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Consumer Safeguards Review – Part A Redress and Complaints Handling

The Government is currently consulting on Part A of the Consumer Safeguards Review. Part A will consider the existing model for consumer redress and complaints handling and proposals to improve outcomes for consumers.

The Department of Communications and the Arts released the Redress and Complaints Handling Discussion Paper on July 5. The Department has invited submissions from individuals, businesses, peak bodies and other interested organisations by 5pm on Friday, 3 August 2018.

The paper can be accessed at: https://www.communications.gov.au/what-we-do/internet/consumer-safeguards-review

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman response to Consumer Safeguard Review

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and Board has welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the review of the Consumer Safeguards. 

Our submission can be downloaded here.

Our submission to the Consumer Safeguards Review focuses on the need for all parties in the telecommunications sector to address underlying consumer dissatisfaction with telecommunications services.

Over the last 25 years, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s high complaint volumes have coincided with major change and disruption in the telecommunications sector, and declined as change has been bedded down.

We believe reforms should be designed to improve complaint processes or outcomes for consumers on an ongoing basis, rather than the sole purpose of reducing complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

Our purpose remains clear – to ensure that residential consumers and small businesses continue to have access to a fair, independent and effective complaint resolution service.

Making a submission

You can make a submission by visiting: https://www.communications.gov.au/have-your-say/consumer-safeguards-review-consultation-part-consumer-redress-and-complaints-handling Alternatively please  email your completed template submission to consumersafeguardsreview@communications.gov.au or send it to:

Consumer Safeguards Review
Department of Communications and the Arts
GPO Box 2154
Canberra ACT 2601

The Redress and Complaints Handling Discussion Paper includes three proposals:

Proposal 1: Industry complaints handling

Telecommunications Providers must have and maintain complaint handling policies which detail their processes and procedures for handling customer complaints in compliance with the governing rules.

Proposal 2: External Dispute Resolution

An external Dispute Resolution Body, independent of industry, should be established to deal with complex complaints that are unable to be resolved directly between customers and their providers. Consideration will need to be given to the appropriate governance arrangements to support the body, with  its independence being a guiding principle.

Proposal 3: Data collection, analysis and reporting

Responsibility for collection of data relating to industry performance and complaints should be transferred to the ACMA. The ACMA will publish reports detailing the analysis of this data, as well as including complaints data in its annual communications report.

How is the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman funded?

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is funded by members who pay for the handling of complaints raised by consumers, based on the complaints received against each member. The service is free to consumers, in line with the Government’s Benchmarks for Industry-Based Customer Dispute Resolution.

Who owns the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman?

Although wholly funded by industry fees and charges, it is not correct to say the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is “owned by industry”. The reasons for this include:

  • The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is a not for profit company limited by guarantee and members of the scheme are not shareholders
  • Members do not receive payments or profits (for example by way of dividends)
  • Membership is compulsory and is required by legislation
  • Failure to comply with the requirements of the scheme can result in regulatory enforcement action (by ACMA)

The structure of the Board is aligned with best practice complaint handling mechanisms in Australia and globally, which are predominantly membership organisations funded by industry with a Board made up of consumer, industry, and independent representatives.

The Board of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is comprised of three directors with industry experience, three with consumer experience, and three independent directors. This means industry directors on the Board are in a minority, which is in line with the Government’s Benchmarks for Industry-Based Customer Dispute resolution, and with other industry Ombudsman schemes in Australia and internationally.

Is the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman independent?

Yes. The Board of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is comprised of three directors with industry experience, three with consumer experience, and three independent directors. This means industry directors on the Board are in a minority, which is in line with the Government’s Benchmarks for Industry-Based Customer Dispute resolution, and with other industry Ombudsman schemes in Australia and internationally.

The Government’s Consumer Safeguards Review Part A Consultation Paper outlines that the Minister for Communication and the Arts and the Minister responsible for Consumer Affairs (currently the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) have a limited oversight role in the appointment of the Chair and do not have influence over the TIO’s day to day operations or strategic direction.

The Chair of the Board is required to be an independent director.  The Board is required to seek the view of the Minister for Communications and the Minister responsible for Consumer Affairs, and to consider their views, before appointing the Chair.

This level of Ministerial involvement is not uncommon for industry-based Ombudsman schemes. In this case, the separation from Ministers is appropriate given that these Ministers are shareholder Ministers for nbn co. Any role they might have in relation to appointment to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Board or any alternative EDR scheme would present a conflict of interest and could be seen as weakening the independence of the Board.

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Next step?              

  • make an online complaint
  • 1800 062 058                
  • Write PO Box 276
    Collins Street West Vic 8007                            
  • National Relay Service Call on 1800 555 677 then ask for 1800 062 058            
  • Fax our consumer complaint form to 1800 630 614