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Telco customer complaints drop 12.4 percent, but excess charges up

New complaints to the Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman have dropped by almost 20,000 in the last year.

Australians are lodging fewer complaints about their telecommunications providers, according to the latest results out from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).

For the financial year ending June 30, 2014, the TIO recorded 138,946 new complaints, a drop of 12.4 percent from the 158,652 in the previous financial year, and the lowest level of complaints in the last six years.

Over half of the complaints were from mobile users, but this was down 21.2 percent on the previous year, to 73,518 complaints. The remaining were split between landline and internet complaints.

Specific issues relating to mobile coverage were down 54.6 percent, from 25,789 to 11,708 this year.

Overall, customer service-related complaints were predominant in most new complaints to the TIO, at 48.4 percent, followed by billing and payment complaints, at 47.4 percent.

The largest increase in complaints came for excess data charges, up 27.2 percent to 14,534. The TIO noted that there were 56 cases in the financial year where the excess data charges were between AU$10,000 and AU$50,000, and the TIO even had seven cases over AU$50,000, with the largest being AU$76,103.

There was a 35 percent drop in complaints about international data roaming charges for Australians travelling overseas, but of the 1,253 complaints, half of them involved disputes on charges over AU$880. A total of 53 complaints involved charges over AU$10,000, with one excess data charge totalling AU$571,000 for a customer who had his phone stolen while travelling in Europe.

Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone made up 77.7 percent of all complaints, with Telstra at the number one spot. It had a higher number of customers across fixed and mobile than Optus and Vodafone combined; however, the company still managed to record a 1.2 percent increase in complaints, to 58,009, due to a rise in complaints about landline services.

Vodafone saw a drop in its complaints, down 18.7 percent to 35,876 new complaints. Complaints about the telco's coverage still made up the vast majority of complaints, but this was a 58 percent drop year on year. The company did, however, see an increase in complaints about excess data charges, up 34.9 percent, and poor contract information, up 40.1 percent.

Optus also saw a massive drop in its complaints, down 46.9 percent year on year to 14,144, with complaints about coverage, billing, and contracts all down significantly over the financial year.

The top three telcos were followed by TPG, Virgin, Dodo, iiNet, iPrimus, Southern Phone, and Aldi for the top 10 companies complained about to the TIO.

Proportionally, Victorians complain about their telecommunications providers more than any other state, with 6.9 complaints per 1,000 consumers, followed by South Australia, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, and Queensland.