The Communications Alliance, the peak industry body for the Australian communications sector, has released a proposed framework and review package for the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code.
A deadline of 15 December 2023 was put forward by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to give industry a final chance to detail proposals to address a range of troubling issues and consumer harms, that have resulted in more than 1 million complaints a year by telecommunications customers.
Consumer advocates in community organisations* who assist customers every day to deal with the fallout of a poorly regulated telecommunications market say that, although lengthy, the proposal lacks substance where it matters.
Despite the clear direction given by the ACMA in its position paper for the telecommunications sector in July 2023, advocates say that many of the proposed changes will not lead to meaningful improvements to the current TCP Code framework.
The proposal includes new drafting and clauses on how the revised TCP Code will approach key issues including poor selling practices, credit assessment, payment options and domestic and family violence. However, it appears much of the feedback and recommendations put to the drafting committee by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the Telecommunications Ombudsman (TIO), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the ACMA -recommendations that would make a practical difference to improving customer experiences, including for customers in vulnerable circumstances- have not been incorporated.
CEO of the Consumer Action Law Centre, Stephanie Tonkin said: “Frankly, this TCP Code proposal offers little extra in consumer protections. Given the staggering number of yearly complaints about the telco industry, this is far below what Australians would expect for an essential service.”
Ms Tonkin said Comms Alliance’s proposed framework is peppered with vague language and obligations and does not go far enough to stop businesses mis-selling to vulnerable customers.
“Unfortunately, the Comms Alliance proposal appears to provide little extra support to prevent customers, including those experiencing domestic and family violence, from being effectively cut off from their telecommunications service, or from being aggressively pursued for unaffordable debt when they are at their most vulnerable.
“The TCP Code drafting committee appears to have dismissed ACMA’s request that telecommunications providers give more payment options to customers apart from direct debit—an issue that our organisations see can contribute to significant consumer hardship,” she said.
“What we want is for the Federal Government to create broader directly enforceable laws. These should include clear protections to stop mis-selling and support people affected by domestic and family violence, in addition to introducing swift and meaningful penalties for telecommunications providers when these protections are breached,” Ms Tonkin said.
“In short, this proposed Code is woefully inadequate, and further proof that industry should not be permitted to write its own rules when it comes to vital consumer protections for an essential service.”
The complete TCP Code review package can be found here.
Fiona Guthrie, Chief Executive Officer, Financial Counselling Australia
Financial counsellors have been calling out problems with telco mis-selling and inadequate responses to financial hardship for years. It is really disappointing to see that the industry still isn’t listening. The proposed changes to their code won’t make meaningful differences in either area.
Nicole Stobart, Senior Solicitor, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:
Aboriginal communities have been targeted by the most predatory practices. To avoid further harm to First Nations people, the TCP Code needs stronger and clearer protections than what has been proposed.
Fiona Pettiford, Manager – Money Support Hub East Arnhem:
Every day we support clients with telco issues; the TCP Code is quite simply not working and as an essential service the sector requires direct regulation.
Bush Money Mob Managing Director, Alan Gray:
Telco services are now an essential service, but this Code leaves the foxes in charge of the chicken house and does virtually nothing to enhance consumer protections.
*Consumer Action Law Centre, Financial Counselling Australia, Economic Abuse Reference Group, WEstjustice, CHOICE, Financial Rights Legal Centre, Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network, Consumers’ Federation of Australia, South Australian Council of Social Service, Care Consumer Law, ACT, Anglicare NT, Bush Money Mob, WA, MoneyMob Talkabout, NT, Hume Riverina Community Legal Service, Consumer Credit Legal Service, WA, Consumer Policy Research Centre, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Australian Council of Social Service.
Media contact: Mark Pearce, Media and Communications Adviser, 0413 299 567, firstname.lastname@example.org