Complaint handling procedures

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Making a complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

  • 2.1 Contacting the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
    • 2.1.1 Interpreters
    • 2.1.2 Representatives
  • 2.2 Enquiries
  • 2.3 Information we need to register a complaint
  • 2.4 Complaints involving more than one Provider

3. Referring Enquiries and Complaints to the Provider

  • 3.1 Enquiry Referral
  • 3.2 Referral
  • 3.3 Referral response times
  • 3.4 Consumer responsibilities
  • 3.5 Stopping credit management on disputed charges

4. Complaints not resolved by Referral

  • 4.1 No contact
  • 4.2 Contact has not resolved the complaint
    • 4.2.1 Deciding to keep handling a complaint
    • 4.2.2 Deciding not to keeping handling a Complaint

5. Processes for handling unresolved Complaints

  • 5.1 Fast Track resolution
  • 5.2 Case management
  • 5.3 Conciliation
  • 5.4 Investigation
  • 5.5 Information we may ask for
  • 5.6 Assessment
    • 5.6.1 Both Parties accept the Assessment
    • 5.6.2 The Consumer does not respond to the Assessment
    • 5.6.3 The Consumer rejects the Assessment.
    • 5.6.4  The Provider rejects the Assessment
  • 5.7 Ombudsman’s Proposed Resolution
    • 5.7.1 Both Parties accept the Proposed Resolution
    • 5.7.2 Consumer rejects the Proposed Resolution or does not respond
    • 5.7.3 Provider rejects the Proposed Resolution or does not respond
  • 5.8 Ombudsman’s Decision
    • 5.8.1 Both parties accept the Decision
    • 5.8.2 Consumer accepts the Decision
    • 5.8.3 Consumer rejects the Decision
  • 5.9 Provider fails to carry out agreed resolution or Ombudsman Decision
  • 5.10 When we will stop handling a complaint
  • 5.11 Reopening cases

6. Interpretation

7. Dispute Resolution Process

1. Introduction

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Terms of Reference explain the types of complaints we can handle, and how we handle them.

Section 2 of the Terms of Reference explains:

  • we handle complaints made by Consumers
  • we handle complaints against Providers
  • when a complaint can be made
  • the types of complaints we handle
  • the types of complaints we don’t handle.

Section 3 of the Terms of Reference explains how we handle complaints.

These Complaint Handling Procedures explain how the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman applies the Terms of Reference in handling complaints.

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2. Making a complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

We can accept complaints from individual or business Consumers about Providers.

Our policy is to only accept complaints from business Consumers that are small businesses. We publish on our website the factors we will consider in deciding whether a business is a small business that is eligible to use our dispute resolution services.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is an office of last resort. This means that a Consumer with a complaint about their Provider should contact the Provider and give the Provider an opportunity to resolve the issue before contacting the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

2.1 Contacting the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

Consumers can contact us by phone, the National Relay Service (TTY) email, or web form through our website.

2.1.1 Interpreters

Where a Consumer needs an interpreter to help them make a complaint, we can arrange this.

2.1.2 Representatives

A Consumer can authorise a representative to act on their behalf.  

When a Consumer authorises a representative, the representative is authorised to disclose and receive information about the Consumer and the Provider and to make decisions about how the complaint should be resolved.

A Consumer can withdraw authorisation for a representative at any time.

We may, where we consider it appropriate, refuse to deal with a Consumer’s nominated representative and ask the Consumer to either manage the complaint or appoint another representative.  We will only do this where we reasonably consider that the representative has a conflict of interest in representing the Consumer, is acting or has acted inappropriately or unreasonably.

2.2 Enquiries

We will register contact from a Consumer or other person as an Enquiry if we do not have jurisdiction to consider the matter. This includes:

  • The complaint is outside the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s jurisdiction
  • The complaint has already been considered by a court, tribunal or other complaint handling body, or by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
  • The Consumer became aware of the issues in the complaint more than 6 years prior to contacting the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
  • The Provider is not a member of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
    • If the Provider is not a member, but should be, we will take steps to have the Provider become a member and then refer the complaint.
  • The Consumer does not give us sufficient information to register a complaint, such as contact or complaint details

We can also exercise discretion to register contact as an Enquiry if:

  • We consider that the Consumer does not meet our small business criteria
  • We consider that another forum (such as a court or tribunal) is a more appropriate forum to handle the complaint
  • We believe the consumer is making the complaint for an unacceptable reason

2.3 Information we need to register a complaint

The information we need to register a complaint:

  • the name and contact details of the Consumer
  • if the Consumer is being represented by another person, the representative’s name and contact details
  • the name of the telecommunications phone or internet Provider
  • An identifier for the service that the complaint is about (such as an account number, phone number, service address)
  • Details of the complaint
  • Details of when the Consumer complained to the Provider and the Provider’s response
  • If possible, the Provider’s reference for the complaint
  • What outcome the Consumer wants.

