TIO increases cost limit jurisdiction on bill disputes

Industry watchdog to be able to make legally binding decisions on more pricey disputes

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has increased the cost limit at which it can be involved in and make recommendations for disputes involving consumers' telephone and Internet services.

From 1 May and for the first time since its inception in 1993, the TIO will be able to make legally binding decisions on disputes involving up to $30,000 - up from $10,000 previously - and make recommendations on disputes involving up to $85,000, up from $50,000. The new limits will remain in place for the next year.

While the new limits allow the ombudsman to provide recommendations and determine the outcome of costlier disputes, it does not restrict it from investigating disputes outside of these cost limits.

Acting Ombudsman Simon Cleary said in a statement that the new cost limits were necessary due to an increase in the cost of individual disputes.

“There is a general community expectation that the TIO can help consumers resolve disputes within our jurisdiction by virtue of the nature of the complaint,’’ Cleary said.

The ombudsman regularly becomes involved in disputes where consumers have faced excessive charges of up to $215,000 on phone and Internet bills.

In October last year, the TIO said complaints from consumers and small businesses about phone and Internet providers rose 54 per cent in 2008-2009 over the previous 12 months.

In the TIO’s annual report, the Ombudsman, Deirdre O’Donnell, called for the industry to pick up its game as the level of complaints around customer service were still "unacceptably high".

In the 2008-09 period the TIO responded to 230,065 complaints, but 90 per cent were referred back to the service providers. The highest increase was in mobile phone customers with a 79 per cent rise, the TIO said in a statement. This was followed by Internet (57 per cent) and landline (40 per cent) users. Billing and payments, however, remained the biggest concern.

"The increases reflect the greater take-up of broadband internet services and a greater variety of services offered through mobile phones used by Australian consumers," O’Donnell said at the time.

The TIO is not the only organisation to criticise the telecommunications industry. In March, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warned the Australian telecommunications industry to better deal with consumers and eradicate misleading advertising, unfair contracts and deceptive mobile phone competitions, or face the wrath of the Trade Practices Act.

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Tags internetmobile phonesTelecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO)Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

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