7.5 Telecommunications and postal consumers

19 Aug 2016 - 15:47 | Version 16 |

Telecommunications regulatory framework

There are a number of laws, regulations and industry codes that regulate how telecommunications services work and how telecommunications providers engage with consumers in Australia.

Many of these laws or regulations are telecommunications industry-specific, such as the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) and the Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth). Other laws and codes apply to all industries, such as the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), the Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code 2014 (Cth) and the Australian Consumer Law (Cth). Here is an overview of the telecommunications regulatory framework in Australia:

Telecommunications regulatory framework.JPG

Telecommunications specific laws and regulations

The Telecommunications Act

The Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) is the primary legislation which regulates the Australian telecommunications industry.

The Telecommunications Act 1997 establishes the principles of self-regulation and open competition, and aims to provide a regulatory framework that promotes:
  • the long-term interests of end-users of carriage services or of services provided by means of carriage services
  • the efficiency and international competitiveness of the Australian telecommunications industry, and
  • the availability of accessible and affordable carriage services that enhance the welfare of Australians.
Part 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 defines and establishes a licensing regime for the owners of telecommunications network infrastructure, known as carriers.

Carriage service providers are not required to be licensed but must abide by service provider rules set out in Schedule 2 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 and also specified in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). Part 4 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 defines a carriage service provider as a person who supplies, or proposes to supply, a listed carriage service to the public using a network unit owned by one or more carrier.

Carrier powers and immunities

Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) gives carriers rights to inspect land, and install or maintain low impact telecommunications facilities without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land and without obtaining State or Territory approvals.

The rules in the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997 (Cth) govern the circumstances under which a carrier may enter private land to inspect the land, install or maintain telecommunications facilities, including notifications which must be given to the owner or occupier of the land.

The Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 1997 (Cth) determines what constitutes a low-impact facility, and is used in conjunction with the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997.

Before exercising these rights, carriers are required to notify and make reasonable efforts to consult with the owner or occupier of the land about their intended low-impact facility activities. The owner or occupier of the land can object to the proposed activities on certain grounds and within specific timeframes. The owner or occupier of the land can ask the carrier to refer objections that cannot be resolved to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) (see Contact points).

Numbering Plan

The Telecommunications Numbering Plan 2015 (Cth) (the Numbering Plan), established under section 455 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), sets the framework for the numbering of telecommunications services in Australia, and the use of numbers in connection with the supply of services.

The Numbering Plan facilitates:
  • the availability of numbers to facilitate use of services, including proper routing of calls
  • fairness and equity in the allocation of numbers to carriage service providers, and in the issuance of numbers to consumers
  • minimising the need for changes to numbers, and minimising disruption to consumers if numbers are changed
  • efficient transfer, surrender and withdrawal of numbers, and
  • consumer understanding of the cost of calls to particular number types.

Industry standards

Part 6 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) gives the telecommunications regulator, namely the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the power to make an industry standard in situations where an industry code does not exist, or when an industry code is deficient. Unlike a voluntary code, a standard contains mandatory rules of conduct for telecommunications providers.

Current industry standards address issues with mobile roaming and the telemarketing and fax marketing industry: Section 114 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 provides for an industry standard to confer functions and powers on the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), with the TIO's consent. The TIO has consented to receive, investigate, and help resolve consumer complaints about international mobile roaming under the Telecommunications (International Mobile Roaming) Industry Standard 2013.

Industry codes

Part 6 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) enables telecommunications providers to set their own rules of conduct and service standards in the form of telecommunications industry codes of practice. Compliance with industry codes is voluntary, but under sections 121 and 122 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) can direct a provider to comply with a code or issue a formal warning if it finds a telecommunications provider has contravened a code rule.

