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Complaint Handling Procedures

Last updated 12 December 2023

1. Introduction

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Terms of Reference explain the types of complaints we can handle, and how we handle them.

Section 2.1–2.19 of the Terms of Reference explains:

  • we handle complaints made by Consumers and Occupiers
  • we handle complaints against Members of our scheme
  • when a complaint can be made
  • the types of complaints we handle
  • the types of complaints we don’t handle.

Section 2.20–2.46 of the Terms of Reference explains how we handle complaints.

These Complaint Handling Procedures explain how the TIO applies the Terms of Reference in handling complaints.

2. Making a complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

We can accept complaints about Members from individual, small business, not-for-profit consumers, and owners and occupiers of property.

We publish on our website the factors we will consider in deciding whether a business is a small business that is eligible to use our dispute resolution services.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is an office of last resort. This means that a Consumer or Occupier with a complaint about a Member should contact the Member and give the Member an opportunity to resolve the issue before contacting the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

2.1 Contacting the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

Consumers and Occupiers can contact us by phone, the National Relay Service (TTY), email, post, or web form through our website.

2.1.1 Interpreters

Where a Consumer or Occupier needs an interpreter to help them make a complaint, we can arrange this.

2.1.2 Representatives

A Consumer or Occupier can authorise a representative to act on their behalf.

When a Consumer or Occupier authorises a representative, the representative is authorised to disclose and receive information about the Consumer and the Member and to make decisions about how the complaint should be resolved.

A Consumer or Occupier can withdraw authorisation for a representative at any time.

We may, where we consider it appropriate, refuse to deal with a Consumer’s or Occupier’s nominated representative and ask the Consumer or Occupier to either manage the complaint or appoint another representative. We will only do this where we reasonably consider that the representative has a conflict of interest in representing the Consumer or Occupier or is acting or has acted inappropriately or unreasonably.

2.2 Enquiries

We will register contact from a Consumer or Occupier or other person as an Enquiry if we do not have jurisdiction to consider the matter. This includes:

  • The complaint is outside the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s jurisdiction
  • The complaint has already been considered by a court, tribunal or other complaint handling body, or by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
  • The Consumer or Occupier became aware of the issues in the complaint more than 6 years prior to contacting the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
  • The Provider is not a Member of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
    • If the Provider is not a Member, but should be, we will take steps to have the Provider become a Member and then refer the complaint.
  • The Consumer or Occupier does not give us sufficient information to register a complaint, such as contact or complaint details

We can also exercise discretion to register contact as an Enquiry if:

  • We consider that the Consumer does not meet our small business criteria
  • We consider that another forum (such as a court or tribunal) is a more appropriate forum to handle the complaint
  • We believe the Consumer or Occupier is making the complaint for an unacceptable reason.

2.3 Information we need to register a complaint

The information we need to register a complaint:

  • The name and contact details of the Consumer or Occupier
  • If the Consumer or Occupier is being represented by another person, the representative’s name and contact details
  • The name of the Member
  • An identifier for the service that the complaint is about (such as an account number, phone number, service address)
  • Details of the complaint
  • Details of when the Consumer or Occupier complained to the Member and the Member’s response
  • If possible, the Member’s reference for the complaint
  • What outcome the Consumer or Occupier wants.

If the Consumer or Occupier tells us they have spoken to the Member and given it a chance to resolve the complaint and has given us sufficient information to allow the Member to deal with the complaint, we will register a Complaint.

2.4 Complaints involving more than one Member

Some complaints involve more than one Member. Examples of these include:

  • Problems transferring services from one Member to another, such as delays or lost numbers
  • Complaints that services have been transferred without the Consumer’s authorisation
  • Complaints relating to the connection of premises, supply of broadband services and minimum broadband speeds under the Statutory Infrastructure Provider rules (in Part 19 of the Telecommunications Act 1997)
  • Complaints where an Occupier’s property is damaged by a carrier who attends the property at the request of a Provider
  • Complaints about unsafe carrier infrastructure on an Occupier’s land, where the Provider is not the carrier.

