Vodafone not a scapegoat for TIO spike

Ry Crozier | May 4, 2011 12:10 PM
Consumer group finds complaints rising across all telcos.

The Australian Communications and Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has warned telcos against scapegoating Vodafone for an unprecedented rise in telecommunications complaints referred to the industry's ombudsman.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) Simon Cohen said today that 59,532 new complaints were registered between January and March this year [pdf].

It represented a 31 percent quarter-on-quarter increase – the "busiest quarter for new TIO complaints on record".

"The sharp rise... points to a grim quarter for consumers," Cohen said.

Vodafone was singled out by the TIO as being a key contributor to the figures. Vodafone's customers made 14,670 new complaints to the TIO, up 96 percent from the previous quarter.

"The main reason for the continuing increase [in new complaints] has been complaints about Vodafone, and its well publicised mobile coverage and customer service issues," the TIO said in a newsletter.

However, the TIO indicated that Vodafone complaints were in decline again.

"New complaints against Vodafone were highest in January 2011, with some decrease recorded in February and then March 2011," the TIO stated.

ACCAN chief Teresa Corbin was quick to point out that Vodafone's network problems alone "don't account for the record figures with complaints against Telstra and Optus also growing rapidly in the same period.

"The industry will point the finger at Vodafone and say, yet again, that there is no problem. The truth of the matter is that complaints about customer service and complaint-handling issues continue to climb across the board," Corbin said.

New complaints lodged against Telstra rose 12.7 percent to 22,506. The incumbent saw new complaints about mobile services spike 18 percent quarter-on-quarter, while landline complaints rose 12 percent.

Optus' statistics were recorded against separate networks, mobile and broadband entities. Complaints against Optus Mobile rose 25.9 percent to 5,067. Complaints about Optus Broadband were up 19 percent.

Complaints against VHA (the Hutchison '3' brand) were up 58.6 percent to 5,913.

Corbin said that the telecommunications industry was without doubt "the worst industry to deal with [as a consumer] in this country."

"The Ombudsman has called this a 'grim' quarter for telco consumers, we'd think that's putting it mildly," she said.

"We are eagerly awaiting the ACMA's recommendations from the RTC [Reconnecting The Customer] inquiry. There is no choice left for the regulator other than to regulate."

The TIO was already the subject of a separate review by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), that sought to probe its structure and transparency.