Part 31 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 also gives the ACMA the power to:
  • issue an infringement notice up to the value of $6,600, and
  • take a matter to the Federal Court, which can impose a penalty of up to $250,000.
Section 114 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 provides for an industry code to confer functions and powers on the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), with the TIO's consent. The TIO has consented to receive, investigate, and help resolve consumer complaints that involve code-related matters for a number of codes, including the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, the Mobile Premium Services Code, the Priority Assistance for Life Threatening Medical Conditions Code, the Mobile Number Portability Code, the Local Number Portability Code, the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code and the Calling Number Display Code.

The Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act

The aims of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) (the TCPSS Act) are broadly similar to the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth). The TCPSS Act contains measures specifically designed to protect consumers, including:
  • establishment of a universal service regime to ensure that all Australians have reasonable access on an equitable basis to standard telephone services and payphones
  • establishment of a National Relay Service to provide persons who are deaf or have a hearing impairment with access to a service comparable to a standard telephone service
  • empowering the Australian Communications and Media Authority to make performance standards for the connection and fault repairs of specified services
  • a requirement that carriers and carriage services providers join the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme.

Universal service regime

The Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) (the TCPSS Act) establishes a universal service regime called the Universal Service Obligation (USO) to ensure that all people in Australia, wherever they reside or carry on business, have reasonable access, on an equitable basis, to standard telephone services and payphones.

In Part 6 of the TCPSS Act a standard telephone service is defined as:
  • a telephone service fit for the purpose of voice telephony, or
  • if voice telephony is impractical for a person with a disability, a form of communication equivalent to voice telephony.
Currently Telstra is the only universal service provider, although all carriers must contribute to a levy to cover any losses incurred in the supply of USO services.

Customer Service Guarantee

Part 5 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) empowers the Australian Communications and Media Authority to make performance standards for service connections, fault repairs and service appointments by telecommunications providers. These performance standards are contained in the Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth) (the CSG Standard).

The CSG Standard specifies timeframes for the connection and fault repair of CSG eligible services (standard telephone services, or an equivalent-to-voice-telephony service for a person with a disability), and the attendance of appointments by telecommunications providers. Customers are entitled to compensation under the CSG Standard if these timeframes are not met.

Telecommunications providers are required to inform customers about their rights under the CSG Standard. New and existing customers must be given written information about their entitlements and the provider's obligations.

National Relay Service

Part 2 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) provides that there must be a National Relay Service that gives persons who are deaf or who have a hearing and/or speech impairment, access to a standard telephone service on terms, and in circumstances, that are comparable to the access other Australians have to a standard telephone service.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Scheme

Part 6 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) requires all telecommunications providers to be members of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) scheme. The TIO provides a free and independent dispute resolution service for small business and residential consumers in Australia who have a complaint about their telecommunications services (see Contact points).

Other relevant laws and regulations

Australian Consumer Law

The Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) creates a single national consumer law. It also creates a national enforcement regime, with consistent enforcement powers for all of Australia's consumer protection agencies.

The Australian Consumer Law applies in the Northern Territory by virtue of section 27 of the Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act 2003 (NT).

The following elements of the Australian Consumer Law are relevant to telecommunications services:
  • general consumer protections relating to misleading and deceptive conduct, and unconscionable conduct
  • unfair practices including false and misleading representations, pyramid schemes, multiple pricing, and unsolicited supplies
  • consumer guarantees when buying goods and services (which replace or re-state existing laws on conditions and warranties)
  • unsolicited consumer agreements covering door-to-door sales and other direct marketing, including telemarketing
  • product safety law and enforcement, and
  • unfair contract terms in standard form consumer contracts.

Privacy Act

The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) regulates the handling of personal information about individuals. This includes the collection, use, storage and disclosure of personal information, and access to and correction of that information.

The Privacy Act 1988 includes 13 Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) that apply to the handling of personal information by APP entities (Australian Government agencies and private sector organisations). Businesses which have a turnover of less than $3 million are exempt from having to comply with the APPs.

Telecommunications providers with a turnover of more than $3 million are APP entities.

Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code

One of the objects of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) is to facilitate an efficient credit reporting system while making sure the privacy of individuals is respected. Part IIIA of the Privacy Act 1988 includes credit reporting rules that apply to the handling of credit-related personal information that credit providers are permitted to disclose to credit reporting bodies for inclusion on individuals' credit reports.

The Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code 2014 (Cth) (the Credit Reporting Code) is a mandatory code that specifies rules for all credit providers (including telecommunications providers) and credit reporting bodies. The Credit Reporting Code supplements the requirements of Part IIIA of the Privacy Act 1988.

Together, the Privacy Act 1988 and the Credit Reporting Code contain rules about:
  • information that must be given to the consumer about credit reporting before personal data is collected
  • notifying the consumer that a debt is overdue before disclosing credit default information to a credit reporting body
  • not disclosing credit default information when a consumer has made a hardship request and the credit provider is considering the request, and
  • giving a consumer access to their credit related personal information on request.

Disability Discrimination Act

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) makes it illegal to discriminate based on disability when offering any kind of goods or services. This obligation has been interpreted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission [Scott and Disabled Peoples International v Telstra [1995] HREOCA 24] to include the provision of special equipment to access a standard telephone service.

This obligation is supplemented by the universal service obligation under the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) and other rules in the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code.

Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act

Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) prohibits telecommunications providers from disclosing information about their customers' use of telecommunications services.

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth) (the TIA Act) also protects the privacy of Australians by prohibiting the interception of communications or access to stored communications.

However, certain exceptions in the TIA Act permit eligible Australian law enforcement and security agencies to:
  • obtain warrants to intercept communications
  • obtain warrants to access stored communications, and
  • authorise the disclosure of telecommunications data.
Part 5-1A of the TIA Act requires telecommunications providers to retain specific telecommunications data relating to the services they provide for their customers. This set of telecommunications data is known as metadata. Telecommunications providers are required to retain this data for a period of two years unless they are exempted.

Telecommunications services and consumer issues

The following sections provide a summary of the consumer protections under the telecommunications regulatory framework and how these laws, standards and industry codes can help resolve consumer issues about telecommunications services.

Types of telecommunications services

Most of us use telecommunications services in the same ways - to make or receive a call or text, or to access the internet so we can view a website, send an email or stream music and video. The technologies we each use to access these services however can be different.

Voice telephony

Landline

These are traditional voice-telephony services delivered to a particular location by way of a fixed network, usually using copper, hybrid fibre optic-coaxial cable or fibre optic cable.

Standard telephone services

Telecommunications legislation provides special guarantees and protections for standard telephone services. More often than not, these are traditional landline services, but they can also be fixed location Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP services, mobile or satellite services provided in fulfilment of the Universal Service Obligation, or services that are equivalent to voice telephony services for persons with a disability.

VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP is a voice telephony service that transmits a speaker's voice by digitising the sound and sending it as a data packet just like any other data that is sent over the internet. Before it reaches the listener, the signal is transformed back into a normal voice signal. Some types of VoIP only allow a customer to call others with the same type of VoIP service (peer-to-peer), whilst others allow you to call anyone on any type of telecommunications network. This second type of VoIP service can be considered a standard telephone service under telecommunications legislation.

Mobile

Unlike traditional landline services which are provided to a distinct location, a mobile service allows you to use your service as you move from one location to the next. It does this by connecting your mobile device signals to a network of base stations which have been installed on poles, towers and buildings around the world by different telecommunications carriers. Mobile devices automatically connect to the nearest base station, and seamlessly switch the connection to another base station as you move around.

Satellite telephony

Just as fixed-line networks and mobile services can carry conversations between people, satellite connections can also be used to supply voice telephony services. Often far more expensive than alternative service types, both in ongoing usage charges and in equipment costs, satellite connections are usually only used when there is no fixed or mobile alternatives, such as in remote and rural areas where mobile base-stations have not been installed or infrastructure has not been rolled out.

Internet

The Internet is a global computer network that links billions of devices worldwide, access to which is sold to the general public by internet service providers. Internet service providers bill customers for the amount of data they use as they send and receive emails, visit or create websites, download music and stream videos.

