The findings from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) Independent Review were released earlier this month. After consultation held in May this year, the review looked into the TIO’s compliance with the Australian Government’s benchmarks for industry-based customer dispute resolution.
The TIO has accepted the majority of the 26 recommendations made by the review. However, it did not accept Recommendation 4 which suggested the removal of the refer-back process within the complaints handling model. IAA supports the refer-back step remaining as part of the scheme. In the absence of sufficient efforts by the TIO to guide consumers on the requirement to not only raise their complaint with the telecommunications provider first, but also give the provider a reasonable time to respond prior to raising a complaint with the TIO, it is crucial that, at the least, the TIO is able to refer consumers back to providers where it is clear that the complaint can be handled more easily and quickly directly, without TIO assistance.
Although the review did consider the concerns raised by IAA and other industry representatives regarding this point that consumers were raising complaints with the TIO without first trying to resolve the complaint directly with the provider, it is disappointing that they seem to have missed the point. While the TIO Terms of Reference explicitly states providers must be given a ‘reasonable opportunity to consider the issues’, IAA raised in our submission that this is not always happening. Nowhere else on the TIO’s website or complaints form is there a reference to this illustrious ‘reasonable opportunity’. The review suggests that consumers making a complaint, formal or not, is sufficient, but where does the opportunity come into play for providers to consider and respond so the issue does not have to be referred to the TIO?
If there is a gap in how industry, consumers and the TIO interpret what is a ‘reasonable opportunity’, then this is something that should be addressed so that everyone understands and uses the same process.
We are hopeful that other recommendations made (and accepted) including the call for the TIO casework staff to collect more relevant information at the commencement of a case, increased systematic investigation and increased publication about the performance of the TIO will mean that the overall operation of the TIO will improve. Other concerns that IAA heard from our members during the consultation period to inform our submission centred on the lack of efficiency and a recurring issue where RSPs were being held accountable for network failures outside of the RSP’s control.
IAA recognises the importance of an industry ombudsman and believes it to be a critical role in our industry. However, with the review suggesting that the TIO should play a greater function in the industry, taking on a more regulatory role instead of being primarily responsible for dispute resolution, it seems there is a need for a broader discussion within industry regarding the future of the TIO.
You can read the review, TIO’s response and submissions on the TIO website.