If the Consumer tells us they have spoken to the Provider and given it a chance to resolve the complaint and has given us sufficient information to allow the Provider to deal with the complaint, we will register a Complaint.

2.4 Complaints involving more than one Provider

Some complaints involve more than one Provider.  Examples of these include:

  • Problems transferring services from one Provider to another, such as delays or lost numbers
  • Complaints that services have been transferred without the Consumer’s authorisation
  • Complaints where a Consumer’s property is damaged by a carrier who attends the Consumer’s property at the request of the Consumer’s Provider
  • Complaints about unsafe carrier infrastructure on a Consumer’s property, where the Provider is not the carrier.

Usually, we will register the complaint to the Consumer’s current Provider (that is the Provider who bills the customer), but where we consider that this is not appropriate, we will decide which Provider is most appropriate to deal with the issues raised.

In some cases, we may decide that a complaint needs to be registered to two Providers.

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3 Referring Enquiries and Complaints to the Provider

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman facilitates the resolution of complaints through its referral process.  

When a Consumer contacts us with a complaint we may ask for information to clarify the circumstances of the complaint.  We send the information to the Provider so that it can review the complaint and reconsider its initial response.  

3.1 Enquiry Referral

If the Consumer has not previously contacted the Provider about the complaint and we have registered an Enquiry, we may refer the complaint to the Provider and ask it to try to resolve the complaint with the Consumer.  This is called an Enquiry Referral.

3.2 Referral

If the Consumer has previously contacted the Provider about the complaint and given the Provider an opportunity to resolve the complaint, we will refer the complaint as a Referral.

3.3 Referral response times

When we refer a complaint to a Provider, we allow the Provider time to resolve the complaint by responding directly with the Consumer.  The timeframe to do this differs depending on the nature of the complaint:

Complaint typeResponse time
Standard Referral10 business days
Complaint where there is an urgency due to medical  safety risk

2 business days for the urgent issues

10 business days for any other non urgent issues

Complaint where Consumer became aware of the issues more than two years previously20 business days
Enquiry Referral15 business days

3.4 Consumer responsibilities

When we refer a Consumer’s complaint to a Provider, we expect the Consumer to be available to discuss the complaint and resolution options with the Provider.

We may refuse to deal with a Complaint after referral, if the Consumer has not engaged with the Provider to try to resolve the Complaint.  We will consider any extenuating circumstances that may prevent a Consumer from actively engaging with their Provider to resolve the Complaint.

3.5 Stopping credit management on disputed charges

The Provider must stop all credit management for disputed charges while we are handling the Complaint.

When we have referred a Complaint to the Provider, it must stop credit management action on disputed charges for the duration of the referral period, and while the TIO Complaint is open.

If a Provider does not stop credit management after we ask it to, the Ombudsman may issue a Temporary Ruling requiring the Provider to stop all debt collection and other credit management action for up to 90 days.

If a Provider fails to comply with a Temporary Ruling, we will refer the Provider to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for enforcement action.

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4. Complaints not resolved by Referral

If a Consumer tells us after the Referral timeframe their Complaint is not resolved, we ask the Consumer to tell us:

  • What the Provider’s response to their Complaint was, and
  • Why they are not satisfied with the response.

4.1 No contact

If the Consumer tells us the Provider did not contact them after we referred the complaint, we may re-refer the complaint to the Provider and ask it to contact the Consumer within two (2) business days and demonstrate to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman that it has resolved the complaint.

4.2 Contact has not resolved the complaint

When a Consumer tells us that the Provider did contact them, we will ask the reason the Consumer does not consider the Complaint resolved and decide whether it is appropriate for us to continue to handle the Complaint.  

We do not decide the merits of complaints after Referral and, if we decide to keep handling the Complaint we classify it as Unresolved.

4.2.1 Deciding to keep handling a complaint

If we decide that we should continue to handle the Complaint, we will consider which of our processes is appropriate to deal with the complaint.  