Each type of internet connection used will significantly influence the efficiency or data transmission speed of the service. Types of internet connections or technologies are listed below.

Dial-up internet

Dial-up internet involves plugging your modem into a standard copper telephone network socket and dialling a telephone number that is specifically set up by an internet service provider to receive such calls. Once the connection is established, you are able to browse the internet but you cannot use your landline for voice calls until you disconnect from the internet. There are few dial-up services remaining in Australia.

DSL (digital subscriber line) broadband

DSL is the name of a group of technologies that also use telephone networks to provide internet access, but these technologies allow both voice and internet services to simultaneously be provided via the same copper line. These connections provide relatively fast internet access, and are always connected, unlike a dial-up service which needs to be actively connected or disconnected by the user. Sometimes insufficient infrastructure or distance from the nearest telephone exchange will prevent you from being able to have a DSL connection or affect the quality of this connection.

The most common type of DSL connection is ADSL or asymmetric digital subscriber line (more recent generations are known as ADSL2 and ADSL2+).

Cable broadband

Cable broadband is a broadband internet technology supplied over hybrid fibre optic-coaxial (HFC) cable, typically used for pay television infrastructure. Cable internet is also able to provide high-speed internet, but is not affected by distance from a telephone exchange as DSL can be. It is not as widely available as DSL however, can be more expensive, and service speed can be affected by the cable being shared with other users.

Fixed wireless broadband

Fixed wireless broadband is a broadband technology that uses radio signals instead of cables. Fixed wireless uses fixed transmission towers or base stations to communicate 'over the air' with equipment at your premises. Generally, it will not work or be disrupted if there is no line of sight between the tower and your equipment.

Fibre broadband

Optical fibre is a flexible, transparent fibre - slightly thicker than a human hair - made of plastic or extruded glass (silica). Optical fibre can function as a light pipe (or waveguide), to transmit light between the two ends of the fibre. It is used for high-speed broadband technologies like the National Broadband Network and HFC networks, because it is not subject to electromagnetic interference and experiences much less signal loss than copper cabling.

Wireless or mobile broadband

Wireless or mobile broadband is a technology that provides internet access of broadband quality to internet-enabled devices via mobile telephone networks. A device can be connected to the internet via a SIM card (smart phones, tablets and other devices tethered to the smart phone), or a computer or laptop card/USB (a dongle). The speed and stability of connections on a wireless broadband network will depend on the location of the device, network coverage, and available bandwidth (affected by the number of other devices connected to the same area of the network and the end user's plan).

Wi-Fi

A wireless local area network (WLAN or wireless LAN), more widely known as Wi-Fi, is a technology that allows internet-enabled devices within a small area to be wirelessly connected to a broadband internet network using radio or infrared signals instead of traditional network cabling, via wireless modem-router or a router (connected to a modem). Devices "signed up" to a wireless local area network can access the internet without being connected to other equipment with a cable, and they can be moved around within a range of 20 to 100 metres of the router.

Satellite broadband

Satellite broadband is broadband delivered via a geostationary satellite above earth in space. A satellite dish (or VSAT) is oriented towards a two-way satellite, and receives and sends signals (data) to the satellite. Data received by the satellite is distributed to servers (and internet service providers) around the globe via ground-based stations or hubs. The National Broadband Network will use two long term satellites to provide faster internet services in some regional and rural areas in Australia.

Access to a telecommunications service

Are you entitled to a telecommunications service?

Standard telephone services (commonly known as landline services), or an equivalent-to-voice-telephony service for a person with a disability, are the only type of telecommunications service to which access is a right in Australia.

Under the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth), you are entitled to have access to a landline service no matter where you live or carry on business. This entitlement is called the Universal Service Obligation (USO) and it applies to the first landline connection at a property only.

