Resilience tested, phone and internet complaints decrease in year of challenges
Over the financial year complaints about mobile services remained steady, but for internet and landline complaints it was a financial year of two distinct halves.
In the first half, complaints about internet and landline services continued the previous quarter’s decline. This was a positive indicator of sector efforts over the past three years to reduce complaints and improve the delivery of telco services and products.
In the second half, a summer of natural disasters followed by the COVID-19 pandemic tested the resilience of networks and telcos to respond to unforeseen impacts on services.
Between January and March 2020, the bushfire and flood season highlighted the vulnerability of Australians living in regional, rural, and remote areas. Complaints during this time about not having a working phone or internet service increased almost 70 per cent compared with the previous quarter.
For consumers impacted by natural disasters, not being connected to phone and internet meant exclusion from basic services and running a business. During this time the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman worked closely with telcos to ensure consumers experiencing vulnerability were prioritised.
Between March and June 2020, the pandemic highlighted the reliance of Australians on phone and internet services to connect to loved ones, access healthcare, work or study from home, or run a business.
In the face of worldwide lockdowns, the industry, government, and regulators worked quickly to provide temporary financial relief and extra capacity on the NBN. While the circumstances were unprecedented, telcos largely continued to deliver phone and internet services.
However, the pandemic put significant pressure on telco call centres and back office functions based overseas, forcing many of these functions to close. This led to an almost 1,500 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of complaints from consumers who were unable to contact their telco about internet services. In response, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman worked closely with affected telcos to quickly escalate systemic issues and publish information to assist consumers.
Ombudsman Judi Jones said, “While the complaints we deal with stem from technology, the problems we are solving are ultimately human ones. The extraordinary events of the year meant that consumers have increasingly had to rely on telecommunications services and internet to continue to live, work and educate and many have faced frustrations as providers worked to adapt to unprecedented challenges.
“The lessons learnt from the rollout of the NBN over the last three years has galvanised and matured Australia’s telecommunications sector. These lessons have strengthened the telco ecosystem with industry, government, regulators, advocates, and Ombudsman, each playing a part to ensure continuity of service for consumers in the face of great change. But as this year’s events have shown us, there is always more work to do.
“Each day, my office strives to resolve phone and internet complaints more effectively and efficiently. We are making significant progress in moving to be an agile organisation flexing to respond to the complexities of the changing telecommunications landscape. This was tested during the transition to working from home at the beginning of the pandemic, and I am proud of the way we looked after our people while continuing to deliver our service for telco consumers and their providers.”
Fast facts: Complaints data 1 Jul 19 to 30 Jun 20
127,151 complaints were received in the last financial year, a decrease of 4 per cent.
108,673 complaints (85.5 per cent) were from residential consumers, a volume decrease of 3.7 per cent against the previous year.Most complaints received from residential consumers had to do with their internet and mobile phone services. Complaints about internet services made up the highest proportion of residential complaints at 36.3 per cent. This is the highest proportion of internet complaints in the past three years for residential consumers. Read more on pgs 48 and 72.
18,478 complaints (14.5 per cent) were from small businesses, a 5.2 per cent volume decrease on the previous year. Complaints about landline services accounted for 28.7 per cent of small business complaints, and problems with phone numbers due to connection, disconnection or transfer of a service increased 12.8 per cent compared to last financial year. Read more on pgs 51 and 73.
Complaints about service types
Complaints about internet services decreased 0.7 per cent and remained the dominant service type accounting for 33.7 per cent of all complaints. Internet complaints were also the most dominant in the final quarter of the year, accounting for 38.6 per cent of complaints as users became more dependent on these connections during the pandemic. Read more on pg 40.
Complaint issues in phone and internet services
Service and equipment fees and no or delayed action were the two most prominent issues raised by consumers in all service types. However, these issues were often linked to an underlying problem that had not been resolved by the provider.
In internet services, there was a sharp rise in complaints about being unable to contact an internet provider. Consumers made over 2,000 complaints about this problem, an almost 1,500 per cent increase on the previous financial year, largely due to the shutdown of overseas call centres during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more on pg 42.
In mobile services, the highest percentage increase was recorded against delays establishing a service (difficulties switching providers), up 23.3 per cent on last financial year. This issue replaced complaints about excess data charges in the top 10 from 2018-19. Read more on pg 75.
Fault and connection complaints about services delivered over the NBN and other networks
49.2 per cent of all complaints had a connection, changing provider or service quality problem. Connection delays increased across internet and mobile services. This reflects challenges arising from the pandemic and a resolved systemic issue for one service provider.
Phone number problems, and complaints about partially restricted services continued to present issues for landline customers.
Having no working phone or internet service was an issue in approximately 14 per cent of complaints, although complaints about this issue fell by just under 10 per cent year-on-year. This was particularly a problem for small businesses with nearly 18 per cent of complaints about this issue. Read more on pg 45.
Complaints about service providers
Exetel appears in the Top 10 service providers by volume of complaints, replacing Primus Telecom from 2018-19. TPG recorded a 20.3 per cent increase in complaints to 6,471 for the year. Increases were also recorded against Telstra, iiNet, and M2 Commander.
The largest decreases were recorded against MyRepublic (down 40.2 per cent) and Optus Group (down 17.1 per cent). Decreases were also recorded against Vodafone, Dodo and Southern Phone Company. Read more on pgs 47 and 78.
Complaints by State
Aligned with the overall downward trend in complaint numbers this financial year, the number of complaints by state have all declined.
Double digit percentage decreases were recorded for ACT (down 15.3 per cent), WA (down 13.3 per cent), TAS (down 12 per cent) and SA (down 11 per cent).
Single digit percentage decreases were recorded against QLD (down 6.7 per cent), NT (down 3.6 per cent), VIC (down 0.7 per cent) and NSW (down 0.6 per cent). Read more on pg 79.
Fast facts: about the TIO for 1 Jul 19 to 30 Jun 20
- 318,797 contacts were received - 174,572 online and 144,225 calls.
- 32 systemic issues were identified and investigated.
- Providers agreed to 35 systemic improvements.
- 25 decisions were referred to the ACMA for enforcement.
- 56 per cent of unresolved complaints were closed within 60 days, up from 47 per cent in 2018-19.
- 583 people attended our eight newly developed educational webinars.
- We made 34 submissions on policy consultations.
- We published six reports including our new quarterly reports.
- We formalised our commitment to our REFLECT Reconciliation Action Plan.
- Our most recent staff survey found 85 per cent of our people recommend the TIO as a great place to work.
Notes to Editors
For all media enquiries please contact Sarah Carnovale on 0437 548 540 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman provides a free and independent dispute resolution service for residential consumers and small businesses who have an unresolved complaint about their phone or internet service.
Consumers and small businesses should contact tio.com.au or 1800 062 058.
The Telecommunications Industry Sector
Government and the regulators set policy and regulations for the telecommunications sector.
The Telecommunications industry regulators are the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) acma.gov.au Media enquiries to (02) 9334 7719 or email@example.com and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC): accc.gov.au. Media enquiries to 1300 138 917 or firstname.lastname@example.org. After hours 0408 995 408.
Communications Alliance is the peak body for Australian communications industry: commsalliance.com.au. Media enquiries to Sefiani Communications sefiani.com.au or 0431 478 558.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is Australia’s peak communications consumer organisation representing individuals, small businesses, and not-for-profit groups as consumers of communications products and services, accan.org.au Media enquiries to 0409 966 931 or 02 9288 4000.
Acknowledgement of Country
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture, and community. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and extend our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples from all nations of this land.