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One million Aussies complained to their telco in FY23: Are you one of them?

New data about telco complaints shows Aussie providers have plenty of room for improvement — with mobile customers in particular raising concerns about poor customer service and unfair fees.

Both the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have released their annual reports for 2023, delivering insights into the most-complained-about issues and products in the telco space. Each report covers complaints from customers about internet, mobile, and landline services and providers, and compares 2022-2023 data to the previous financial year.

The TIO’s report covers complaints made directly to the Ombudsman — issues that the telcos themselves have failed to resolve, which have been escalated by unhappy customers. In comparison, the ACMA’s report is comprised of data submitted by medium and large Aussie telcos, and looks at complaints customers make directly to their phone or internet service provider.

TIO complaints: down overall, but mobile still an issue

In the period between June 2022 and June 2023, the TIO recorded 66,388 complaints from residential and small business customers, a decrease of 16.5% year-on-year. Of those, only 9,429 were escalated, 10.2% less than in the 2021-2022 reporting period.

While overall complaints have declined, dissatisfaction with mobile services has remained steady. There were 31,649 complaints about mobile, accounting for 48% of complaints in total — a figure that the TIO partly attributes to the September 2022 Optus data breach. This compromised the personal information of millions of customers, and led to an increase in mobile-related TIO complaints and enquiries in the second quarter of the 2022-2023 financial year.

Although privacy concerns are ongoing for telco customers, 2023’s most complained about issue is no or delayed action from a provider, which led to 37,735 complaints (56.8% of the 2022-2023 total). Service and equipment fees accounted for 21,062 complaints (31.7%), while telcos not meeting an agreed resolution was the third largest grievance, with 6,727 complaints (10.1%).

TIO report 2023: table showing the most complained about telco issues
Image: Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman

Mobile services accrued the largest number of complaints, but the majority of these were due to issues with customer service. In good news, complaints about mobile coverage have dropped by 23.6% year-on-year; however, problems with termination fees rose by 45.9%, and issues relating to cancelling a service also increased by 49%.

The TIO received 20,472 complaints about internet, which was a decrease of 24.1% from the 2021-2022 financial year. Again, no or delayed action from a provider was the biggest issue, accounting for 55.1% of total complaints: this was followed by service and equipment fees (32.8%), and intermittent service or drop-outs (17.3%).

While drop-outs were the third most-complained-about subject in internet, complaints in this category actually decreased by 35.4% year-on-year; complaints about slow internet data speeds, no phone or internet service, and delays establishing a service also dropped significantly.

Despite the rising cost of living impacting millions of Australian households, complaints relating to financial hardship only increased by 1.2%, and accounted for 2.5% of the total complaints in 2022-2023. Most financial hardship complaints concerned residential mobile services, and included issues such as repayment arrangements.

“Telcos need to make sure they are offering flexible payment methods and specialised help and support for people who are struggling to pay,” Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert said.

“Most of our complaints about financial hardship relate to mobile services, which now make up nearly half of our overall complaints.”

The TIO’s most complained about telcos

The telco responsible for the most complaints in the 2022-2023 financial year was Telstra, despite an almost 36% drop in complaints year-on-year. The top 10 most complained about providers are:

  1. Telstra: 40.4%
  2. Optus Group: 30.6%
  3. Vodafone Australia Limited: 7.6%
  4. TPG Group: 3.4%
  5. iiNet Ltd: 2.8%
  6. Southern Phone Company Ltd: 1.6%
  7. Aussie Broadband Limited: 1.3%
  8. Dodo Services Ltd: 0.9%
  9. Medion Australia Pty Limited: 0.8%
  10. Internode Pty Ltd: 0.7%

Although official complaints were down, general enquiries made to the TIO rose by 3.6%. This was largely driven by enquiries relating to Optus, which increased by 66.8% in 2022-23.

ACMA: One million complaints is “far too many”

The ACMA’s report showed a slight rise in complaints made directly to providers when compared to the previous financial year. Australian telcos logged 1,037,823 complaints in 2022-2023, an increase of 2.3%. 64,489 complaints were referred to the TIO, a decrease of 17.1% year-on-year.

Data was taken from 34 Australian telcos, although none of these are named in the ACMA’s report. 29 of those telcos reported 500 or more customer complaints; of those, 13 had a TIO referral rate of less than 10%.

Table showing key insights in telco complaints data from the ACMA
Image: Australian Communications and Media Authority

In goods new for customers, the time taken to resolve complaints is now 5.2 days, a drop of almost 30% year-on-year. However, ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said that the overall increase in complaints is a reminder to the industry to continue its focus on improving customer service.

“While there are some positive improvements in the figures, a million complaints is still far too many and a strong indicator that Australian consumers expect more of their telco providers,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

“People rely on their telecommunications services to access work, education, health, government services and keep connected with their family and social lives. High complaint numbers are an indication that consumers are still experiencing too many issues with their services.”

How to complain about your phone or internet provider

If you’re unhappy with your mobile or internet service, your first step is addressing your telco directly. All providers have a process in place for dealing with customer complaints, which should be available on their website or by contacting them directly.

To keep the process as smooth as possible:

  • Have your billing, account and service info ready before you make contact.
  • Provide as much detail as possible on the issue, including dates where relevant.
  • Know what you want from your telco — whether it’s a refund, replacement of equipment, or something else.
  • Keep a record of who you’ve spoken to, as well any reference numbers for your compliant.

Telcos have 15 working days to solve non-urgent complaints. If you’ve agreed to the solution offered by your provider, they must complete it within 10 working days. If your compliant is urgent — such as a financial hardship request, or your phone has been disconnected without warning — your telco must resolve it within two business days.

If you’re not satisfied with the response from your telco, you have the right to escalate your compliant to the TIO.

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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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