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Another telco fined over $250K for safety rule breaches

Regulators have slapped another telco with a six-figure fee for failing to supply crucial customer information to Australia’s public number database.

SIM-only mobile provider Circles.Life has paid a $253,080 infringement notice to Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), after an investigation found the telco had breached industry safety rules outlined in the Telecommunications Code.

All Australian telcos are required to upload customer information to the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) – but according to the ACMA, Circles.Life failed to do so on more than 60,000 occasions throughout 2022.

What is the public number database (and how did Circles.Life break the rules)?

Established in 1998, the IPND is a centralised, secure database of Australian public landline and mobile numbers. It exists to help services such as Triple Zero locate people in emergencies, and also to issue Emergency Alert Service warnings during disasters or events such as floods and bushfires. The database may also be used by law enforcement and national security agencies, and can be accessed for permitted research if authorised by the ACMA.

It’s mandatory for mobile providers to give the IPND customer data about the services they supply to users with a public number. However, the ACMA’s investigation determined that Circles.Life failed to upload relevant data to the IPND within the required timeframe on 60,313 occasions.

The compliance breaches were due to an error in the Circles.Life’s IT systems, which prevented data files from successfully uploading. The ACMA found that Circles.Life did not conduct regular and required checks of its data and systems, which if performed would have caught the errors much sooner.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the compliance breaches were ultimately a risk to customer safety.

“It is alarming that Circles.Life had no idea that its customer information was not being uploaded until contacted by the ACMA,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

The ACMA’s investigation showed that Circles.Life downloaded error files supplied by the IPND in January 2022, but did not take reasonable steps to resolve the issues that were then identified. In January this year, Circles.Life was hit with a direction to comply with the industry code, and has since paid a hefty $253,000 in penalties to the ACMA.

In a statement, Circles.Life told Canstar Blue that the telco will be working with industry authorities to prevent future compliance issues.

“The safety of our customers remains our number one priority and we have a commitment to working with the ACMA to ensure that we are compliant with providing customer information to the IPND,” a spokesperson said. “While we have an ongoing priority relationship with both law enforcement and emergency services (who reach out to us directly when they need our support) we acknowledge the importance of the IPND in keeping all Australians safe.”

“We can confirm that not only did we rectify the issue within weeks, we have taken steps to ensure that Circles is never in a situation like this again, including the appointment of an external auditor at our expense and direction. We acknowledge that while the IPND system isn’t perfect, we are committed to working with ACMA and other telcos to make it better, for the benefit of all Australians.”

Dozens of telcos caught out for IPND non-compliance

Circles.Life is far from alone in failing to meet IPND obligations, with the ACMA taking action against 31 telcos for non-compliance since 2018. Most recently, Aussie Broadband was penalised with a $213,120 infringement notice in September 2022, for failing to supply customer information on more than 30,000 occasions between November 2021 and May 2022.

The ACMA also issued Circles.Life with an infringement notice in August 2022 for failing to undertake required customer identification checks, which resulted in 42 customers being targeted by scammers. Circles.Life paid the ACMA a $199,990 penalty, and offered over $100,000 in compensation to affected customers.

Public number database breaches aren’t rare, with mobile providers including Telstra, Dodo, Belong and Lycamobile all being caught out in recent years. Unfortunately, non-compliance isn’t something customers are made aware of until a breach is made public by industry bodies such as the ACMA, or the offending telco itself.

Customers may take a history of IPND non-compliance into consideration when choosing a telco, as a failure to meet customer safety obligations is certainly a concern. For current Circles.Life customers, the telco’s no-contract plans make it easy for users to cancel and switch providers if they feel uncomfortable with the Singapore-based company’s actions.

Who is Circles.Life?

Circles.Life is a SIM-only postpaid provider, offering a small range of competitively-priced plans. The telco offers data allowances of up to 100GB per month at a $45 per month price point, which is great value for serious data users.

Coverage is offered on Optus’ 3G and 4G networks nationwide, and customers can self-serve through the Circles.Life app. The telco also offers a 30-day, 100% satisfaction guarantee, with a full refund if you’re unhappy with your new service.

Recently, Circles.Life launched a limited-time series of ‘pay what you want’ plans, with options available from $5 monthly.

Compare SIM-only phone plans

If you’re unhappy with your current mobile provider, you may want to take your phone to a new, SIM-only plan. We’ve compiled a range of postpaid and prepaid options from popular providers in the tables below.

Here is a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 20GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Try using our mobile phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Here is a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data each month, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. If you want to compare a larger range of offers from other providers, use our phone plan comparison tool. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Tara Donnelly
Utilities Editor
Tara Donnelly is an internet and mobile expert - sectors she’s spent a decade covering - and also oversees energy and consumer technology content. She holds a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Canberra and has shared her expertise on national media including 9 News, 7 News, Sunrise and the ABC.

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