Here's the best way to get your telco problems fixed
Frustrated by issues with your phone or internet company?
You're not alone, according to new research, which has found negative experiences with telecommunications companies are rising as financial hardship hits households during COVID-19.
A national study by the Consumer Policy Research Centre has found telecommunications companies deliver the worst customer service of all essential service providers.
It found one in three customers reported having a recent negative experience with telcos in August, up from one in five customers in July.
Consumer Policy Research Centre CEO Lauren Solomon says three quarter of customers who reached out for payment assistance last month reported a negative experience.
"This is concerning, especially so during COVID restrictions," she says.
"Affordable, accessible and reliable internet and phone services can impact everything from the ability to receive government support, through to purchasing groceries and social connection.
The irony of the telecommunications sector being the most difficult to contact and navigate is not lost on us."
Solomon says the most common problems reported were long wait times, difficulty navigating websites and unhelpful service.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman can help individuals and small businesses resolve telco problems but only after the customer has tried to fix it with their provider first.
Telcos must publish their complaint-handling process on their website, and consumers can complain by phone, email, letter or in person.
First get a copy of your bill with details about your account and service, and make detailed notes about the issue before contacting them.
A friend or relative can deal with them on your behalf, and telcos are allowed about two weeks to resolve non-urgent complaints. Urgent complaints including disconnections and financial hardship must be resolved within two business days.
If you're not happy and escalate your problem to the TIO, you can phone it on 1800 062 058 or submitting an online form at tio.gov.au.
The TIO says you must be clear about your reasons for complaining, and have an idea how you want the telco to respond. It says most complaints are resolved by discussions between customers and providers, but may also involve investigation or conciliation.
It cannot help with complaints about services offered, rates charged, online content or a lack of internet infrastructure in your area. But there's a long list of issues where it may assist, including contracts, connections, dropouts, billing mistakes, debt connection, NBN and missed technician appointments.
Most telco customers have another weapon up their sleeve - the ability to walk if unhappy.
Telco comparison service Whistleout.com.au's spokesman, Joseph Hanlon, says its easier than ever to switch to a new phone or internet provider and it can be completed within a few hours.
"Most plans are now month to month contracts, so you are not obliged to stay with your provider," he says.
"But if changing NBN plans keep an eye on the set-up costs.
"The TIO is a great resource for people to tap into and they should not be afraid to do it."
HOW TO COMPLAIN
• Formalise - be clear it's a complaint and not just a request for help.
• Document - save all communication between you and your provider (phone, email and web chat).
• Get noticed - your provider must acknowledge your complaint within two working days and do everything possible to resolve things without you needing to follow up.
• Escalate - if your provider hasn't acknowledged your complaint within 2 days, if they haven't proposed a solution you're happy with, if they're hard to contact or disrespectful, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
Source: Consumer Policy Research Centre/ACCAN
Originally published as How to complain about your telco