There are some limited circumstances in which Telstra, the Government-appointed universal service provider, does not have to supply a USO service. These limited circumstances, detailed in section 7 of the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (Standard Telephone Service: Requirements and Circumstances) Determination (No 1) 2011 (Cth), include:
  • when the premises already has a USO service connected or a service connected by another provider (unless it is a mobile or satellite service)
  • the consumer seeking the service has a bad credit record or has no legal right to occupy the premises
  • the premises does not have a permanent structure, or has no permanent electricity or sanitation, or
  • the installation of the service poses an unreasonable risk to Telstra's employees or members of the public.
In some locations, particularly in remote areas where infrastructure is lacking or access is difficult, Telstra may offer you a satellite service or a mobile service instead of a landline connection to fulfil its obligation under the USO.

The USO requires that payphones be accessible.

There is currently no universal service regime for mobile or internet services in Australia.

Credit assessment before getting a post-paid service

Under clause 6.2.1(a) of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, a telecommunications provider must undertake an appropriate credit assessment before giving you a post-paid service. This helps the provider determine the level of credit it will provide to you for a telecommunications service.

When undertaking a credit assessment, the provider may obtain credit related information about you from a credit reporting body (for example, if there are any defaults listed against you). The provider can also collect this information directly from you, which it may also give to the credit reporting body.

Before a provider collects personal information from you that it may give to a credit reporting body, it must give you certain information when you are applying for the service. This information includes that it may consult a credit reporting body to assess your eligibility for credit (for example, by obtaining your credit report), and the name and contact details of the credit reporting body (section 21C of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and section 4.1 of the Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code 2014 (Cth)).

Refusal or restriction of service because of poor credit history or non-payment

You have an obligation to pay for the services you receive, even for landline services under the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

Telecommunications providers may refuse to give you a post-paid service if you have a poor credit record or history of non-payment.

If a provider refuses your application for a service based wholly or partly on information received from a credit reporting body (such as a default listed against you), the provider must give you written notice within 10 business days of its decision (section 21P of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and section 16.3 of the Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code 2014 (Cth) (the Credit Reporting Code)).

Under section 16.3 of the Credit Reporting Code, this written notice must include:
  • that the refusal is based wholly or partly on credit information provided by a credit reporting body, or information the provider derived from that credit information
  • the name and contact details of the relevant credit reporting body
  • your right to access your credit reporting information without charge for up to 90 days following the date of the notice
  • how to ask the credit reporting body to provide access to that information, and
  • information about factors that are often taken into account when refusing credit.
As the universal service provider, Telstra can refuse to supply a USO service on grounds of a poor credit record. If this occurs, Telstra must, under section 8(3) of the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (Standard Telephone Service: Requirements and Circumstances) Determination (No 1) 2011 (Cth), give you a written statement within 10 working days of its refusal, including:
  • the reason why it refused the application and the grounds to support this reason, and
  • that you have the right to dispute the decision by asking it to reconsider, and by complaining to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman if you are not satisfied with its reconsideration of the decision.
If a provider disconnects an eligible CSG service (a standard telephone service or an equivalent-to-voice-telephony service for a person with a disability) for credit reasons, it must meet specific notice requirements in section 20(2) of the Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth) (the CSG Standard). If the provider does not meet these requirements, you may be entitled to compensation under the CSG Standard. (See Restriction, suspension or disconnection of services for non-payment )

If a post-paid service is refused on legitimate grounds, you should consider getting a suitable pre-paid service.

Connecting a telecommunications service

Availability of services

Although landline, internet and mobile services are widely available in Australia, there are many areas in which such services might not be available. For example:
  • there may be insufficient mobile coverage to supply a mobile service, including wireless broadband services, or
  • there may be insufficient capacity within the telecommunications infrastructure near a premises to carry a broadband internet service (e.g. a consumer lives too far away from the closest telephone exchange, or there are an insufficient number of ports left at the exchange).
If a service is working poorly or not at all because it is connected in a location that has insufficient infrastructure, that service may not be of fit for purpose under the consumer guarantees in the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)). It would also be unlawful under the Australian Consumer Law for a provider to mislead you about the availability of services in the area in which you live (section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law). (See Faulty telecommunications equipment or services for more information)

Clause 4.1.2(g) of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code requires a provider to make network coverage maps readily available if it is selling mobile services. You should ask for and use coverage maps to make an informed decision about whether or not a service will work at the locations you require for the service.

