Data shows sharp increase in TIO complaints

Telco customers are becoming increasingly cranky about poor customer service, billing problems and how their grievances are handled, with TIO complaints soaring by one-third, new figures show.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman has revealed that individual and small business customers lodged 65,760 TIO complaints in the second half of last year – up by 33.8 per cent on the same period in the previous year.

Most TIO complaints were about internet services – which also experienced the biggest growth in complaints at 53.6 per cent – followed by mobile phones and landlines.

TIO Complaints related to the national broadband network (NBN) jumped by 117.5 per cent. Ombudsman Judi Jones said overall the biggest issues were customer service, billing and payments, faults and complaints handling, but with no root cause analysis, she couldn’t pinpoint the main drivers with precision.

“What we know is that these services are very important to people’s social and business lives and we have higher expectations because we’ve moved on from the days of the dial-up modem,” she said. “There’s a lot of changes in the industry as well – rollout of the NBN, new entrants, and existing providers changing their offerings.”

The jump was significant, but she said TIO complaints had been continuously going down for the past five years after hitting a peak of 197,682 in 2010-11. But with 65,760 complaints in six months, the upcoming annual complaints figure looks set to exceed last year’s.

Proportionally, Victorians and South Australians lodged the most TIO complaints. Thirteen per cent of complaints came from small businesses.

“It can be quite problematic for them, like even not being able to access eftpos could really impact the running of their business,” Ms Jones said.

Despite the big rise in NBN complaints, the rate of increase has been slower than the rate of new premises being connected to the mixed-technology network. Most NBN complaints related to faults, including slow data speeds, and connections.

Teresa Corbin, chief executive of Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, said the NBN figures were “concerning”. “We often hear from consumers who are disconnected or have unusable services for long periods of time due to buck passing between NBN and the telecommunications providers,” she said.

“No consumer should be left disconnected for long periods of time. Consumers need to be given clear information about who is responsible for fixing faults and NBN and the telcos must act quickly to rectify issues when they arise.”

But NBN Co said that when the figures were adjusted to reflect the total number of “activated” premises, there was a 30 per cent drop in TIO complaints about services delivered over the network. “With about 30,000 households and businesses being connected to services over the NBN every week, [the] increase … reflects the acceleration of the rollout. However, from an [NBN Co] perspective, we need to continue to improve the consumer experience as we further ramp up,” chief customer officer John Simon said.

“That is exactly why [NBN Co] is working in collaboration with retail service providers to better educate consumers and business owners … while also improving end-to-end processes.”

Consumer Fury
TIO Complaints about internet, mobile phone and landline services are back on the rise.

The telecommunications peak body Communications Alliance said while the complaints were “very disappointing in aggregate”, they showed their members’ actions were slowing the rate of growth.

It said if the six-month complaints figure was compared with the preceding six months and not the same period the previous year, the “greatly reduced” rate of growth was 5.3 per cent.

“Clearly, more remains to be done and Communications Alliance is working closely with its members on these challenges,” its chief executive John Stanton said.
“The recent setbacks reported by the TIO are a matter of serious concern and are being addressed.”

The TIO’s 2015-16 annual report shows Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, iiNet and TPG accounted for more than 83 per cent of TIO complaints.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May 2017