Usually, we will register the complaint to the Consumer’s current service Provider (that is the service Provider who bills the customer), but where we consider that this is not appropriate, we will decide which Member is most appropriate to deal with the issues raised.

In some cases, we may decide that a complaint needs to be registered to two Members.

3. Referring Enquiries and Complaints to Members

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman facilitates the resolution of complaints through its referral process.

When a Consumer or Occupier contacts us with a complaint, we may ask for information to clarify the circumstances of the complaint. We send the information to the Member so that it can review the complaint and reconsider its initial response.

3.1 Enquiry Referral

If the Consumer or Occupier has not previously contacted the Member about the complaint and we have registered an Enquiry, we may refer the complaint to the Member and ask it to try to resolve the complaint with the Consumer or Occupier. This is called an Enquiry Referral.

3.2 Referral

If the Consumer or Occupier has previously contacted the Member about the complaint and given the Member an opportunity to resolve the complaint, we will refer the complaint as a Referral.

3.3 Referral response times

When we refer a complaint to a Member, we allow the Member time to resolve the complaint by responding directly to the Member. The timeframe to do this differs depending on the nature of the complaint:
 

Complaint type

Response time

Standard Referral

10 business days

Complaint where there is an urgency due to medical/safety risk

2 business days for the urgent issues

10 business days for any other non-urgent issues

Complaint where Consumer or Occupier became aware of the issues more than two years previously

20 business days

Enquiry Referral

15 business days

Members do not need to tell us about the outcome of the responses to complaints.

If the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman declares a disaster under its Business Continuity Plan, then for the duration of the disaster we can amend the above response times at our discretion. During a disaster, we will keep the parties to the Complaint informed about the applicable response times.

3.4 Consumer and Occupier responsibilities

When we refer a Consumer’s or Occupier’s complaint to a Member, we expect the Consumer or Occupier to be available to discuss the complaint and resolution options with the Member.

We may refuse to deal with a Complaint after referral, if the Consumer or Occupier has not engaged with the Member to try to resolve the Complaint. We will consider any extenuating circumstances that may prevent a Consumer or Occupier from actively engaging with the Member to resolve the Complaint.

3.5 Stopping credit management on disputed charges

The Member must stop all credit management for disputed charges while we are handling the Complaint.

When we have referred a Complaint to the Member, it must stop credit management action on disputed charges for the duration of the referral period, and while the TIO Complaint is open.

If a Member does not stop credit management after we ask it to, we may issue a Temporary Ruling directing the Member to stop all debt collection and other credit management action for up to 90 days.

The direction in the Temporary Ruling may require a Member to:

  • lift a restriction on a service
  • reconnect a service
  • remove a default listing
  • buy back a debt
  • stop legal action
  • stop credit management action.

If a Member fails to comply with a Temporary Ruling, we will refer the Member to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for enforcement action.

4. Complaints not resolved by Referral

If a Consumer or Occupier tells us after the Referral timeframe their Complaint is not resolved, we will ask the Consumer or Occupier to tell us:

  • What the Member’s response to their Complaint was, and
  • Why they are not satisfied with the response.

4.1 No contact

If the Consumer or Occupier tells us the Member did not contact them after we referred the Complaint, and the Provider has not demonstrated that they had trouble contacting the consumer or occupier, the TIO will progress the complaint. 

4.2 Deciding whether to continue to handle an unresolved complaint

If a consumer or Occupier tells us the complaint remains unresolved after we referred it to the Member, we will decide whether it is appropriate for us to continue to handle the Complaint. We can decide to stop handling a Complaint at any time, if it is reasonable to do so.

In deciding whether it is appropriate to continue handling the complaint at this stage, we will:

  • consider:
    • the matters set out in paragraph 5.4 of the Complaint Handling Procedures,
    • whether the Consumer or Occupier has authorised the person making the Complaint to deal with us or the Member, but
  • not consider the merits of the complaint.

