Sufferers of bill shock know the signs: you open the bill, see the ﬁgures and your heart stops at the sight of the astronomical cost of using the phone to watch some YouTube videos, ﬁnd directions, buy some things on eBay, watch some news clips and download some songs during the last month.
The ﬁrst thing to do is check through the bill carefully and see if it’s internet access, which is most likely. Some telcos offer data packs from $5 per month for 30MB, but usage above this is charged at 25 cents per MB and without a data pack it is a staggering $2 per MB. Data used overseas will be charged at $15 per MB. It’s easy to see how a bit of careless use, especially while overseas, can lead to large bills. Then it’s time to talk to your provider about how it can help.
Stopping bill shock with stronger telco regulation
Put simply, telcos don’t offer effective usage monitoring tools because government and the regulator haven’t forced them to. It’s hard to believe that the most basic cost protections don’t exist in the telco industry when bills can run into hundreds and thousands. Imagine a garage that could bill you for anything even though it advertises a capped service fee? We wouldn’t stand for it. And yet that’s exactly what the telcos are getting away with.
The industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), has threatened telcos that if they don’t improve the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code, they’ll face mandated regulations. It has stated publicly that all providers should enable customers to track their usage and expenditure on data, calls and SMS during a billing period to help reduce the risk of bill shock.
A revised code is currently being considered by ACMA which offers some improvements, although there’s likely to be a lengthy wait. ACCAN says that, if adopted, it will require telcos to provide their customers with notifications when they have used 80% and 100% of their data usage in the plan. After 24 months telcos will be required to extend notifications to voice and SMS usage.
ACCAN doesn’t support the revised code because it doesn’t meet ACMA’s demands for stronger cost management for consumers. It’s clear that stronger industry regulation is needed to protect consumers and it’s up to ACMA to demand a code that properly protects consumers from bill shock.
How to complain
Get all of the relevant information, such as details of the contract and copies of the bill, and then contact your service provider and try to negotiate a suitable outcome. Tell them how you’d like it addressed, such as a refund, partial credit or cancellation of the account. Some telcos may, if they’re feeling generous, apply one of their data packages in retrospect that can significantly reduce the cost of excess data download. You’ve got to complain loudly and clearly to force their hand on this type of thing, but it could save $100s from a big bill.
The relevant web pages for making a complaint are:
A telco should deal with the problem within 30 days. If this fails or you don’t even get a reply, go to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and lodge a formal complaint. The TIO is the telco industry’s umpire provides dispute resolution service for consumers. It will investigate complaints and make binding decisions that service providers must adhere to.
Complaints to the TIO can be lodged through the website using a secure form
, by calling 1800 062 058, or through the mail.
If you think that the issue may hinge on an unfair contract, such as terms and conditions not being properly disclosed or excess fees not being made clear prior to the contract being signed, it may be an issue that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) can deal with. Go to the ACCC website
or phone 1300 302 502 for advice or to lodge a complaint. The ACCC won’t necessarily resolve individual cases but it will look into unfair industry practices.
In the age of social media, another tactic used by unhappy customers is to name and shame.
You might not get any money back but word of mouth multiplied by the internet will get their attention. Be fair and don’t be rude, but use online forums such as Whirlpool
or a company’s Facebook page to share your experience.