The Australian Communications and Media Authority has issued mobile phone service provider Live Connected with a formal warning for failing to comply with billing and credit management provisions of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP Code).
The warning was issued after an ACMA investigation found that Live Connected twice failed to provide customers with at least 10 working days to check their bill before an associated direct debit occurred. The ACMA investigation also found that Live Connected took credit management action in relation to disputed amounts which were the subject of unresolved complaints.
‘This outcome serves as a reminder to all telecommunications providers that consumers must be given the chance to check their bills before direct debits are made for non-fixed amounts - it’s a pretty simple proposition,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.
In deciding to issue Live Connected with only a formal warning, the ACMA took into account that the above issues occurred in December 2012 and early February 2013, prior to Live Connected being acquired by Vaya Pty Ltd in May 2013. The new ownership and management have worked to improve the processes and procedures of Live Connected with a view to ensuring future ongoing compliance with the TCP Code.
The ACMA’s investigation followed a referral from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). This investigation was the first in a series targeting telco service providers’ direct debit practices. ‘These investigations are designed to send a strong message to providers that their direct debit practices must comply with the TCP Code,’ Mr Chapman said.
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Media release 6/2014 - 23 January
The ACMA received a referral from the TIO about complaints it had received about some of Live Connected’s billing, credit management and complaint handling practices.
The rules and procedures relating to billing, credit management and complaint handling practices are largely contained in chapters 5, 6 and 8 of the TCP Code.
Chapter 5 contains rules about telecommunications bills, verifying charges and direct debits. It says providers need to adhere to particular processes when dealing with direct debits, and, in particular, to provide consumers with at least 10 days notice before direct debiting their account (subject to limited exceptions). An exception to this rule is where the charges are for the same fixed amount in each billing period.
Chapter 6 contains rules about credit management issues relating to applying for a telecommunications service, spend management tools, debt collection procedures and financial hardship. It says that if a consumer lodges a dispute with a provider, the provider must not take any credit management action on the disputed amount before the complaint has been resolved.
Chapter 8 contains rules about complaint handling and complaint management. It says a provider must demonstrate fairness, courtesy, objectivity and efficiency when dealing with complaints and must do this by not taking credit management action in relation to a disputed amount before the complaint has resolved.
Where an investigation finds contraventions of the TCP Code, the ACMA can:
- agree with provider on steps it will take to remedy its breach or improve compliance
- formally warn the provider
- direct the provider to comply with the TCP Code.
Further direct debit investigations
The ACMA has commenced a number of investigations targeting direct debit practices. The aim of these investigations is to identify and address any questionable behaviour and to remind providers that offering direct debit as a payment facility does not give them permission to debit any amount allegedly owed without notice to the consumer.
Depending on the results of the investigations, the ACMA may take enforcement action against non-compliant providers.
Compliance action to date
Since the new TCP Code was registered in September 2012, the ACMA has increased its focus on code compliance. It has:
- sent 342 enquiry letters to service providers after identifying possible instances of non-compliance with the code
- given ten directions to comply
- issued 107 formal warnings about non-compliance.