4.2.1 Continuing handling a complaint

If we decide we should continue to handle the Complaint, we classify the Complaint as an Unresolved Complaint and move it to Case Management.

4.2.2 Stopping handling a Complaint

We can decide to stop handling a Complaint at any time, if it is reasonable to do so. Reasons why we might not continue to handle the Complaint include:

  • The Consumer or Occupier has not given authorisation for the person making the Complaint to deal with us or the Member
  • We have information to show that the Complaint falls outside the TIO’s jurisdiction
  • We reasonably believe that the Complaint is not made in good faith
  • If there is another organisation that we think can deal with the Complaint. In this case, we will tell the Consumer or Occupier about that organisation and how to contact it.

If we decide to stop handling a Complaint, we will tell the Consumer or Occupier why.

The Consumer or Occupier can ask us to review a decision to stop handling the Complaint.

A Senior Officer of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman will conduct the review. The reviewing officer will consider the decision to stop handling the Complaint, and any reasons given by the Consumer or Occupier for disputing the decision (including new information provided).

The reviewing officer may:

  • confirm the decision to stop handling the Complaint, or
  • overturn the decision and move the Complaint to Case Management as an unresolved Complaint.

The reviewing officer will tell the Consumer or Occupier and Member the outcome of the review.

5. Unresolved Complaints

We may refer Unresolved Complaints to Case Management to try to help the parties agree on how the Complaint should be resolved.

5.1 Case management

During case management, the Case Manager will:

  • ask the parties to explain their positions and to give us information relevant to the complaint, and
  • use process(es) appropriate to help the parties try to resolve the Complaint by agreement.

5.1.1 Information we may ask for

The Case Manager will decide what information we need to consider the Complaint. The type of information we require will depend on the nature of the Complaint and the claim and may include:

  • the Member’s records for the Consumer,
  • fault reports and fault repair records,
  • billing information,
  • call records,
  • contracts,
  • statements of recollection from people involved in the issues in dispute (including Member staff or agents),
  • emails, text messages, letters, online chat and other communications between the parties, and
  • financial information
  • information from Statutory Infrastructure Providers (SIPs) the TIO requires to resolve the complaint.

When we ask a Consumer or Occupier or Member for information, we will tell them when they need to give us the information. The Consumer or Occupier and Member must provide the information within the timeframe we give (usually five to ten business days), unless:

  • providing the information would breach an obligation of confidentiality owed to a third party, and that party will not consent to its disclosure (we may ask for evidence of this),
  • providing the information would breach a court order or would breach a current law enforcement investigation, or
  • the information does not exist, or the party cannot obtain it.

If a party does not give a reasonable explanation for not giving us information we ask for, we can draw inferences from their failure to provide information. This includes inferring:

  • that the party does not have information or evidence to support their position, or
  • that the information the party holds supports the other party’s position.

5.1.2 Processes for trying to help the parties agree to resolve the Complaint

The Case Manager can use different processes to help the parties to try to resolve the Complaint by agreement, including:

  • conciliation
  • investigation
  • shuttle negotiation
  • a combination of the above processes, or
  • recommending an outcome.

In deciding the process(es) to use to help the parties to try to resolve the Complaint by agreement, the Case Manager will consider:

  • the nature and complexity of the Complaint
  • the parties to the Complaint, their relationship and circumstances
  • any urgency in the Complaint
  • whether a detailed review of facts or obligations is required.

5.1.3 Conciliation

Conciliation is a process in which the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman works with the Consumer or Occupier and Member to try to find a resolution. We can conciliate a complaint by Conference Call or by speaking to the Consumer or Occupier and the Member in separate calls. During Conciliation, the Case Manager may:

  • propose suitable resolution options to the parties,
  • give their opinion about what a Decision Maker may decide if the Complaint was to be referred to a Decision Maker for a Decision.

