Telstra refunds customers more than $1.7 million after billing error

Telstra has paid out more than $1.73 million in refunds — and a hefty half-million dollar fine — after an investigation found the telco had overcharged thousands of its customers.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) had previously directed the telco to comply with billing accuracy rules in 2020, after a prior investigation found more than 10,000 Telstra customers had been overcharged by almost $2.5 million in a 12-year period. However, Telstra has again been called out by the consumer watchdog, after self-reporting additional billing errors made between July 2018 and October 2021.

ACMA: errors cause ‘considerable stress’ on customers

According to the ACMA, Telstra issued inaccurate bills to more than 11,600 customers, including 4,400 who were overcharged after the telco had been formally directed to comply with billing obligations under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code. In addition to refunding impacted subscribers, Telstra was issued with an infringement notice of $506,160, due to failing to comply with the ACMA’s previous direction.

“Telstra had already been formally directed by the ACMA to comply with billing rules so should have moved to address these issues and not inconvenienced its customers further,” said ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

“At a time when Australians are being very careful with their budgets, these errors are particularly concerning as they could have caused considerable strain and distress.”

The billing errors affected more than 8,000 customers of Telstra-owned telco Belong, with the ACMA reporting that those customers were charged over $1.2 million for broadband services despite having already switched to another provider. Telstra also incorrectly billed its own customers for non-existent internet set-up fees, as well as overcharging for phone services.

To Telstra’s credit, the telco did self-report the errors, and has since refunded all affected Telstra and Belong customers in full. Belong CEO Jana Kotatko stated that the errors were caused by issues with Telstra and Belong’s billing system, including data transfer problems and manual processing errors.

“Once Telstra discovered these billing errors, we refunded all impacted customers, apologised for our mistake and also self-reported the issues to ACMA,” said Ms. Kotatko.

“This is not the experience we want to be providing our customers, and Telstra has now improved our processes and systems to help stop this type of error from occurring again.”

Know your account to prevent billing errors

Telstra isn’t the only big telco to be named and shamed by the ACMA for incorrectly billing customers. Late last year, Optus paid out almost $800,000 in refunds to small business customers who had been charged for landline services that were no longer in operation.

Like Telstra, Optus self-reported the errors, and contacted and repaid affected customers. However, cases like these highlight the importance of keeping an eye on your phone and internet bills to ensure you’re getting exactly what you’ve paid for.

Whether it’s mobile or broadband, knowing what your bill should be each month — and what is and isn’t covered by your monthly plan fee — can go a long way in preventing ongoing billing errors. If in doubt, contact your telco: and if you’re concerned you’re paying too much for your internet or phone plan, it might be time to shop around and find a better deal.

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