The number of consumers who experience unexpectedly high mobile phone bills has fallen, according to new research released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority today.
Twenty seven per cent of post-paid mobile phone bill payers received a higher than expected bill in the last 12 months, compared with 33 per cent in 2013. The average over-run amount (higher bill compared with normal bill) has fallen by 21 per cent. There has also been a fall in those receiving very high bills (considered to be at least double the normal amount).
The Spend Management Tools and Alerts Survey 2015, conducted by Newspoll in February 2015, tracks mobile phone bill payers’ awareness and use of spend management tools and alerts as well as their experience of unexpectedly high bills.
From September 2013, after the introduction of the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code (TCP Code), providers were required to phase in spend management alerts relating to data, voice and SMS (within ‘Included Value’ plans) at 50 per cent, 85 per cent and 100 per cent of included usage. This was a key outcome of the ACMA’s Reconnecting The Customer (RTC) public inquiry in 2011.
The research found that consumers are using a range of spend management tools that are now available, with SMS alerts being the most commonly used (67 per cent). Of those who received an SMS alert, 92 per cent found these useful.
‘It is pleasing to see that spend management alerts are improving the consumer experience’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman. ‘Industry has certainly done some heavy lifting to put this system into place, but there’s still more work to do, as the research has identified some consumer issues such as timing of the alerts and how to effectively use them, as well as and other tools to get the most out of their mobile phone allowance.’
Top line results are in this infographic.
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Media release 48/2015 - 24 September
This research, conducted by Newspoll in February 2015, which surveyed 1,735 adults, builds on previous ACMA research and looks at post-paid mobile phone consumers’ use of these tools and alerts, and the impact they have on their ability to manage their phone use and avoid unexpectedly high bills.
The TCP Code
Spend management alerts are one of the major improvements for Australian consumers arising from the revised Code, which was registered by the ACMA in September 2012.
The RTC public inquiry found that one of the root causes of the increasing complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman to that point in time was consumer difficulty in understanding and comparing telco and internet plans and in monitoring their usage.
The Code rules:
Rules that require telecommunications service providers to send spend management alerts (alert notifications) to customers commenced from 1 September 2013. The code requires:
- Residential customers on post-paid mobile and internet plans (with the potential for excess usage charges) to receive updates when their data usage reaches 50, 85 and 100 per cent of the amount included in their plan.
- Residential customers to receive SMS alerts when usage of their included value for calls and SMS reaches 50, 85 and 100 per cent.
- Warnings at the 100 per cent usage threshold must also include details of excess usage charges which can be considerably higher than charges within a plan.
Plans or services that do not expose customers to the risk of bill shock are not required to receive usage alerts. These include pre-paid services, services that have a hard cap or are unlimited and dial-up internet. Internet services that are shaped, i.e. which slow data transfers rather than impose excess usage charges when customers reach their data usage limit, are also not included.
In addition, suppliers must make available, or apply, at least one additional spend management tools from a menu of items including:
- near to real-time access to usage information
- plans that limit use of a service to stop charges for that service exceeding an agreed spend
- optional call barring or restrictions on certain services
- usage charge advice provided before or during use of a high value service
- pre-paid services without an unlimited automatic top up
- hard caps
- reducing broadband internet download speed when a usage limit is reached.
The survey results show that the 2012 TCP Code is continuing to have a positive impact for many consumers. Most consumers appreciate the alerts system and are using a range of the spend management tools that are now available to help them manage their growing and changing use of their mobile phones, and avoid unexpectedly high bills.
The occurrence of unexpected high bills and the average incidence of each higher than expected bill has reduced in an environment of increasing data use.
The research facilitates a number of points of comparison over time. These include:
1. The proportion of post-paid mobile bill payers who have received a higher than expected bill in the last twelve months has fallen from 33 per cent in 2013 to 27 per cent in 2015.
2. The proportion of consumers receiving an unexpectedly high bill that is at least double their normal bill amount has fallen from 53 per cent in 2013 to 38 per cent in 2015.
3. People are using more features on mobile phones and many of these consume data. In particular, the use of apps requiring mobile data increased from 24 per cent in 2013 to 44 per cent in 2015.
4. The research findings about reduced unexpectedly high mobile phone bills in an environment of increasing mobile phone use reinforce the reduction in complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about mobile services. These have fallen by approximately 44 per cent in the last two years.