When we decide that a Complaint is suitable for conciliation we write to the Consumer or Occupier and Member to explain the process. We may ask the Consumer or Occupier and Member to send us information before we start conciliation. We will give the parties a timeframe to provide the information, usually between five (5) and ten (10) business days.

If the Case Manager decides that a Conference Call is appropriate, we will schedule a time with the Consumer and Member. In some circumstances a conference call may include the Statutory Infrastructure Provider. We expect parties to make themselves available for the Conference Call and to participate with the aim of resolving the complaint.

At the end of the conciliation process the Case Manager will either:

  • close the complaint as resolved, if the parties agree,
  • recommend an outcome to the parties,
  • refer the case to a Decision Maker, or
  • investigate the complaint.

5.1.4 Investigation

The purpose of an Investigation is to gather sufficient information for the Case Manager to form a view about how the Complaint should be resolved. During an investigation, the Case Manager will tell the Consumer or Occupier and Member what information and documents we need to investigate the Complaint.

At any stage during an Investigation, the Case Manager may decide that it is appropriate to use conciliation to try to resolve the Complaint.

At the end of an Investigation, we will either:

  • close the complaint as resolved, if the parties agree,
  • recommend an outcome to the parties, or
  • refer the case to a Decision Maker.

5.1.5 Recommended Outcome

If a Complaint has not been resolved by agreement, a Case Manager may recommend an outcome based on the information collected during Conciliation and/or Investigation.

A Recommended Outcome will usually be made in writing. The case manager will send the recommended outcome to the parties and ask them to respond.

The Case Manager can recommend an outcome verbally to the parties:

(a) if they both accept the recommended outcome the case will be resolved, and the Case Manager will confirm that in writing or

(b) if either or both parties do not accept the verbal recommended outcome or ask for it to be put in writing, the Case Manager will write to them setting out the recommended outcome.

A written Recommended Outcome sets out:

  • the details of the Complaint
  • the views of the Consumer or Occupier and Member
  • the information that the Case Manager has considered and relied on
  • the Case Manager’s view about how the case should be resolved and
  • the reasons for reaching that view.

When we make a Recommend Outcome, we take into account relevant laws, industry guidelines and good practice and what is fair and reasonable in all the circumstances. We apply the standard of the balance of probabilities when reaching a view.

We send the Recommended Outcome to the Consumer or Occupier and Member and ask both to respond in writing within ten (10) business days, telling us whether they accept the Recommended Outcome or reject it.

Parties are entitled to ask for any documents we rely on in making the Recommended Outcome when considering whether to accept or reject it.

5.1.5.1 Both parties accept the Recommended Outcome

If the Consumer or Occupier and Member both accept the Recommended Outcome, we confirm the outcome in writing, and:

  • expect that each party will carry out any actions recommended
  • close the Complaint as resolved.

5.1.5.2 The Consumer or Occupier does not respond to the Recommended Outcome

If the Consumer or Occupier does not respond to the Recommended Outcome within 10 business days, we will close our file. We will advise the Consumer or Occupier that the file has been closed and that the Member does not have to carry out any actions recommended by the Case Manager (but may). We will not consider the Complaint further.

5.1.5.3 Either party rejects the Recommended Outcome

The Consumer or Occupier and the Member can reject the Recommended Outcome. If either party rejects the Recommended Outcome, they must within 10 business days provide their reasons and any new or relevant information.

If either party rejects the Recommended Outcome, we may investigate the complaint further or immediately form a Preliminary View.

5.2 Decisions Process

The Decisions Process includes the following types of Decisions:

  • Temporary Rulings
  • Preliminary Views
  • Decisions
  • Directions to Implement
  • Referrals for Non-Compliance.

5.2.1 Preliminary Views

If a Complaint has not been resolved after Case Management, the Complaint will be referred to a Decision Maker.

The Decision Maker will consider the information given by the parties and form a view about how the complaint should be resolved.