In deciding which processes and methods to use to resolve a complaint, we will consider:

  • The complexity of the Complaint and whether it involves one, or a number of issues
  • The parties to the Complaint, their relationship and circumstances
  • Any urgency in the Complaint issues
  • Whether a detailed review of facts and legal or code obligations is required.

4.2.2 Deciding not to keeping handling a Complaint

We can decide to stop handling a Complaint at any time, if it is reasonable to do so.

Reasons why we might not continue to handle the Complaint include:

  • The Consumer has not given authorisation for person making the Complaint  to deal with us or the Provider
  • We have information to show that the Complaint falls outside the TIO’s jurisdiction
  • We reasonably believe that the Complaint is frivolous or vexatious.
  • If there is another organisation that we think can deal with the Complaint. In this case, we will tell the Consumer about that organisation and how to contact it.

We will tell the Consumer why we have decided not to continue to handle the Complaint. The Consumer can ask us to review a decision not to keep handling the Complaint.

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5. Processes for handling unresolved Complaints

5.1 Fast Track resolution

Fast Track resolution is appropriate for relatively simple, low-value cases that involve one issue.

The Fast Track process is only used where the Provider has previously arranged with us to accept Fast Track referrals.  

A Complaint that has previously been re-referred because the Provider did not contact the Consumer after Referral is not eligible for Fast Track resolution.

Urgent cases are not eligible for Fast Track resolution.

If we use the Fast Track referral process, we send the Complaint to the Provider with details of why the Consumer considers the Complaint to be unresolved and ask the Provider to contact the Consumer directly to resolve the Complaint and demonstrate to us that the Complaint has been resolved by agreement within 10 business days.  If the Provider does this, we will close the Complaint as resolved.

If we use the One Call process, we call the Provider and ask it to resolve the Complaint immediately by agreeing to the resolution the Consumer wants. If the Provider agrees, we close the case as resolved.

If we use a Fast Track process and the complaint is not resolved, it will be referred to a Case Manager for Conciliation or investigation.

5.2 Case management

If we decide that a case is not suitable for Fast Track resolution (or if Fast Track resolution does not resolve the case), the Complaint moves to our Case Management stage.

The Case Manager handling the case will decide whether to begin a Conciliation or Investigation process after discussing the case with the Consumer.

5.3 Conciliation

Conciliation is a process in which the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman  works with the Consumer and Provider to try to find a resolution. We can conciliate a complaint by Conference Call or by speaking to the Consumer and the Provider in separate calls and assisting the parties to negotiate a resolution. The Case Manager may also propose suitable resolution options to the parties.

When we decide that a Complaint is suitable for conciliation we write to the Consumer and Provider to explain the process. We may ask the Consumer and Provider to send us information before we start conciliation.  We will give the parties a timeframe to provide the information, usually between five (5) and ten (10) business days.

If the Case Manager decides that a Conciliation Conference is appropriate, we will schedule a time with the Consumer and Provider.  We expect both parties to make themselves available for the Conference and to participate with the aim of resolving the complaint.  

At the end of the conciliation process the Case Manager will either:

  • Close the complaint as resolved, if the parties agree
  • Make an Assessment
  • Refer the case to the Ombudsman, or
  • Investigate the complaint.

5.4 Investigation

The purpose of an Investigation is to collect and analyse information from the Consumer and Provider, to allow the Case Manager to assess the Complaint and response and form a view about how the Complaint should be resolved.

We will identify the information and documents we need to investigate the Complaint and tell the Consumer and Provider what we need from them.

At any stage during an investigation, we may decide that it is appropriate to use conciliation to try to resolve the Complaint.  

At the end of an Investigation, we will either:

  • Close the complaint as resolved, if the parties agree
  • Make an Assessment
  • Refer the case to the Ombudsman.

5.5 Information we may ask for

The Case Manager will decide what information we need to consider the Complaint.  The type of information required will depend on the nature of the Complaint and the claim and may include (but is not limited to):

  • The Provider’s customer records for the Consumer
  • Fault reports and fault repair records
  • Billing information
  • Call records
  • Contracts
  • Statements of recollection from people involved in the issues in dispute (including Provider staff or agents)
  • Emails, text messages, letters, online chat and other communications between the parties
  • Financial information

When we ask a Consumer or Provider for information, we will tell them when they need to give us the information. The Consumer and Provider must provide the information within the timeframe we give (usually ten (10) business days), unless:

  • Providing the information would breach an obligation of confidentiality owed to a third party, and that party will not consent to its disclosure (we may ask for evidence of this)
  • Providing the information would breach a court order or would breach a current law enforcement investigation
  • The information does not exist or the party cannot obtain it.

