The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has thrown its weight behind an external review that proposes to provide more regulative power to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).
In a submission to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (PDF) around a TIO inquiry announced in March, the advocacy group recommended the ombudsman department be given the ability to charge telcos more to resolve complaints as well as the right to award compensation to customers when a telco breaches its consumer protection obligations.
“The telco ombudsman currently receives in excess of 200,000 complaints a year from unhappy telco customers – we need to use everything in our arsenal to work together to bring these numbers down,” ACCAN chief executive, Teresa Corbin, said in a statement.
“We’re of the belief that if we are ever to see real improvement in customer service and complaint handling the TIO must be able to provide financial disincentives for telcos for poor practices before the wheels fall off altogether, especially in light of the National Broadband Network that’s coming.”
The organisation also recommended introducing a requirement for telcos to publicise the TIO's role, which would include contact details for the ombudsman on company websites and customer bills. Centrelink would also provide TIO contact information on its publications to those who receive benefits, following an 86 per cent increase in the number of issues on financial over-commitment die to mobile services.
“Much more needs to be done on systemic, industry-wide issues,” Corbin said. “All the TIO can do at present is patch up punctures when things go wrong and that alone doesn’t change behaviour.
According to ACCAN, the industry has failed to modernise because the TIO continues to operate under an outdated model of industry ownership dating back to 1993. The group called for the TIO Board to include equal representation between industry representatives, consumer representatives and an independent chair.
Corbin sits on the TIO Board.
“There’s a perfect storm at present [with concurrent telco inquiries underway] to address these long-standing customer service and complaint-handling issues and, we believe, the impetus from telcos to start to improve their relationships with customers and their reputation as an industry,” Corbin said.
In March, Communication Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy released a discussion paper proposing the inquiry, which would give the TIO greater control to govern telecommunications regulations
As reported by Computerworld Australia, the TIO has [[artnid:381453|also flagged increased efforts to change internal processes|new[[ and structures to better communicate with telcos and service providers in handling and resolving complaints.
Simon Cohen, who stepped into the ombudsman role in July 2010, noted ongoing work to solve complaints from service provider about his department, including changing billing procedures and eradicating some charges for telcos, as well as sparking an internal review of the body to simplify structure and procedures and a wider review of some 50 issues across the telco industry on complaints management.
Cohen told attendees of the recent Commsday Summit in Sydney the department would be refocusing its investigation process to prioritise the use of conciliation first.
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