Almost 1000 SMEs have received close to $800,000 in refunds from Optus, after an investigation by the communications watchdog found they were incorrectly charged for landline phone services they didn’t use.
A spokesperson for Optus has confirmed to SmartCompany that all 994 business have been contacted by the telco and 98% of the charges have been paid back, with interest.
SMEs were hit with the incorrect charges over the course of 10 years, between February 2011 and March 2021, when Optus Business customers were charged for landline services due to a “system billing error” that occurred when incorrect billing end-dates were entered into the Optus system.
An investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found the businesses were charged a combined total of $788,609 and charges continued even after they had transferred their service to other providers.
In a statement ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said 15 of the affected customers were charged more than $10,000, which can be “a huge amount for a small business to lose”.
“Errors like these by Optus can have a big impact on small business,” she said.
“Optus is the second largest telecommunications company in Australia and should have systems in place to ensure it complies with all relevant regulation. It is alarming and unacceptable that such a fundamental flaw went undetected in Optus’s systems for so long.”
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said the delay in detecting the error is “astounding and disappointing”.
“Australians deserve to get accurate information from their telco, including correct information around billing,” said ACCAN deputy CEO Andrew Williams.
Optus self-reported the matter to ACMA and committed to issuing businesses with refunds in March 2021.
The Optus spokesperson says the company will continue to work with ACMA on its refunding program, with ACMA formally directing Optus to comply with the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code. Failure to comply with such a direction can lead to penalties or up to $250,000.
The latest report from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, released earlier this month, revealed the number of complaints from small businesses about phone and internet services reached a three-year high last financial year.
The main grievances of businesses included no or delayed action by a service provider after an issue was raised, costly service and equipment fees and complaints about having no access to functioning phone and internet services.