Internet usage charge disputes skyrocket: TIO

Complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) about excessive internet charges have almost tripled.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has reported a dramatic year-on-year up-tick in complaints relating to disputed internet usage charges and financial over-commitment caused by inadequate spend management tools.

According to the latest quarterly update from ombudsman’s office, complaints about inadequate spend controls grew from 2181 in the March 2011 quarter to 4282 for the March 2011 quarter — an increase of 51 per cent.

“Increasing numbers of consumers are contacting the TIO stating that they have received an excessively high bill that they cannot afford to pay, and that they are unable to negotiate an acceptable solution with their provider,” the update reads.

Complaints about disputed internet usage charges grew from 981 in the March 2011 quarter to 2823 in the March 2012 quarter — an increase of 288 per cent.

“Smartphone penetration in Australia is among the highest in the world, and following this high take up, new complaints about disputed excess data charges have tripled over the last year,” the update reads.

According to the TIO, it was incumbent on telecommunications providers to work with their customers to assess their capacity to pay high bills and provide proper tools for spend management.

“The TIO believes that the high incidence of these complaints would reduce if providers ensured consumers could reasonably afford their contracted services,” the update reads.

“Providers can also protect consumers from unexpected large debts through the use of tools such as usage notification, accurate usage meters and/or limiting access to services where unusually high charges are accruing.”

The TIO also recorder an increase in new complaints about internet services from 6717 during the December 2012 quarter to 8663 for the March 2012 quarter — an increase of 29 per cent. However, year on year, the March 2012 quarter was 1489 or 14.7 per cent, down on the March 2011 quarter.

The TIO also noted that it had introduced conciliation for complaints that are not resolved by referral. According to the TIO office, conciliation allows the consumer and service provider to agree on a solution with the TIO acting as an independent and expert facilitator.

The office has also introduced a new complaints management system, a move which it believes will increase the TIO’s ability to understand the trends arising from complaints, automate routine tasks and increase the quality of its work.

In February the TIO reported that it had received more than 22,000 new complaints from small businesses in the financial year 2010-11 as a result of inadequate customer service advice, poor mobile phone coverage, broken promises and bill disputes were the most common complaints.

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