In doing so, the Decision Maker may:

  • contact the parties to discuss their positions
  • ask for more information
  • conciliate either via a Conference Call or by speaking to the Consumer or Occupier and Member in separate calls
  • decide to stop handling the complaint
  • send the parties a Preliminary View.

A Preliminary View sets out:

  • the details of the Complaint
  • the views of the Consumer or Occupier and Member
  • the information that the Decision Maker has considered and relied on
  • the Decision Maker’s view about how the case should be resolved and
  • the reasons for reaching that view.

We send the Preliminary View to the parties and ask them to respond within 10 Business days.

The Consumer or Occupier and Member can accept or reject the Preliminary View.

5.2.1.1 Both Parties accept the Preliminary View

If the Consumer or Occupier and Member both accept the Preliminary View, we close the case as resolved.

The Member (and Consumer or Occupier, if relevant) must carry out any actions recommended by the Decision Maker in the Preliminary View and the Consumer or Occupier must agree not to take the complaint to any other forum, if the Member carries out the Preliminary View.

5.2.1.2 Consumer or Occupier rejects the Preliminary View or does not respond

If the Consumer or Occupier rejects the Preliminary View or does not respond to it within 10 business days, we will close our case file and we will not consider the Complaint further. The Member will not be required to carry out any actions recommended in the Preliminary View (but may) and the Consumer is free to take the Complaint to another forum.

5.2.1.3 Member rejects the Preliminary View or does not respond

If the Consumer or Occupier accepts the Preliminary View but the Member rejects it or does not respond to it within 10 business days, a Decision Maker will make a Decision.

5.2.2 Decisions

A Decision Maker can decide the outcome of the Complaint and give directions to the Member.

Before making a Decision, the Decision Maker may investigate the Complaint further and will consider any information provided in response to the Preliminary View.

We send the Decision to the parties and ask them to respond within 10 business days.

We may publish the Decision.

5.2.3 The parties accept the Decision

If the parties accept the Decision, we close the case as resolved.

The Member must comply with all directions in the Decision, and the Consumer or Occupier must agree not to take the Complaint to any other forum, if the Member complies with those directions.

5.2.4 Consumer or Occupier accepts the Decision

For the Consumer or Occupier to accept the Decision, they must agree in writing not to take the Complaint further, if the Member complies with the directions.

If the Consumer or Occupier accepts the Decision, the Decision becomes binding on the Member and the Member must comply with all directions in the Decision.

5.2.5 Consumer or Occupier rejects the Decision or does not respond

If the Consumer or Occupier rejects the Decision or does not respond to it within 10 business days, we will close our case file and we will not consider the case further. The Member will not be required to carry out any directions given in the Decision (but may).

5.2.6 Referrals for Non-Compliance

If a Member is required to do one or more things as a result of an agreed resolution or Decision, but does not, we will write to the Member requiring it to demonstrate that it has implemented the agreed resolution or the directions in the Decision within five (5) business days.

If the Member does not respond or does not demonstrate to our satisfaction that it has done the required things, we will refer the Member to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for enforcement action (providing the Consumer or Occupier consents).

We may also publish the name of the Member and details of the non-compliance.

5.3 When we will stop handling a complaint

At any time during Case Management or the Decision process we will stop handling a complaint if:

  • the complaint is resolved by agreement between the Consumer or Occupier and Member
  • the Consumer or Occupier asks us to stop handling their Complaint.

We may also decide to stop handling a complaint if:

  • the Consumer or Occupier cannot be contacted or is not participating in the resolution process
  • the complaint falls outside the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
  • there is another body or forum that we consider is more appropriate to deal with the complaint
  • the Consumer or Occupier refuses to pay undisputed charges
  • the Consumer’s or Occupier’s complaint is not made in good faith
  • the Consumer or Occupier is acting unreasonably.

