The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has released the report ‘A time for change – Three years of systemic investigations in review’, calling for improved consumer protections through stronger regulation in the telco sector, and the establishment of a registration scheme for telcos.
The report reveals the TIO continues to see systemic issues involving one-size-fits-all processes, providers failing to meet or understand their legal obligations, and poor sales practices. These issues can lead to unintended consequences for consumers, including financial pressure and significant distress.
The current rules in the telecommunications sector are no longer fit for purpose. Industry guidelines and industry-made codes lack clear and mandatory obligations. Until this changes and direct regulation takes its place, some telcos will continue to fail to meet the needs and expectations of consumers.
The report also highlights the positive impacts systemic investigations have made in the telecommunications sector. Over the past three years, telcos have made 274 individual improvements resulting from the TIO’s investigations.
The report makes four key recommendations where the telecommunications regulatory framework and industry could evolve. These recommendations aim to reduce and prevent problems from reoccurring, and provide better protection for consumers who are vulnerable.
The four recommendations are:
- Telcos need to do more to reduce barriers for consumers seeking help.
- Improved regulation would help reduce unexpected debt and financial hardship.
- Direct regulation should play a primary role in protecting consumers that are vulnerable.
- A telco registration scheme with minimum entry requirements would protect consumers.
Quotes attributable to Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert:
“These recommendations are a focal point for our efforts when considering the adequacy of consumer protections in a changing communications market. Comprehensive consumer protections are vital because telco services are essential to participating in everyday life.”
“The issues we have seen over the last three years that have led to our recommendations are concerning enough. But when considered against the backdrop of the current economic climate, the need for reform takes on a new urgency.”
“The issues we have identified in this report are not simply words on a page, they are harms experienced by real people.”
“The current telco framework is no longer fit for purpose. Direct regulation should be front and centre to protect all consumers – particularly those with vulnerabilities who may otherwise fall through the cracks.”
Source: TIO media release, 22/06/2023.