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Roaming complaints to TIO down, but disputed charges increase

12 December 2012

Fewer consumers are complaining to the Ombudsman about global roaming charges but a greater proportion are disputing bills of $5,000 or more, according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) quarterly publication, TIO Talks, released today.

Consumers who came to the TIO disputed $8 million worth of global roaming charges between 1 July 2011 and 30 September 2012. This is an average of $1.6 million per quarter.

One consumer reported that she had requested a special plan to make calls during a nine-week holiday to Europe, but received a $147,908 bill on her return to Australia. Another came to the TIO with a bill for $38,000, while a third consumer disputed an $18,000 bill.

“Some consumers who travel overseas for business or leisure are returning to telephone bills that are more expensive than the trips themselves,” Ombudsman Simon Cohen said.

“Making sure that consumers are fully informed about roaming charges before and while they are overseas will go some way toward reducing the risk of returning home to a high bill,” Mr Cohen said.

TIO Talks also reports an overall decrease in new complaints to the TIO. Between April and June 2012, new complaints decreased by almost 19 per cent and by a further 11 per cent between July and September 2012.

“Complaints about customer service, complaint handling and billing have reduced, which is good news for consumers and service providers alike,” Mr Cohen said. “The challenge will be to keep up this positive trend over the summer months, when demand for new services and products is high.”

Most complaints (57 per cent) made to the TIO are about mobile services, and these complaints in particular have decreased by 35.6 per cent in July‑September 2012 when compared to the same period in 2011. Coverage issues continue to be the biggest concern of Australian mobile phone users, and there was a 4.2 per cent increase complaints about this in July‑September 2012, after five successive quarters of reductions.

Victoria was the state with the most new complaints per capita between July and September 2012, with 1.83 complaints received per 1,000 people. Victoria was followed by South Australia (1.76), New South Wales (1.52), ACT (1.49), Queensland (1.39), Western Australia (1.2), Tasmania (1.05) and the Northern Territory (0.79).

The postcode with the most complaints per 1,000 people in the country was Docklands in Melbourne (4.9 complaints per 1,000 people). Parramatta in New South Wales followed with 4.7 complaints per 1,000 people.

Consumer tips for avoiding high global roaming charges

Before travelling overseas, we encourage consumers to contact their telco and make sure they are fully informed about all potential costs and charges of international roaming and other international telephone services.

  • Find out the costs of global roaming for voice and data services before using either service.
  • Ask whether your telco has products designed specifically for roaming, such as data roaming packs, as these may reduce your overall costs.
  • As when buying any product, ask questions to ensure you understand what you are agreeing to and the possible costs involved.
  • Even if you have used global roaming previously, it is still important to contact your provider as the costs can vary significantly between countries.
  • You can ask your telco to restrict your access to global roaming (if this was previously set up). Also find out how you can turn off global roaming and data settings on your phone.
  • To avoid international call charges for incoming calls, you can set an unconditional call diversion to voicemail before leaving Australia. This means that all incoming calls divert directly to voicemail and will remain within the Australian network. Your provider will be able to explain the remote retrieval process and costs to you.
  • If you incur a large roaming bill, you should contact your telco to discuss it and ask for more information about how it was incurred. If you believe the debt is not correct and you cannot resolve the issue with your provider, you can contact the TIO.

General tips for consumers over Christmas

  • Smart phones and other new gadgets may be functional and attractive, but can sometimes come with hidden costs. Ask lots of questions about plans and charges, what features are included in the monthly bills, what is not included and how much you have to pay for extras. Shop around, and make sure you’re making an informed decision before buying a new phone, especially for your children.
  • Find out how you can check your usage from time to time, and whether your service provider will send you alerts if you are approaching your data, call or message limits.
  • If you plan on calling friends or family overseas, ask your provider about their international call rates from your mobile or landline. Remember that some mobile phone caps may not include international calls. Your provider will generally have that information on their website.
  • A picture message can be a fantastic greeting on Christmas or New Years Eve, but before sending one to all your contacts, remember that they are more expensive than SMS and may not be included in your cap. Posting the photo in a place where it can be accessed by family and friends may be a cheaper option. You may be able to send the link via SMS.
  • If you know that Christmas expenses will affect your ability to pay your phone bill, ring your provider in advance to ask for an extension or payment plan. A call may save you going through a disconnection, suspension or a credit listing.

Media inquiries: Mirjana Jovetic, Communications Manager (03) 8600 8378.

ViewTIO Talks online or download PDF version.

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