Telstra has been put on notice by the communications authority after more than 10,000 customers were overcharged an average of $231 between February 2008 and the same month this year.
The almost $2.5 million in charges stemmed from “interim services” the telco provided to customers when there were delays connecting or repairing their landline services.
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The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said that was typically for a mobile phone, but the charge shouldn’t have exceeded what the customer would have paid for the landline service it was replacing.
Telstra discovered the issue and self-reported it to ACMA, saying it was due to a new “customer relationship management system” introduced in 2008.
ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said it was in “clear breach” of regulations designed to protect consumers and that telcos couldn’t get away with a breach by blaming it on their computers.
“If telcos are relying on IT systems to meet their regulatory obligations then they must have appropriate testing and assurance processes in place to ensure compliance,” she said.
“For Telstra to allow an issue like this to go unnoticed for such a long time and impact so many customers, is simply unacceptable.”
“Getting something as important as billing wrong isn’t acceptable and we apologise to our customers who were affected by this mistake,” a Telstra spokesperson said.
“Since we discovered the mistake earlier this year we have been working to refund customers and change our processes so this can’t happen again.”
ACMA acknowledged that Telstra did act once it became aware of the issue, including issuing refunds to affected customers as well as committing to remove the charges for interim services so it doesn’t happen again.
The telco has been warned to comply with the code or else risk a financial penalty.
The company could be fined up to $250,000 if it doesn’t abide by ACMA’s direction to follow the code.
Ms O’Loughlin said it’s important telcos complied to avoid consumers being hit with bill shock.
“Overcharging can potentially lead to financial difficulties for affected customers which is why the ACMA considers accuracy in billing practices to be an important consumer protection.
“Australians should have confidence that they will not be overcharged for their telco services, helping them to effectively plan for and manage their household budgets,” Ms O’Loughlin said.
Disclosure: The reporter owns (a very small number of) Telstra shares.