We’ve discussed it frequently. We hear about it frequently as credit repairers. Next month, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is overseeing new guidelines under the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code (TCP) designed to reduce the instances of bill shock, and hopefully the frequency of credit disputes over bill shock. The new requirements are about to take effect from 1 September. We look at what the new Code requires and what it will mean for consumers.
By Graham Doessel, Founder and CEO of MyCRA Credit Rating Repair and www.fixmybadcredit.com.au.
Botched phone plans and lack of data usage monitoring has in the past left many Australians shell shocked over their mobile and internet bills, with bills so large many can’t pay up or refuse to pay up, leading to an increased rate of defaults.
Consumers have been confused when it comes to data allowance – particularly on their smartphones, and this was a major focus following the ACMA’s Reconnecting the Customer inquiry – which found there was a real need for improvement in consumer protection in the telco industry in the areas of Critical Information Summaries, clearer advertising and improved complaint handling.
In the past clients claim they have gone over their allowance really quickly, sometimes without realising it, or the plan they were put on was not appropriate for what they intended to use their mobile internet for. Often they have had great difficulty in cancelling the accounts or coming to a resolution with telcos over these billing issues.
Sometimes consumers have reluctantly paid the bill, thought the matter was settled, only to find they were defaulted anyway, and others have just refused to pay the bill until they got some resolution. Either way, they have been faced with at least 5 years of bad credit from the episode unless they have been able to make a successful complaint.
Last year, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) surveyed its services. It counted 52,231 new complaints about telcos received between January and March 2012. Almost two-thirds were about mobile phone services.
The TIO reports new complaints about over-commitment caused by inadequate spend controls increased to 4,282 in the January-March 2012 quarter, compared to 2,181 in the same quarter in 2011. In the same periods, new complaints about disputed internet charges increased from 981 to 2,823 (180 per cent).
“It is well known that more internet browsing and downloads are now done on mobile phones and other mobile devices. With this change in consumer behaviour, we have seen complaints about excess data charges almost treble over the last year,” Ombudsman Simon Cohen said. “The incidence of these complaints will reduce if consumers are only contracted for services they can afford, and where spend management tools such as notifications and usage meters are accurate and reliable”.
SPEND MANAGEMENT TOOLS FOR TELCO CUSTOMERS
From 1 September, 2013, spend management alerts, in addition to a range of new tools introduced for telco consumers following registration of the TCP code by the ACMA, will take effect. The changes include:
- Residential customers on post-paid mobile and internet plans (with the potential for excess usage charges) will receive email updates when their data usage reaches 50 per cent, 85 per cent and 100 per cent of the amount included in their plan
- Residential customers of the largest three mobile providers—Optus, Telstra and Vodafone—will also, from that date, receive SMS alerts when usage of their included value for calls and SMS reaches 50, 85 and 100 per cent.
- The warnings at the 100 per cent usage mark must also include details of excess usage charges, which can be considerably higher than charges within the plan.
‘These notifications target customers most at risk of bill shock and represent an enormous industry reform by placing the power of information in the hands of consumers when they need it,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.
Customers will not receive the warnings if they are on a plan which does not expose them to bill shock. This includes plans that are a pre-paid service, have a hard cap, or are an unlimited service, a dial-up internet service or are a shaped internet service, (i.e. which slows data rather than imposes excess usage charges when customers reach their data usage limit). The warnings are not mandatory for mobile plans launched prior to 1 March, 2012.
The final element of the new TCP code, developed by Communications Alliance, rolls out in September 2014 when customers of the mid-sized and small telcos (less than 100,000 customers on included value plans) receive voice and SMS usage alerts to accompany their data alerts.
Image: artur84/ www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net