The telecommunications industry lobby group, Communications Alliance, has told the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) it wants stronger, enforceable protections for Australia’s telecommunications consumers.
The CA said on Monday that the proposed changes are wide-ranging, strengthening consumer protections across a range of areas, with a focus on selling practices, credit assessment and greater transparency around the customer service performance of individual service providers.
The CA has outlined its proposal for stronger protections in a submission to the industry regulator of a revised draft version of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, following an extensive review of the Code by industry, consumers and other stakeholders.
“The changes seek to address concerns raised by consumer advocates and to make the code more adaptable to new and future technologies.” the ACMA says.
The TCP Code is a code of conduct for the telecommunications industry in Australia, providing community safeguards in the areas of sales, service and contracts, billing, credit and debt management, financial hardship, and changing suppliers.
Compliance with the Code is mandatory for all telecommunications providers servicing residential and small business consumers, and is enforceable by the ACMA.
The revision was undertaken by a committee of industry, consumer, government, and regulator representatives, led by an independent chair.
“The revised Code we submitted to the ACMA includes changes to ensure consumers are signed up to the correct telecommunications product and protected against inappropriate selling practices,” said John Stanton, CEO of Communications Alliance.
“This was addressed through a multi-pronged approach, including stronger rules about fair selling practices, new credit assessment requirements for large contracts, and expanding requirements for contracts to ensure customers are clear on what they have purchased.
“We have also increased customer access to their customer service records, so they can address any questions or concerns they have about the products and services they are using.
“In order to ensure that consumers who face financial hardship receive the appropriate assistance, the financial hardship provisions have been significantly expanded, increasing the obligations for the contents of the policy and streamlining the application and assessment process.
“We are also pleased to announce that improvements in customer service and complaints handling will be driven by increased transparency. We have proposed a requirement for the currently voluntary Complaints in Context report to be mandatory for the top 10 recipients of TIO Complaints, to create an easy to understand and accessible ‘league table’,” Stanton said.
Proposed changes also include expanding code protections to more small businesses.
The current code applies to small businesses with an annual telecommunications spend limit of $20,000. The proposed code expands this to small businesses with an annual spend of up to $40,000. There are also additional rules to support consumers with a disability or vulnerable consumers, including mandatory training for all staff who interact with consumers.
“These changes are proposed to the ACMA Authority for their consideration, and we look forward to their feedback on the revised code. We will work (with) the ACMA over the coming months to facilitate registration of the code,” Stanton said.
“Once registered, we will coordinate with Communications Compliance and the ACMA to make educational material available to all telecommunications providers, clarifying their new obligations.
“The revised code, in combination with the ACMA Industry Standard on Complaints Handling, and Communications Compliance increasing their education activities across industry, is an excellent example of the telecommunications co-regulatory system creating stronger protections for consumers while ensuring the industry can remain innovative and offer value to all consumers.”