Bill-shocked users of postpaid telecommunications and internet services are being slugged an average $169 over their usual monthly bill amount, according to new research.
The research (pdf), by Roy Morgan Research for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), covered 2286 postpaid telecommunications and internet service users, of whom 777 - about 34 percent - had experienced "bill shock".
Although forty percent of cases of 'bill shock' on postpaid plans related to amounts less than $50 above the customer's monthly expectation, the average figure was more than three times that amount.
The survey found 17.6 percent of respondents left with a bill between $100 and $199 above expectations, 14.9 percent between $200 and $499 higher than usual, and 10.8 percent with bills that were over by more than $500.
"The average amount of unexpectedly high bills is $169 over the usual amount," the research found.
Of all postpaid bill payers, about 14 percent - or 320 respondents - had difficulty paying the telco or ISP involved, partly because the excess bill amount involved tended to be higher than the average.
Not all customers that experienced bill shock had difficulty repaying the extra amounts.
"On average, bill-payers who had difficulties paying a bill that was higher than expected,
received a bill that was $225 higher than usual," the research found.
"This is about a third higher than the average bill shock amount of [$169]."
Some customers were able to convince the service provider involved to reduce the amount owed, although the sample size of the survey at this level - 109 people - makes it difficult to extrapolate much on relative success rates.
Customers on postpaid mobile phone and mobile broadband plans tended to be the most successful in landing a reduction was on.
When it came to excessive ADSL broadband, cable broadband, fixed line or other service bills, telcos generally held their ground on the bill amount but most offered some form of payment plan.
The research found some use of credit management tools to monitor usage but that many users logged in infrequently, and only 10 percent used them daily.
ACMA chair Chris Chapman said the survey supported the regulator's focus on getting telcos and ISPs to introduce and promote credit management tools to prevent bill shock.
Requirements for the introduction of such tools are included in the latest revision of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code, which was registered by the ACMA last weekend.