Optus has announced it will be refunding 235,000 customers who were incorrectly billed for a service they didn't use. Repaying customers and paying them interest is going to cost Optus $8.8 million. Ouch! This is why you should always check your mobile phone bill.
The issue, which Optus is blaming on a "software coding error", affected some consumer and small business customers using postpaid Optus mobile services between July 2011 and September 2013. 235,000 of those customers were incorrectly billed for SurePage, a service which diverts calls to an operator who then passes the contents on as an SMS message. SurePage costs $1.20 per message (with bundle packs available for heavy users).
According to Optus, 175,000 customers will receive a refund of $50 or less. That means that 60,000 people got slugged for more than $50 for services they never used. (According to Optus, the higher sums mostly affect small business accounts which include multiple numbers.)
Optus says it will contact all customers affected by the error to ensure they receive the refund. However, those letters will be sent in batches between October and mid-November, so you might be waiting a while. Interest will be paid at the cash rate relevant when the charge was incurred, plus one per cent.
If you are an Optus postpaid (contract) mobile user, I'd check your bills for that period to see if you were affected, and contact Optus if you were. Even if you're not, the experience reminds us that telephone billing systems are very far from infallible. Check your bill every month, and challenge anything that isn't what you signed up for or that you didn't actually use.