If a party does not provide information we ask for, we can draw inferences from this.  This includes:

  • That the party does not have information or evidence to support their position, or
  • That the information the party holds supports the other party’s position.

5.6 Assessment

If a Complaint has not been resolved by agreement, a Case Manager may make an Assessment based on the information collected during conciliation and/or investigation.

An Assessment sets out:

  • the facts of the Complaint
  • the views of the Consumer and Provider
  • the information that the Case Manager has considered and relied on
  • the Case Manager’s view about how the case should be resolved, and
  • the reasons for reaching that view.

When we make any Assessment about the merits of a Complaint, we apply the standard of the Balance of Probabilities, and take into account relevant laws, industry guidelines and good practice and what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

We send the Assessment to the Consumer and Provider and ask both to respond in writing within ten (10) business days, telling us whether they accept the Assessment or reject it.

Both parties are entitled to ask for any document we rely on in making the Assessment.

5.6.1 Both Parties accept the Assessment

If the Consumer and Provider both accept the Assessment, we expect that each party will carry out any actions recommended in the Assessment.

We close the Complaint as resolved.

5.6.2 The Consumer does not respond to the Assessment

If the Consumer does not respond to the Assessment within 10 business days, we will close our file.  We will advise the Consumer that the file has been closed and that the Provider does not have to carry out any actions recommended by the Case Manager.  We will not consider the Complaint further.

5.6.3 The Consumer rejects the Assessment

If the Consumer rejects the Assessment and the Provider accepts it, the Consumer can ask for a senior officer to review the Assessment.  The Consumer must do this within 10 business days of the Assessment and tell us why they reject the Assessment. The reviewer will consider the Consumer’s reasons and any new evidence or information provided.

If the Consumer does not give any reasons, we will not review the Assessment and will close our file.

A reviewer may:

  • Confirm the Assessment and close the case file
  • Decide that the case should be investigated further, or
  • Work with the Consumer and Provider to try to find an agreed resolution.

The reviewer will tell the Consumer and Provider the outcome of the review.

If the reviewer confirms the Assessment, the Consumer can decide to accept or reject the Assessment.  

If the Consumer decides to accept the Assessment after the review, (and the Provider has accepted the Assessment), we will consider the Complaint resolved and ask the Provider to implement any resolution recommended in the Assessment.

If the Consumer decides not to accept the Assessment, the Provider does not have to implement any offer or recommended resolution.  

We will close the case file. The Consumer can take the Complaint to another forum, if they choose.

5.6.4 The Provider rejects the Assessment

The Provider can reject the Assessment.  The Provider must provide its reasons and any new evidence or relevant information within 10 business days.

If the Provider rejects the Assessment, we may investigate the complaint further or immediately refer the Assessment and the Provider’s response to the Ombudsman for further consideration.

The Ombudsman will form a view about how the complaint should be resolved and issue a Proposed Resolution.

5.7 Ombudsman’s Proposed Resolution

The Ombudsman can propose a resolution to the Complaint.

A Proposed Resolution sets out:

  • the facts of the Complaint
  • the views of the Consumer and Provider
  • the information that the Ombudsman has considered and relied on
  • the Ombudsman’s view about how the case should be resolved, and
  • the reasons for reaching that view.

We send the Proposed Resolution to the Consumer and Provider and ask them to respond within 15 Business days.

The Consumer and Provider can accept or reject the Ombudsman’s Proposed Resolution.

5.7.1 Both Parties accept the Proposed Resolution

If the Consumer and Provider both accept the Proposed Resolution, we close the case as resolved.

The Provider must carry out any actions recommended by the Ombudsman in the Proposed Resolution and the Consumer must agree not to take the complaint to any other forum, if the Provider carries out the Proposed Resolution.

5.7.2 Consumer rejects the Proposed Resolution or does not respond

If the Consumer rejects the Ombudsman’s Proposed Resolution or does not respond to it within 15 business days, we will close our case file and we will not consider the complaint further. The Provider will not be required to carry out the Proposed Resolution and the Consumer is free to take the complaint to another forum.

5.7.3 Provider rejects the Proposed Resolution or does not respond

If the Consumer accepts the Ombudsman’s Proposed Resolution but the Provider rejects it or does not respond to it within 15 Business days, the Ombudsman will make a Decision.