National Broadband Network services

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is a telecommunications network that will deliver very fast broadband as well as traditional voice services to Australians using a mix of technologies. The NBN is currently being rolled out and will eventually be available Australia-wide. Depending on where you live or work, the NBN may be delivered by way of a fixed-line network, such as fibre or copper, or via wireless or satellite technologies.

The migration of existing landline (voice) and internet services onto the NBN will not happen automatically. You will be given notice of when the NBN will be available in your area. You will then need to make plans to move your services onto the NBN. You will need to research the NBN services and plans that are available through different service providers, and at the relevant time, ask your preferred service provider to move your service onto the NBN. For some types of services, this could involve the connection of a new NBN service and the disconnection of an existing service.

If you are unsure of when the NBN is coming to your area, you can visit the NBN website and check your address on the register http://www.nbnco.com.au/.

Telephone numbers

Telephone (including mobile) numbers are a considered a national resource.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (or its representative) allocates telephone numbers to telecommunications providers. Providers in turn issue the numbers to consumers with their standard telephone or mobile services.

The use of telephone numbers is regulated by the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 2015 (Cth) (the Numbering Plan). Additional rules about numbering are also contained in the Rights of Use of Numbers Code, Local Number Portability Code and the Mobile Number Portability Code.

A telephone number is not owned by the provider it is allocated to, nor the consumer it is issued to. A consumer who is legitimately issued a number:
  • may enjoy the beneficial use of the number freely and without hindrance
  • is entitled to continued use of the number while an appropriate service is provided using the number
  • has rights of use which continue when the consumer transfers the number to another provider, and
  • loses rights of use of the number when the associated service is disconnected.
A consumer with rights of use of a number also has the right to transfer or port that number to a different provider, as long as the technologies involved allow the transfer to occur. Some technologies make it harder to port numbers back and forth across different networks, and a gaining provider may not be willing to undertake this additional work.

You should always make sure you can retain your number (if this is what you want) with the new provider before you agree to a transfer. (See Can all numbers be transferred? )

Because disconnecting a service results in the associated number being quarantined, you should never request disconnection of the service if you want to retain your number when you transfer the service to a different service provider. (See Restriction, suspension and disconnection of services for non-payment)

When the service associated with a number is no longer being used or is disconnected, the number returns to the pool of numbers either temporarily in quarantine or awaiting reissuance to another consumer. Under the Numbering Plan, a number may only be retrieved during the quarantine period if it is to be issued to the consumer that last had rights of use of the number, or to another consumer in very limited circumstances. The quarantine period is 12 months if the number was disconnected because it was receiving nuisance calls, and six months if otherwise (section 100 of the Numbering Plan). Generally, a provider cannot issue a number to another customer during the quarantine period unless it has no other available numbers.

Delayed connections

If your chosen telecommunications provider agrees to have your service connected by a specified date, any subsequent delay in the delivery of that service could be considered a failure to meet the consumer guarantees under the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) and a breach of contract. (See Contracts and consumer protection)

If there is no specific end date for the delivery of services, then the consumer guarantees under the Australian Consumer Law require the provision of services within a reasonable time (section 62 of the Australian Consumer Law).

Connecting landline services

For landline services, an additional form of protection exists under the Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth) (the CSG Standard).

The CSG Standard imposes timeframes for the connection and fault repairs (see Faulty telecommunications equipment or services) of a CSG eligible service (a standard telephone service or an equivalent-to-voice-telephony service for a person with a disability). The CSG Standard also applies to enhanced call handling features such as call diversion or calling number display blocking.

