With the start of spring, the last of the TCP Code requirements also kick in! On the code’s second birthday, ALL telco providers must now send electronic notification alerts for voice calls and SMS within included value plans no later than 48 hours after you reach a usage level of 50, 85 or 100 per cent.
For example, if you have a $49/month post-paid plan that includes voice and SMS up to $500 value and a data limit of 1 GB, your provider will send you an alert when you reach:
- 50 per cent—or when you hit $250 worth of voice calls/SMS or 500 MB of data
- 85 per cent—or when you hit $425 worth of voice calls/SMS or 850 MB of data
- 100 per cent—or when you hit $500 worth of voice calls/SMS or 1 GB of data.
If you’re a customer of one the three network operators—Optus, Telstra and Vodafone—you’re already receiving these alerts.
A coming of age
These universal notifications are the final stage of provider obligations introduced in the TCP Code, which was registered on 1 September 2012. The code offers protections in areas such as advertising, point-of-sale information, billing, credit and debt management, and complaints-handling. With a staged implementation approach over the last two years, you’ve benefited from:
- Clearer advertising:
- including limits on the use of terms such as ‘cap’, ‘free’ and ‘unlimited’
- disclosing standard charges for two-minute calls, texts and one MB of data in print and web ads for post-paid internet and mobile included value plans.
- Critical information summaries, which provide essential information at the point-of-sale to allow you to understand and compare offers.
- Improved billing requirements:
- including 24 months free-of-charge historical billing information, on request
- giving you at least 10 days to check your bill before payment is direct debited
- including the previous two months billing information on a bill for an included value plan.
- Better spend management tools:
- sending usage alerts for plans where there is a risk of bill shock when you have reached 50, 85 and 100 per cent of your data usage level
- sending additional notification requirements about charges for included value plans when 100 per cent of your allowance has been exceeded—these alerts are a current focus of the ACMA’s telco compliance program.
- Clearer advice on financial hardship policies, and clear policies on the use of security deposits and referrals to debt collection agencies.
- Improved complaints-handling practices, including adopting a new definition of ‘complaint’ and with urgent complaints to be resolved within two days.
- Annual provider reviews of compliance with the code and the requirement to submit a Compliance Attestation or audit to Communications Compliance.
Reasons to celebrate
The first two years of the TCP Code have seen some significant consumer benefits:
- The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) received an average 248 fewer complaints per day in the March quarter 2014 compared to the same period two years earlier (just before the TCP Code was finalised). Complaints to the TIO have fallen from 842 per day to 594. Complaints from consumers to the TIO about difficulty paying bills decreased by 28 per cent over the same period.
- In the December quarter 2013, TIO complaints reached the lowest level in almost six years.
- Last year, we commissioned Newspoll to undertake a national survey of almost 1,900 telco bill-payers to help us evaluate the effectiveness of the TCP Code changes and other outcomes of our Reconnecting the Customer public inquiry. The findings confirmed that the code changes designed to help consumers compare offers and track their usage were helpful. Consumers reported it was easier to compare offers than 12 months earlier, while 82 per cent of those who had viewed a critical information summary found it useful.