Optus warned for overcharging customers by $9 million

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Optus warned for overcharging customers by $9 million

IT code error botched billing.

Australia's communications regulator has formally warned Optus after the telco accidentally overcharged nearly a quarter of a million customers in late 2012. 

Optus revealed last October it would pay back $8.8 million to 235,000 customers who had been overcharged between July 2011 and September 2012.

It blamed a software coding error with its SurePage answering service for the postpaid mobile and small business customers being inaccurately billed.

A programmer had copy-pasted a code which resulted in 235,000 customers being incorrectly placed on the SurePage service and later billed for it, the telco said.

The SurePage product manager had become aware of the problem in late August 2011, but the root cause was not identified until July 2012 and a fix not applied until September of the same year.

Optus later identified an additional 2600 customers who had been overcharged, from as far back as November 2008, bringing the total to approximately 237,500.

Optus said it notified the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) of the issue before starting to compensate customers.

The ACMA today said Optus had contravened the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code and had not acted fast enough to identify and fix the cause of the billing issue. 

“Although Optus had a system to monitor complaints and identify systemic errors, its failure to identify the root cause and resolve the error within a reasonable time of its discovery, meant it did not address areas requiring attention as soon as practicable,” ACMA said in its report.

However ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said Optus’ constructive engagement with the ACMA should also be noted.

The ACMA said in making the decision to formally warn Optus it had taken into account that the telco was otherwise compliant with relevant parts of the TCP Code; that it had reported the matter to the ACMA itself; and that it “proactively” implemented a compensation program.

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