Mobile Phone Billing Complaints On The Rise

The good news? The overall number of complaints made to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) actually decreased in the last financial year. The bad news? The TIO still received almost 200,000 complaints, and the majority relate to being overcharged for mobile phone services. Telstra has seen complaints decrease, but both Optus and Vodafone have seen a rise.

Main image courtesy of Shutterstock

The TIO today released its official annual report, which covers the 2011-2012 financial year. Over that period, a total of 193,702 complaints were registered with the body. That was down 2 per cent on the previous year, though ombudsman Simon Cohen says service can still improve.

"We have seen far too often, in literally tens of thousands of cases, consumers who come to us frustrated, exhausted and emotional after being unable to resolve often very simple issues with their service providers," he said at the report launch. At the other extreme, the TIO has investigated "a score" of roaming bills for more than $10,000, Cohen said.

Complaints only reach the TIO after attempts to resolve them with providers have failed. Telecommunications companies aren't keen on referrals to the TIO, since they pay a fee for each complaint. (The TIO had revenues of $29 million in the financial year.) Complaints are being resolved faster, with the average period dropping from 56 days to 21 days.

Given the ongoing shift away from landlines, it's not surprising that the most prominent source of trouble is mobile phones. Those accounted for 122,834 complaints, up from 112,376 in the prior year, and have been on a steady upward trajectory:

Common sources of complaint were poor coverage, complaints over billing and the lack of information about phones given when they're sold. Here are some of the more prominent examples:

ISSUE # OF COMPLAINTS
Complaints about overspending because it's hard to track costs 15,752
Complaints about bill totals 13,943
Complaints about internet usage charges 10,556
Complaints about credit status being downgraded during a dispute 4370
Complaints about credit status being downgraded without notification 3730
Complaints about global roaming charges 4186

The introduce of the Telecommunication Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, which requires phone companies to be much more honest about what they charge, might reduce the levels of complaint for some of these issues in the future. "I'm very hopeful that the new TCP code will reduce the need for consumers to come to the TIO," Cohen said.

However, as we've noted before, those provisions are only being introduced gradually. Last week saw the introduction of unit pricing, but usage alerts aren't due for another year with large telcos, and for almost two years with smaller providers.

So which providers scored the most complaints? Here are the top 10, along with the percentage change on the prior year:

PROVIDER # COMPLAINTS ANNUAL % CHANGE
Telstra 61991 -21.5%
Optus 41602 46.9%
Vodafone 39588 11.3%
3 17314 -9.1%
Virgin 8177 33.1%
TPG 4797 -23.7%
Dodo 2827 -4.7%
Crazy John's 2622 -5.7%
iiNet 2188 -26.4%
Primus 1055 -5.0%

While the numbers for the top three are high, it's worth remembering they also have much larger customer bases. "Complaints made about the big three telcos — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone — understandably have the most substantial impact on overall TIO complaint trends," the TIO report notes.

For both Optus and Vodafone, the main issue is bill shock related to disputed charges. Sounds like those notification changes can't come soon enough. "I am encouraged to see some service providers moving earlier to provide stronger spend management tools to prevent unexpected high bills," Cohen noted.


Comments

    poor optus and virgin, those kind of stats really say something about their lack of customer service. I can't sympathise though, given the hell optus put me through (temporarily screwing up my credit after I cancelled a contract due to poor service/reception within a week of signing up, returned the handset as per their instructions, but still received a $1000 cancellation fee and threats of being referred to the debt collection agency. It was only after I called the TIO AND spoke to the optus finance that this was cleared up. The idiot rep from optus who handled my TIO complaint failed to get the fee sorted out)

    does anyone know for sure that the usages updates have to be real time? The thing that really kills it now is the 48 hour delay on optus updates, plenty of providers offer text alerts already by they are delayed. If this is actually a technical issue (which in 2012 i highly doubt) it would be impossible for the tio to enforce timely updates.

    48 hours is permitted for issue of usage notifications. See 6.5.2 in the code, which can be found at http://commsalliance.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/33128/TCP-C628_2012_May2012-Corrected-July12.pdf.

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