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Increased powers for Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) will have strengthened powers to help more consumers with telecommunications complaints.

From 1 July 2012, there will be a significant increase in the monetary value of the complaints the TIO can help with, and a change to the way it classifies a small business.

“An increase in powers is always a good thing for consumers who cannot resolve the issues they are having with their service providers,” Ombudsman Simon Cohen said.

The changes mean the TIO will have the power to give legally binding directions to service providers of up to $50,000 in value, and to make recommendations up to $100,000. This is an increase from direction powers of $30,000 and recommendation powers of $85,000.

“The adjustment to our monetary limits means that consumers who previously had disputes too large for us to deal with will now have access to our fast, free and independent service,” Ombudsman Simon Cohen said.

The changes will be of particular benefit to small business consumers. At the same time as the constitutional change on monetary limits commence, the TIO will adopt a more flexible approach to defining a small businesses, making TIO services accessible and relevant to these consumers.

The TIO can assist small businesses with an annual turnover of less than $3 million and up to 20 employees (or up to 100 staff in the case of seasonal operations or manufacturing businesses).

Even where these conditions might not be met, the TIO will consider other aspects such as the issues in dispute, the nature of the business (for example, whether it is not for profit or it operates from home), and whether the business is independently owned and funded by a small number of individuals who make most of the important business decisions.

In the past, the TIO would also take into account the amount in dispute and the business’s yearly expenditure on telecommunications. These criteria have now been removed. 

The increased powers follow an expansion by the TIO of its role beyond dispute resolution to helping improve telecommunications services. The TIO aims to achieve this by contributing to better customer service and complaint handling and working with industry to identify broader issues affecting consumers.