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Complaint Handling Procedures

Last updated 1 July 2020

1. Introduction

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

Section 2 of the Terms of Reference explains:

  • we handle complaints made by Consumers
  • we handle complaints against Providers
  • when a complaint can be made
  • the types of complaints we handle
  • the types of complaints we don’t handle.

Section 3 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 from individual or business Consumers about Providers. 

Our policy is to only accept complaints from business Consumers that are small businesses. 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 with a complaint about their Provider should contact the Provider and give the Provider an opportunity to resolve the issue before contacting the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

2.1 Contacting the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

Consumers 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 needs an interpreter to help them make a complaint, we can arrange this.

2.1.2 Representatives

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

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

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

We may, where we consider it appropriate, refuse to deal with a Consumer’s nominated representative and ask the Consumer 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, is acting or has acted inappropriately or unreasonably.

2.2 Enquiries

We will register contact from a Consumer 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 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 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 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
  • If the Consumer is being represented by another person, the representative’s name and contact details
  • The name of the telecommunications phone or internet Provider
  • 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 complained to the Provider and the Provider’s response
  • If possible, the Provider’s reference for the complaint
  • What outcome the Consumer wants.

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

2.4 Complaints involving more than one Provider

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

  • Problems transferring services from one Provider to another, such as delays or lost numbers
  • Complaints that services have been transferred without the Consumer’s authorisation
  • Complaints where a Consumer’s property is damaged by a carrier who attends the Consumer’s property at the request of the Consumer’s Provider
  • Complaints about unsafe carrier infrastructure on a Consumer’s property, where the Provider is not the carrier.

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

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

 

3 Referring Enquiries and Complaints to the Provider

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

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

3.1 Enquiry Referral

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

3.2 Referral

If the Consumer has previously contacted the Provider about the complaint and given the Provider 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 Provider, we allow the Provider time to resolve the complaint by responding directly to the Consumer. 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 became aware of the issues more than two years previously 20 business days
Enquiry Referral 15 business days

Providers do not need to tell us about the outcome of the responses to Consumer 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 responsibilities

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

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

3.5 Stopping credit management on disputed charges

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

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

The direction in the Temporary Ruling may require a provider 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 Provider fails to comply with a Temporary Ruling, we will refer the Provider to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for enforcement action.

 

4. Complaints not resolved by Referral

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

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

4.1 No contact

If the Consumer tells us the Provider did not contact them after we referred the Complaint, we may:

  • re-refer the Complaint to the Provider, and 
  • ask the Provider to:
    • contact the Consumer within two (2) business days, and
    • demonstrate to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman that it has resolved the Complaint. 

4.2  Deciding whether to continue to handle an unresolved complaint

If a consumer tells us the complaint remains unresolved after we referred it to the Provider, 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 has authorised the person making the Complaint to deal with us or the Provider, 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 either:

  • the Fast Track Process, or
  • 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 has not given authorisation for the person making the Complaint to deal with us or the Provider
  • We have information to show that the Complaint falls outside the TIO’s jurisdiction
  • We reasonably believe that the Complaint is frivolous or vexatious
  • If there is another organisation that we think can deal with the Complaint. In this case, we will tell the Consumer about that organisation and how to contact it.

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

The Consumer 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 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 either the Fast Track process or Case Management (as appropriate) as an unresolved Complaint.

The reviewing officer will tell the Consumer and Provider the outcome of the review.
 

 

5. Unresolved Complaints

We may refer Unresolved Complaints to the Fast Track Process or Case Management as methods to try to help the parties agree on how the Complaint should be resolved.

5.1 Fast Track process

We may use the Fast Track process to help parties to try to resolve the Complaint.

The Fast Track process is appropriate for relatively simple, low-value cases that involve one issue.

The Fast Track process is only used where the Provider has previously arranged with us to accept Fast Track referrals.  

A Complaint that has previously been re-referred because the Provider did not contact the Consumer after Referral is not eligible for the Fast Track process.

Urgent cases are not eligible for the Fast Track process.

The Fast Track process includes either:

  • Fast Track Referral, or
  • One Call.

If we use the Fast Track Referral process, we:

  • send the Complaint to the Provider with details of why the Consumer considers the Complaint to be unresolved, and 
  • ask the Provider to, within 10 business days:
    • contact the Consumer directly to try to resolve the Complaint, and 
    • demonstrate to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman that it has attempted to resolve the Complaint.  

If the parties have agreed how to resolve the Complaint, we will close the Complaint as resolved.

