TIO sees sharp rise in 'money' complaints

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TIO sees sharp rise in 'money' complaints

ISPs and mobile telcos the worst offenders.

A sharp rise in complaints about bill shock for internet and mobile phone services has raised the hackles of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Simon Cohen.

The TIO's annual report showed that complaints about the calculation or imposition of mobile internet charges skyrocketed 70 percent to 4,143 issues in 2009-10.

Similar complaints about mobile roaming charges were up almost 81 percent year-on-year while high bills caused by excess charges on internet services remained relatively steady, accounting for over 6,800 complaints.

ISPs and telcos also faced burgeoning complaints about "credit management" issues, including not giving much notice before suspending or disconnecting a service, and over debt and default handling.

There was a 27 percent rise in complaints about inadequate notice periods before suspension of mobile accounts and a 17 percent rise for internet services.

Complaints over refusing customers credit rose 29 percent for internet services and 34 percent for mobiles.

And issues about credit default listings whilst debts were still in dispute rose 26 percent for internet services and by almost 40 percent for mobile services.

The news was no better when it came to ISPs and telcos referring customer debts to collection agencies. Complaints to the TIO increased by 56 percent for internet services and by almost 25 percent for mobile services.

And service providers were also lampooned over their apparent inability to provide correct information to consumers about the "value" left on their monthly plans or on current charges allocated to an account.

Complaints in this area rose 41.5 percent for internet services, 27 percent for landline services and by 59 percent for mobile services.

Cohen said the TIO would focus on billing and credit-related issue resolution in the next year.

There were some positives for the telco sector. The report showed a five percent decrease in overall complaint numbers received in the past financial year.

But they still remained "high" at just under 168,000 – and Cohen was suspicious of the high number that were resolved too easily.

"Many of these complaints were resolved quickly, through referral to more senior or specialised staff at telecommunications companies for another chance at resolution," Cohen said.

"While this, on its face, is a good outcome, my concern is that this high resolution rate, and the nature of many of the concerns – about customer service and complaints handling – suggest that the cases could have been resolved much earlier and without the need for the TIO's intervention.

"It should not be necessary for consumers with problems that can be easily resolved to have to resort to the Ombudsman in order to be heard."

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