Friday, 24 April 2020 07:03

Comms Alliance issues statement on TCP code regulatory forbearance

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Comms Alliance issues statement on TCP code regulatory forbearance Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

Australian telecommunications industry peak body Communications Alliance has detailed a list of temporary relaxed regulatory processes for the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) code that will apply to retail service providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Communications Alliance has worked with the ACMA to determine appropriate steps on regulatory forbearance for the TTCP Code, which provides community safeguards in the areas of sales, service and contracts, billing, credit and debt management and changing suppliers.

The ACMA has agreed that it is prepared to exercise regulatory forbearance on certain obligations, in the following categories. The specific obligations and forbearance requirements are detailed in the table following.

  • Financial Hardship: RSPs are actively working to update and reprioritise their Financial Hardship processes in light of the increased load, and are making best efforts to respond to customer applications for financial hardship as quickly as possible and within the current TCP requirements. They may take additional time to complete assessments and advise the customer of details of their arrangement. This is on the condition that, per standard practice, they immediately apply protections to customers who apply for financial hardship so that they are protected from any adverse action prior to a final decision being made.
  • Billing and payment processing: Many RSPs are actively changing offerings and billing to support consumers – whether this be waiving fees, automatically offering lower cost or higher value plans to customers, or offering new products/price structures that they have not had sufficient time to incorporate into their billing systems. RSPs will have extended time to issue bills and record payments, noting that customers will be granted extensions of payment equivalent to any relevant delays. They may also introduce new products or services without having all billing requirements confirmed, as long as they put billing arrangements into place as soon as possible, and non-compliance does not cause detriment to consumers.
  • Usage notifications: Many RSPs are offering extra or unlimited data to their customers at this time, requiring changes to usage notification calculations. Usage notifications may be delayed, noting that if a customer incurs excess charges during the additional timeframe, the RSP and customer must agree on an appropriate remedy (typically not charging the customer for the additional data or providing a credit on the following bill).
  • Information for Customers:
    • Critical Information Summaries (CIS): RSPs will have additional time to provide a CIS to a customer for certain sales over the phone.
    • Changing Suppliers: For non-unsolicited sales, RSPs have more flexibility on notification of completed transfers.
    • Contact details: As contact details for customer service may be different during this time, including hours of operation which are changing rapidly due to impacts on customer service staff, existing documents with contact details (such as Bills and CISs) are not required to be updated as long as an RSP keeps customer service hours of operation up to date on their website.
  • Monitoring and Reporting requirements:
    • Monitoring of wait times and first contact resolution: Many RSPs are not able to use their typical customer service/software systems at this time, due to staff working from home or having to set up new arrangements as overseas contact centres were closed. This means the tools used to monitor these statistics are offline for some RSPs. RSPs will not need to comply with these monitoring requirements, but they must continue keeping average wait times to a reasonable minimum in the circumstances and attempting to resolve enquiries on first contact.
    • Reporting: RSPs participating in the Complaints in Context report will have additional time to provide the relevant data.
  • Credit management processes: If an RSP has listed a customer with a Credit Reporting Body and the customer demonstrates that the failure to pay was not their fault, RSPs will have an additional day to notify the Credit Reporting Body.
  • General training obligations: Staff are being quickly reassigned, and new staff brought on, to respond to urgent customer needs. In light of this, RSPs should continue to uphold the same training standards for obligations in Chapters 6 and 7 relating to credit management, disconnections, and financial hardship, but may undertake best efforts to train staff in obligations outside these areas.

Responding to the Communications Alliance statement, telecommunications consumer advocates issued their own statements.

ACCAN (Australian Communications Consumer Action Network) CEO Teresa Corbin said: “We are pleased that many telcos have already demonstrated a strong commitment to assisting customers experiencing financial hardship to keep connected by waiving late fees and pausing disconnections.

“The temporary adjustment of obligations under the TCP Code reflects the changed environment that telcos are operating under during this time, with many call centres and customer service functions impacted by COVID-19. However, it is important that this new arrangement does not carry on for an unnecessarily extended period.”

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) Judi Jones said: “We will take the alternative commitments announced today into account when determining what is fair and reasonable in the resolution of complaints."

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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