If we use the One Call process, we call the Provider and ask the Provider to resolve the Complaint immediately by agreeing to the resolution the Consumer wants. If the Provider agrees, we close the case as resolved.

If we decide that a case is not suitable for the Fast Track process (or if Fast Track process does not resolve the case), the Complaint moves to Case Management.
 

5.2 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) he/she considers appropriate to help the parties try to resolve the Complaint by agreement.

5.2.1 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 Provider’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 Provider staff or agents),
  • emails, text messages, letters, online chat and other communications between the parties, and
  • financial information.

When we ask a Consumer or Provider for information, we will tell them when they need to give us the information.  The Consumer and Provider 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 this when making a Decision.  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.
     

5.2.2 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.
     

5.2.3 Conciliation

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

  • propose suitable resolution options to the parties, 
  • give his/her 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 and Provider to explain the process. We may ask the Consumer and Provider 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 Provider.  We expect both 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.

5.2.4 Investigation

The purpose of an Investigation is to gather sufficient information for the Case Manager to form a view about how he/she thinks the Complaint should be resolved. During an investigation, the Case Manager will tell the Consumer and Provider 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.

5.2.5 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 and Provider
  • 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 and Provider and ask both to respond in writing within ten (10) business days, telling us whether they accept the Recommended Outcome or reject it. 

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

5.2.5.1 Both parties accept the Recommended Outcome

If the Consumer and Provider both accept the Recommended Outcome, we confirm the outcome in writing, and:

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

5.2.5.2 The Consumer does not respond to the Recommended Outcome

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

5.2.5.3    Either party rejects the Recommended Outcome

The Consumer and the Provider 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.
 

5.3    Decisions Process

The Decisions Process includes the following types of Decisions:

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

5.3.1    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 and Provider 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 and Provider
  • 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 Consumer and Provider and ask them to respond within 10 Business days. 

The Consumer and Provider can accept or reject the Preliminary View.
 

5.3.1.1    Both Parties accept the Preliminary View 

If the Consumer and Provider both accept the Preliminary View, we close the case as resolved.

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

5.3.1.2    Consumer rejects the Preliminary View or does not respond

If the Consumer 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 Provider 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.

5.3.1.3   Provider rejects the Preliminary View or does not respond

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

5.3.2    Decisions

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

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 Consumer and Provider and ask them to respond within 10 business days.    

We may publish the Decision.
 

5.3.3    Both parties accept the Decision

If the Consumer and Provider both accept the Decision, we close the case as resolved.

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

5.3.4    Consumer accepts the Decision

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

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

5.3.5    Consumer rejects the Decision or does not respond 

If the Consumer 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 Provider will not be required to carry out any directions given in the Decision (but may).  

5.3.6   Referrals for Non-Compliance

If a Provider 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 Provider requiring it to demonstrate that it has implemented the agreed resolution or the directions in the Decision within five (5) business days.

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

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

5.4    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 and Provider, or
  • the Consumer asks us to stop handling their Complaint.

We may also decide to stop handling a complaint if:

  • the Consumer 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 refuses to pay undisputed charges
  • the Consumer’s complaint is frivolous or vexatious, or
  • the Consumer is acting unreasonably.

If we decide to stop handling a complaint for any of these reasons, we will tell the Consumer why. The Consumer 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.
 

5.5    Reopening cases

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

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

If the Consumer 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

An expression of grievance or dissatisfaction made by a Consumer about a Provider that, is within the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

Consumer

A person or business that is the end-user of a telecommunications service, or is directly affected by a telecommunications service, or an owner or occupier of land that a carrier has accessed or used or intends to access or use.

Credit management

The methods a Provider uses to:

  • collect payment for telecommunications services
  • reduce a Consumer’s spending on telecommunications services
  • manage its credit risk.

Decision

A Decision Maker’s final word on how a Complaint should be resolved that is binding on the Provider if accepted by a Consumer.

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 has raised a Complaint with the Provider, and the disputed charges have been specified. Consumers 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 its service provider.
  • A query or contact from a Consumer that does not relate to a telecommunications service or that we decide is not a Complaint.

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 supplier of telecommunications services, a telecommunications carrier or another business that is a member of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman against which a complaint is made.

Recommended Outcome

A Case Manager’s view of an appropriate outcome for a Complaint.  A Recommended Outcome is not binding on either party to a Complaint.

Representative

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

Senior officer

A Decision Maker or an or Assistant Adjudicator.


Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

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

Urgent

An element of a Consumer’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.
 

 

7. Dispute Resolution Process

TIO Dispute Resolution Process