The Australian Communications and Media Authority has directed Melbourne-based internet service provider NetCube to comply with the complaints-handling requirements of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP Code).
The direction follows an investigation in which the ACMA found that between December 2015 and February 2016 NetCube had failed to deal promptly with complaints and failed to keep proper records of complaints as required by the TCP Code.
The ACMA also found one instance in which NetCube pursued a customer debt when the amount was the subject of an unresolved complaint, contrary to the requirements of the TCP Code.
‘The telecommunications industry has come a long way since complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) peaked at almost 200,000 a year six years ago,’ said acting ACMA Chairman, Richard Bean. ‘But the complaints-handling practices of some providers continue to fall short of the standards expected by consumers and the ACMA will hold them to account.’
‘The ACMA expects NetCube to make improvements to its complaint-handling practices and will be keeping a close eye on complaints to the TIO,’ he added.
This action means that if NetCube fails to comply with the ACMA’s direction by breaching the complaint-handling rules in the TCP Code again, the ACMA can commence Federal Court proceedings for civil penalties.
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Media Release 43/2016 - 5 December 2016
The TCP Code
The Code requires providers to take certain steps to ensure complaints are managed with fairness, courtesy, objectivity and efficiency, including the monitoring of delays in complaint resolution and advice to customers.
It also requires providers to keep complaint records including the steps taken to address a complaint and the resolution (if any).
Additionally the Code requires that providers not take any credit management action in relation to amounts that are the subject of an ongoing unresolved complaint that is still under consideration by the provider or the TIO.
The TIO is an independent dispute resolution service for small business and residential customers who have a complaint about their telephone or internet service in Australia. Its services are free to customers.
In 2011-12, TIO complaints reached record levels at 197,682. By comparison, in 2015-16 it received 112,518 complaints.
In February 2016, the ACMA identified a rise in TIO complaints about Novatel Telecommunications Pty Ltd trading as NetCube, including an increase in complaint-handling issues over the previous two consecutive quarters to December 2015.
The ACMA then commenced an investigation which found that NetCube did not keep adequate records of due dates for a proposed resolution of customer complaints, making it difficult to ensure that it met the timeframes set out in the TCP Code (two working days for urgent complaints, 15 working days for non-urgent complaints). The ACMA also found breaches of TCP Code obligations relating to recording and communicating proposed resolutions, delays in resolving complaints, reasons for resolutions, customer responses, underlying causes and credit management action for disputed amounts.
In August 2015, NetCube was issued with a formal warning due to its failure to lodge required documents, as specified under the TCP Code. A direction to comply with the TCP Code is a more serious step as failure to comply with the direction may lead to civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court.