $3 million and up to 20 employees. The regulator says there is some flexibility in applying this rule, especially for home-based businesses. Another change means that the TIO will no longer consider how much a business spends on telecommunications or the amount of the dispute when deciding whether to handle a dispute (though the general limits on the size of the complaint amount will apply).
Last week, the TIO outlined plans to expand its role and work directly with providers to improve overall service levels as well as resolving individual complaints. The increase in its fining levels comes ahead of long-awaited improvements to how phone companies have to notify customers about their usage and how much plans will cost. Bill shock, especially over data charges, is one of the main causes of complaints to the TIO, and research suggests most Australians don't understand the inclusions or billing rules for mobile phone and internet plans.