If we decide to stop handling a complaint for any of these reasons, we will tell the Consumer or Occupier why. The Consumer or Occupier can ask us to review the decision but must do so within 10 business days.

A Senior Officer will review the decision to close the file and either confirm the decision or decide that the case should return to Case Management.

5.4 Reopening cases

If we have told a Consumer or Occupier that we intend to stop handling their complaint and we have offered the Consumer or Occupier the ability to ask for a review, the Consumer or Occupier must ask for the review within the period we specify. This will usually be 10 to 15 business days.

The Consumer or Occupier can ask us for more time and we may agree to such a request if we consider it to be reasonable.

If the Consumer or Occupier does not ask for a review (or if the reviewer decides that the case should be closed) we will not reopen the case, unless the Consumer can demonstrate exceptional circumstances for reopening the case.

6. Interpretation

Case Management
Case Management describes the stage during which a Case Manager works with the parties to help the parties to agree how the Complaint should be resolved.

Case Manager
A staff member of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman handling a complaint.

Complaint
A matter that is raised with us that remains unresolved after being raised by a Consumer or Occupier with a Member.

Consumer
A residential, small business or not-for-profit customer (or a prospective or former customer) who:

(a) is, was or intended to be the account holder, purchaser, or end user of a telecommunications service or telecommunications equipment; or
(b) is a person or company who a Member claims is or was its customer.

Credit management

Actions by a Member taken because of a Consumer’s or Occupier’s failure to pay disputed charges or fees including:

(a) any communication aimed at collecting disputed charges from a consumer;
(b) debiting or attempting to debit an amount from a credit card or bank account;
(c) suspending, restricting, or disconnecting a consumer’s service;
(d) reporting or threatening to report information to a credit bureau; and
(e) threatening or initiating legal proceedings to recover a debt.

Decision
A decision by the Ombudsman or authorised decision-maker as to the outcome of a complaint and any direction to a Member to resolve the complaint.

Decision Maker
The Ombudsman, or any person to whom the Ombudsman has delegated the power to make decisions under the Terms of Reference.

Disputed Charges

Charges for services where the Consumer or Occupier has raised a Complaint with the Member, and the disputed charges have been specified. Consumers or Occupiers are entitled to withhold payment on the disputed charges but are expected to make payment of charges for services that they are using.

Enquiry

  • A complaint that is not within the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
  • A complaint that a customer has not raised with the Member.
  • A query or contact from a Consumer that does not relate to a telecommunications service or that we decide is not a Complaint.

Member
Any person or entity who has membership of Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Limited, including Carriers and Providers who have an ongoing obligation to comply with the TIO’s Terms of Reference despite having ceased membership.

Occupier
A person who occupies or owns a property.

Ombudsman
The Ombudsman for the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman as appointed from time to time.

Preliminary View
A Decision Maker’s view of how a Complaint should be resolved.

Provider

A person or entity involved in the supply of telecommunications services who:

(a) Has a customer relationship and telecommunications service contract with a consumer; or
(b) Is a wholesaler or any other intermediary in the telecommunications supply chain.

Recommended Outcome

A Case Manager’s view of an appropriate outcome for a Complaint. A Recommended Outcome is not binding on a Consumer or Occupier. A Recommended Outcome is binding on a Member if both parties accept the Recommended Outcome.

Representative

A person nominated by a Consumer or Occupier to act on their behalf to resolve their Complaint.

Senior officer

A Decision Maker or an or Assistant Adjudicator.

Statutory Infrastructure Providers

Telecommunications carriers designated as Statutory Infrastructure Providers (SIPs) under Part 19 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. SIPs must connect premises and supply a service at the reasonable request of a carriage service provider on behalf of an end user if the end user’s premises are in the SIPs service area.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Limited (ABN 46 057 634 787).

Urgent
An element of a Consumer’s or Occupier’s Complaint where there is a serious risk of detriment, such as a medical or safety risk, that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible, independently of the full resolution of the Complaint.

Us

Is the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

We

Is the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.