If infrastructure is available a provider must connect a CSG eligible service or enhanced call handling feature within the guaranteed maximum connection period as follows:

Table 1: Guaranteed maximum connection timeframes under the CSG Standard

Location of the consumer's service (close to available infrastructure and capacity)

Maximum connection period

An in-place connection in any location

two business days after the provider receives the connection request

A new connection in an urban area with a population equal to or more than 10,000 people

five business days after the provider receives the connection request

A new connection in a major rural area with a population between 2,500 and 10,000 people

ten business days after the provider receives the connection request

A new connection in a minor rural or remote area with a population of up to 2,500 people

fifteen business days after the provider receives the connection request

If none of the above applies

fifteen business days after the provider receives the connection request
As the universal service provider, Telstra has to comply with the guaranteed maximum connection timeframes in the CSG Standard, unless there is no readily accessible infrastructure to connect a new landline service. Under Telstra's Standard Marketing Plan which it is required to have as the universal service provider, Telstra has up to 20 business days to connect a new landline service at a site that is not readily accessible to telephone network infrastructure that Telstra can use or where the infrastructure exists but has insufficient capacity available to connect the service.

The CSG Standard prescribes a set amount of compensation to be paid for each day of delay that a consumer experiences. It also requires that compensation be paid for missed appointments if compensation is not already payable for that day. The maximum amount of compensation available is $25,000 (section 117 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth)).

Table 2: Compensation amounts under the CSG Standard

Type of customer

Category of performance standard

Compensation for first 5 working days of delay (per working day)

Compensation after first 5 working days (per working day)

Residential/charity customer

Connection or repair of standard telephone service

$14.52

$48.40

Connection or repair of enhanced call handling features to an existing service

$7.26

$24.20

Connection or repair of two or more enhanced call handling features to an existing service

$14.52

$48.40

Not keeping an appointment

$14.52 for each missed appointment

Business customer

Connection or repair of standard telephone service

$24.20

$48.40

Connection or repair of enhanced call handling features to an existing service

$12.10

$24.20

Connection or repair of two or more enhanced call handling features to an existing service

$24.20

$48.40

Not keeping an appointment

$24.20 for each missed appointment
In certain circumstances a provider may not have to pay compensation under the CSG Standard for a delayed connection. These circumstances include when:
  • the consumer has given consent to a CSG waiver and that waiver process meets all the requirements in the CSG Standard
  • the consumer has agreed to or requested a later connection date than the guaranteed maximum connection timeframe
  • the provider has made a reasonable offer of an interim service or alternative service for the consumer to use while they await their connection
  • the consumer already has five or more landline services at the premises, or
  • the provider cannot meet a performance standard because of:
    • circumstances beyond its control (for example, a natural disaster or extreme weather conditions causing mass outages), or
    • the need to move staff or equipment to an area affected by circumstances beyond its control.

Entering into an agreement for a telecommunications service

Pre-sale information and conduct

The Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) contains rules about how businesses should behave when selling their products or services.

These rules apply to telecommunications providers, and include:
  • prohibition of misleading and deceptive conduct (section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law)
  • prohibition of unconscionable conduct in connection with the supply of goods or services (sections 20 and 21 of the Australian Consumer Law)
  • prohibition of harassment and coercion when supplying goods or services (section 50 of the Australian Consumer Law)
  • prohibition of unfair practices including false or misleading representations about goods or services, or misleading conduct as to the nature or suitability of goods or services (section 29 of the Australian Consumer Law), and
  • informing a consumer if a termination or cooling off period applies (section 76 of the Australian Consumer Law).
(See Contracts and consumer protection)

Advertising practices

Section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) provides that a person must not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive. This means businesses (including telecommunications providers) are not allowed to make statements about their products that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression. This rule applies to providers' advertising, product packaging, and any information provided to consumers by their staff or dealers. It also applies to any statements made by businesses in the media or online, such as testimonials on their websites or social media. Where this does occur, it makes no difference whether the business intended to mislead the consumer or not.

The Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) also contains rules about advertising practices in the telecommunications industry.

