Will mobile phone complaints stop rising anytime soon?

The 2012 Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) Annual Report was released Monday, revealing a 9% increase in complaints surrounding mobile phone usage, making them 2/3 of the total complaints TIO received in the past year.

Peak consumer group ACCAN identified disputed internet usage charges, which were up 150%, and disputed roaming charges, which were up 69%, as two major sources of concern.

“One of the main issues is that most people have trouble gauging how much data they’ve used – or how many megabytes are required to say stream video or download emails. We’re pleased that some providers have already started sending out SMS warnings to their customers when they are at or approaching their data limit,” said ACCAN Chief Executive Teresa Corbin. “People need timely, accurate information about their data usage to avoid an unexpectedly high bill.”

The new Telcommunications Consumer Protection Code (TCP) goes some way to remedying the problem, providing strong spend management rules.  Under the code’s new rules from September 2013, all major providers will be required to send SMS alerts to customers when they have used 50%, 85% and 100% of their monthly data allowance. Smaller providers have until September 2014.

“It is a positive sign that some service providers have already taken steps to introduce better consumer notifications about high usage” said Ombudsman Simon Cohen.

However, Ms. Corbin doubted the TCP’s effectiveness. Ms. Corbin demanded a 20% drop in complaints over the next year or said telcos face direct government regulation, as opposed to the current voluntary rules outlined in the TCP.  This number reflects Telstra’s 21.5% drop in complaints over the last year while adding customers and increasing profits.  Telstra’s performance has proven Ms. Corbin’s figure is attainable.

Both Ms Corbin and Mr Cohen shared concern over another trend revealed in the TIO report, a rise in the number of complaints regarding credit default listings.  There was a 16% increase in consumers being credit default listed without proper notification and an 18% increase in consumers being listed while their debt was still in dispute.

“I am very concerned about the increase in the number of complaints where credit default listings are disputed,” Mr Cohen said “Credit listings can have very significant impacts on people – affecting applications for credit, including for housing and personal loans. Any credit default listing should only occur after the correct procedures have been followed.”

Ms. Corbin also commented on the credit default listings, saying “This is a worrying trend, because unaffordable phone bills can lead to serious credit problems for consumers if they want to apply for a credit card or a mortgage later on.”