New consumer safeguards for premium rate mobile phone services

The mobile telecommunications industry has introduced new safeguards to give consumers clear cost information on premium mobile phone services and a “stop” command to unsubscribe, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association said today after the release of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s annual report.

AMTA Chief Executive Officer, Chris Althaus, welcomed the Ombudsman’s annual report.

“The industry takes all complaints very seriously and we value all customer feedback - even complaints - as a way of measuring our performance and continually looking for new ways to improve services. No complaint is acceptable and that is why the industry funds the TIO scheme to ensure customers who may feel dissatisfied have recourse to an independent third party,” he said.

“When this is put into perspective, the number of complaints recorded by the Ombudsman represents just 0.3 per cent of total number of subscribers, which stands at more than 19 million.”

The Ombudsman’s report says that complaints about premium SMS charges had increased from 1708 in 2004-05 to 5890 in 2005-05. He said a large number of the complaints had arisen from people who had been unable to unsubscribe from premium services.

There are more than 7 billion SMS messages sent in Australia a year.

Mr Althaus said the mobile telecommunications industry was committed to providing a quality service and had adopted a number of measures to meet the concerns of consumers in the past 12 months.

The industry has worked for two years with the Australian Communications and Media Authority to develop the Mobile Premium Services Industry Scheme. The Scheme, which came into effect on October 29, helps ensure that customers have sufficient information, including terms and conditions, on services to enable them to make informed decisions about the use of mobile premium content services. The scheme requires carriers and content providers to give customers access to an opt-out mechanism, allowing them to quickly unsubscribe from premium content services. Customers, who believe their complaints have not been properly addressed by their carrier or service provider, have access to the TIO.

The mobile phone industry welcomed the registration of the revised Credit Management Industry Code in April. The Code introduced a range of new rules and protections aimed at managing customer spending to try and avoid unexpected high bills and help those customers who are experiencing genuine financial hardship.

Mr Althaus said the increase in the number of customer service complaints from 6639 to 13,740 in the TIO report was the result of changes in the way the TIO recorded complaints. This made it difficult to make a direct comparison between the 2004-05 and 2005-06 figures, given the changed methodology.

For more information contact Randal Markey, Manager Communications, (02) 6239 6555 or 0421 240550