Before making a Decision, the Ombudsman may investigate the Complaint further and will consider any information provided in response to the Proposed Resolution.

5.8 Ombudsman’s Decision

The Ombudsman can decide the outcome of the Complaint and give directions to the Provider.   

We send the Decision to the Consumer and Provider and ask them to respond within 15 business days.    

5.8.1 Both parties accept the Decision

If the Consumer and Provider both accept the Decision, we close the case as resolved.

The Provider must comply with all of the Ombudsman’s directions in the Decision and the Consumer must agree not to take the Complaint to any other forum, if the Provider complies with those directions.

5.8.2 Consumer accepts the Decision

If the Consumer accepts the Ombudsman’s Decision it becomes binding on the Provider and it must comply the Ombudsman’s directions.  The Consumer must agree in writing not to take the Complaint further, if the Provider complies with the directions.

5.8.3 Consumer rejects the Decision

If the Consumer rejects the Ombudsman’s Decision or does not respond to it within 15 business days, we will close our case file and we will not consider the case further.  The Provider will not be required to carry out the Ombudsman’s directions given in the Decision.  

5.9 Provider fails to carry out agreed resolution or Ombudsman Decision

If a Provider is required to do one or more things as a result of an agreed resolution or Ombudsman Decision, but does not, we will write to the Provider requiring it to demonstrate that it has implemented the agreed resolution or the directions in the Decision within five (5) business days.

If the Provider does not respond or does not demonstrate to the Ombudsman’s satisfaction that it has done the required things, we will refer the Provider to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for enforcement action (providing the Consumer consents).

We may also publish the name of the Provider and details of the non-compliance.

5.10 When we will stop handling a complaint

At any time during the Case Management process we will stop handling a complaint if:

  • The complaint is resolved by agreement between the Consumer and Provider
  • The Consumer asks us to stop handling their Complaint.

We may also decide to stop handling a complaint if:

  • The Consumer cannot be contacted or is not participating in the resolution process
  • The complaint falls outside the  jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
  • There is another body or forum that is more appropriate to deal with the complaint
  • The Consumer refuses to pay undisputed charges
  • The Consumer’s complaint is frivolous or vexatious
  • The Consumer is acting unreasonably.

If we decide to stop handling a complaint for any of these reasons, we will tell the Consumer why. The Consumer can ask us to review the decision, but must do so within 10 business days.

A senior officer will review the decision to close the file and either confirm the decision, or decide that the case should remain open.

5.11 Reopening cases

If we have told a Consumer that we intend to stop handling their complaint and we have offered the Consumer the ability to ask for a review, the Consumer must ask for the review within the period we specify.  This will usually be 10 to 15 business days.

The Consumer can ask us for more time and we may agree to such a request.

If the Consumer does not ask for a review (or if the reviewer decides that the case should be closed) we will not reopen the case, unless the Consumer can demonstrate exceptional circumstances that warrant reopening it.

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6. Interpretation

Assessment

A Case Manager’s view of an appropriate outcome for a Complaint.  An Assessment is not binding on either party to a dispute.

Case Manager

A staff member of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman handling a complaint.

Complaint

An expression of grievance or dissatisfaction made by a Consumer about a Provider,  that is within the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.

Consumer

A person or business that is the end-user of a telecommunications service, or is directly affected by a telecommunications service, or an owner or occupier of land that a carrier has accessed or used or intends to access or use.

Credit management

The methods a Provider uses to:

  • collect payment for telecommunications services
  • reduce a Consumer’s spending on telecommunications services
  • manage its credit risk

Decision

The Ombudsman’s final word on how a Complaint should be resolved that is binding on the Provider

Enquiry

  • A complaint that is not within the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
  • A complaint that a customer has not raised with its service provider
  • A query or contact from a Consumer that does not relate to a telecommunications service or that we decide is not a Complaint.

Proposed Resolution

The Ombudsman’s view of how a Complaint should be resolved.  

Provider

A supplier of telecommunications services, a telecommunications carrier or another business that is a member of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman against which a complaint is made.

Representative

A person nominated by a Consumer to act on their behalf to resolve their Complaint.

Urgent

An element of a Consumer’s Complaint where there is a serious risk of detriment, such as a medical or safety risk, that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible, independently of the full resolution of the Complaint.

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7. Dispute Resolution Process