The Federal government has released its report on Part A (the complaints handling and consumer redress process) of its three-part Telecommunications Consumer Safeguards Review announced on 17 April 2018.
The Part A Report has made a range of recommendations that address:
- strengthening the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) scheme;
- boosting the legal framework around consumer complaints handling;
- active enforcement and regulation; and
- improved data collection, analysis and reporting.
Strengthening of the TIO scheme
The Report has recommended sweeping changes to both the TIO's governance structure and the way in which it conducts its consumer complaints handling process.
The key recommendations are:
- a new complaints handing process that aims to increase efficiency and ensure the process aligns with ACMA’s Complaints Handling Standard (CH Standard) that came into force on 1 July 2018;
- in relation to TIO governance:
- a requirement that the TIO Board should comprise directors that are independent of any industry participant and should include an equal numbers of directors with consumer and industry skills;
- preferred candidates for any vacant director position should be selected by a committee independent of the TIO Board; and
- there should be public transparency about and a distinction made between decisions made by the Board, and by the TIO membership.
While the Report stops short of formally recommending changes to the ownership structure of the TIO, it notes that there would be merit in the TIO considering adopting a governance structure which provides for directors of the company to also be members.
- enhancements in the TIO's stakeholder management to ensure:
- a collaborative approach with industry participants to the joint resolution of issues;
- an increase in co-operation with regulators - including the sharing of information relating to suspected regulatory breaches; and
- the establishment of advisory forums to assist the TIO with decision-making and consultation with stakeholders.
Strengthening the legal framework around consumer complaints handling
The Report recommends:
- changes to the existing CH Standard to:
- include rules to ensure consumers can easily connect to, and communicate with, their provider in order to lodge a complaint and/or to follow up on a complaint; and
- introduce a range of new minimum requirements aimed at ensuring providers implement complaint handling procedures consistently.
- improved industry processes including:
- the development of a "model" complaints handling procedure that conforms with the CH Standard;
- on-shore complaints handling centres; and
- dedicated internal dispute resolution access for small business.
Active enforcement and regulation
The Report recommends that ACMA's powers be expanded to include regulatory supervision of the TIO scheme and recommends that ACMA advise the Minister on:
- appropriate performance standards that must be met by the scheme;
- TIO ownership and governance matters; and
- TIO reporting requirements.
Improved data collection, analysis and reporting
The review concluded that there is currently limited transparency regarding provider complaint numbers and dispute outcomes making it difficult to gauge the effectiveness of providers' internal dispute processes and the TIO process. In this regard, the Report's recommendations include that:
- new processes be introduced to effectively capture complaint data across the industry supply chain and for that data to be reported on a periodic basis; and
- ACMA should set up clear definitions for the data to be collected and the data should include both information about the complaint and its root cause, as well as information about how the complaint was handled and resolved.
Implementation and next steps
The Report suggests that the TIO examine the recommendations and implement those that fall within its authority within the next 12 months. Recommendations that require legislative change should be considered by the Minister.
The Telecommunications Consumer Safeguards Review now moves forward to Part B - reliability of telecommunications services, with the consultation period open for submissions until 21 December 2018.
If you would like assistance in understanding how the Telecommunications Consumer Safeguards Review may affect your business, including helping preparing submissions for Part B, please contact us.