Thursday, 15 November 2018 12:56

CA warns Government on retaining TIO independence Featured

By
John Stanton, Communications Alliance John Stanton, Communications Alliance

Telecommunications industry lobby group Communications Alliance has cautioned against Australian Government recommendations that could threaten the TIO’s independence by placing the ombudsman under the control of ACMA but welcomed the Government’s decision to “retain” the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

CA’s comments came as the government announced on Thursday that it had made recommendations for further protections for telco consumers, including a strengthening of role of the Telecommunications Ombudsman.

The TIO said it would carefully consider the proposed changes to the organisation and consult with stakeholders.

As reported by iTWire, the government’s move on strengthening consumer protections follows a review of consumer safeguards, with the additional protections designed to improve the handling of customer complaints and increase the transparency of complaints data to drive the telco industry toward improved customer service.

Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton also expressed concern about recommendations in Part A of the Government’s Consumer Safeguards Review that he says could drive up the costs of the TIO scheme, “to the detriment of consumers and industry alike”.



Stanton said he welcomed the opportunity, offered by government, to engage with stakeholders during coming months on the practicality of the 32 Part A recommendations and their potential implementation.

And, Stanton said the independence of the TIO was one of its core strengths as the external dispute resolution body for the telco sector.

“Industry has never controlled the TIO – nor should we. By the same token, we do not believe that the TIO should be placed under the control of the industry regulator, the ACMA.

“Also, given the very extensive record keeping rules that have just been put in place by the ACMA, and the fact that the new Complaints Handling Standard is still being implemented — as highlighted by the Government’s paper — we would have concerns about too hastily implementing the recommendations related to those brand-new instruments.

“Many of the recommendations would act to drive up the cost of what is already an expensive scheme; and the cost of delivering telecommunications services to consumers and small businesses.”

Stanton said there was a need to look critically at whether additional layers of regulation would add real value, or just extra expense.

“A Regulation Impact Statement would help do that, but, in its absence, we look forward to working with government, consumers, the TIO and other stakeholders to help draw out the best and most practicable elements of the recommendations.”

And Australia’s peak body representing telecommunications consumers, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, has welcomed the release of the government’s report on Complaints Handling and Consumer Redress in the telecommunications industry.

“We are very pleased to see recommendations about improving complaint handling by the industry, which is a big pain point for consumers. Improvements to the existing rules will make it easier for consumers to find the information they need about how to lodge complaints, and fast track processes so urgent issues are resolved quickly,” said Una Lawrence, ACCAN director of Policy.

“It is also good to see the government acknowledge that overseas call centres can present real difficulties for telco consumers. We hope the industry will take up the report’s recommendation encouraging the establishment of more on-shore centres, as well as better support for small business customers. Unresolved complaints can be catastrophic when trying to run a business.”

The board of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and the Ombudsman said the Government’s Safeguards Review recognised "the importance and strength of the work of the TIO in resolving complaints that residential consumers and small businesses have been unable to resolve with their provider".

“The report proposes some fundamental changes to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme, which will need to be carefully considered by the board and the Ombudsman, in consultation with stakeholders,” the TIO  board said in a statement issued on Thursday.

“It is important to ensure that reforms for policy settings and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman are tested against overarching and enduring principles. For complaint handling and external dispute resolution, these principles (set out on the Government’s Benchmarks for Industry-based Customer Dispute Resolution) are independence, fairness, accessibility, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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