Small business complaints to telco industry ombudsman rise 18% in 2012

Small businesses are making more complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, highlighting the growing importance of telco and mobile services to the small business sector, the Ombudsman’s latest report shows.

The report reveals in the 12 months to June 30 of this year, the TIO received 193,702 new complaints, of which 27,008 were from small business about telecommunications and internet services. However, overall complaints have decreased by 2%.

That figure is up by 18%, with small business making up 14% of all complaints received.

But the Ombudsman, Simon Cohen, told SmartCompany he’s been doing more to ensure small businesses are catered for at the TIO office, especially as telco services become more and more critical to doing business.

“We’ve increased our monetary limits from $30,000 to $50,000 for complaints that we can make decisions about, and from $85,000 to $100,000 for complaints that we can make recommendations about,” he says.

“We think those limits reflect some of the usage amounts, or billing amounts, that small businesses might receive and wish to dispute.”

Most importantly, Cohen says, the definition of small business has been changed. So while the organisation looks at elements like turnover and employee numbers, when those criteria aren’t met they’ll consider other issues like the issue of the dispute.

“Also, whether or not it’s a for-profit or family business, or if it’s independently owned, and so on.”

The TIO report highlights ongoing problems in the telecommunications industry, with many users unable to understand complicated bills or payment plans.

Those same complaints often occur in businesses, he says.

“The sorts of complaints we see are similar to residential customers,” he says. “Time spent running around trying to solve these problems has a big impact on the people who work at these businesses.”

Cohen says it’s encouraging the number of complaints has fallen, even if only by 2%. But more can be done, he says, noting that there has been a 9% increase in complaints about mobile services.

The TIO office also announced this morning it would have to decrease staff numbers next year due to falls in complaints. The body is funded on a per-complaint basis.

Income for the group also declined because of a drop in more senior investigations, with “level three” investigations falling to 401 from 2,415 in 2010-11. The number of level four investigations fell to 41 from 357 last year.

The drop comes as part of a shift in the way the TIO attempts to fix complaints before proceeding to the next level of action.



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