ACMA finds Telstra overcharged 10,000 customers AU$2.4 million over 12 years

Regulator issues direction to telco after Telstra discovered its long-running error.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor
Image: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has broken out its wet lettuce and only issued a direction for Telstra to comply with the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) code after the telco reported it found it had overcharged 10,492 a total of AU$2.4 million stretching back to 2008.

The telco had overcharged customers for interim services, which usually consisted of a mobile phone, when delays or repairs of landlines were taking place. The period covered by the TCP breaches was from 13 February 2008 to 27 February 2020.

ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said the errors were clear breaches of the TCP and unacceptable, and yet the regulator has chosen to only wave the prospect of future fines of up to AU$250,000 in front of Telstra.

"The amount charged for an interim service must not exceed what a customer would have been charged under their existing or requested landline service," O'Loughlin said.

"If telcos are relying on IT systems to meet their regulatory obligations then they must have appropriate testing and assurance processes in place to ensure compliance."

Playing into Telstra's favour was the telco moving "reasonably swiftly" to fix the problem, refunding customers, and removing all ongoing charges for interim services.

"Overcharging can potentially lead to financial difficulties for affected customers which is why the ACMA considers accuracy in billing practices to be an important consumer protection," O'Loughlin added.

"For Telstra to allow an issue like this to go unnoticed for such a long time and impact so many customers, is simply unacceptable."

The ACMA wet lettuce has been getting quite the workout recently, with the regulator last week only issuing a formal warning to Sydney-based telco J2 Net for not having a complaint handling process that met minimum standards.

"The ACMA investigation found J2 Net's written complaints handling process did not provide clear timeframes for each step of the complaint process, or set out when a consumer can make a complaint," ACMA said at the time.

"The document also indicated that J2 Net's complaints handling process may not be free of charge in all instances.

"Under the [industry standard], telco complaints handling processes must specify timeframes for processing and resolving complaints. They must also have procedures for prioritising or escalating complaints, and be free of charge for consumers."

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