A telecommunications provider must include any important conditions, limitations, qualifications or restrictions about an offer in its advertising to allow you to make informed choices (clause 4.2.1 of the TCP Code). A provider must not describe their product as:
  • unlimited if usage is genuinely unlimited and not subject to exclusions (clause 4.2.1(b) of the TCP Code)
  • capped unless it comes with a hard cap on expenditure that cannot be exceeded (clause 4.2.1(l) of the TCP Code), or
  • free unless goods or services are genuinely free of charge (i.e. without the cost being recovered via alternative means, such as higher call charges) (clause 4.2.1(d) of the TCP Code).

Unsolicited sales

If a salesperson knocks on your door, drops in to your place of work, or phones you to offer goods or services, this is known as an unsolicited sale'. A sale would also be unsolicited if you are approached in a shopping centre by a roaming salesperson. Telecommunications services are sometimes sold or promoted through telemarketing or unsolicited sales.

Unsolicited sales or unsolicited consumer agreements are regulated by rules in the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)). These rules cover:
  • how and when salespersons can approach you, including permitted hours of contact (sections 71 to 77 of the Australian Consumer Law)
  • what information salespersons must give you in an unsolicited sale, including the document containing the terms of the agreement and supplier information (sections 78 to 81 of the Australian Consumer Law)
  • your right to change your mind and cancel the agreement during the termination or cooling off period (section 82 of the Australian Consumer Law).
(See Contracts and consumer protection)

Cooling off periods

If you enter an agreement with a telecommunications provider as a result of an unsolicited sale (e.g. door-to-door or telemarketing sale), you are entitled under section 82 of the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) to a termination or cooling off period of 10 business days. The provider should not send you any equipment or transfer or connect your service during this period. This cooling off period is to give you time to change your mind after entering an unsolicited agreement for goods or services.

If you chose to cancel the agreement during this period, you should not be penalised in any way, including being charged a contract early termination fee.

The termination period may be extended to a longer period in some circumstances (section 82 of the Australian Consumer Law):
  • three months if the salesperson:
    • negotiated the agreement with you outside of the permitted hours
    • did not disclose their purpose for contacting you and did not disclose their identity, or
    • did not stop the negotiations when you asked it to, or
  • six months if:
    • the salesperson did not inform you of the cooling off periods
    • the salesperson did not conform with the requirements for unsolicited consumer agreements, or
    • the provider supplied or charged for goods costing more than $500 or supplied or charged for services within the 10 day cooling off period.
Sometimes a telecommunications provider may offer a cooling off period even where the sale was not the result of an unsolicited transaction. If this occurs, the provider must honour its agreement to allow you to terminate the agreement if you change your mind.

(See Contracts and consumer protection)

Point of sale information

You should tell your provider at the point of sale about:
  • how much you intend to use your services
  • how you intend to use your services, for example you stream a lot of music online or you prefer to send text messages rather than make calls, and
  • your budget or capacity to pay for services and equipment.
Clause 4.1.3 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) requires telecommunications providers to directly address your stated needs when telling you what offers they have available. It also requires providers to help you find a product that best suits your needs if you have disclosed any specific disability.

In addition to the requirements in the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)), telecommunications providers must ensure that any information given or made available to you is clear, accurate, free of material omissions, relevant, current and in cases where information is given, timely (clause 3.2.1 of the TCP Code).

Critical Information Summaries

Under clause 4.1.1 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code), a telecommunications provider must summarise all of the important terms of each of its offers in a standard format, so that you can compare different offers and determine which best suits your needs. This document is called a Critical Information Summary. It must be a separate document to the agreement, no longer than two A4 pages in length, and be provided before sale without charge.

The Critical Information Summary should tell you all the important things you need to know about the agreement you are entering into. For example, under clause 4.1.1(a) of the TCP Code, the Critical Information Summary must specify:
  • the minimum monthly charge payable (and maximum monthly amount payable, if this can be calculated)
  • the length of any fixed-term contract period and the amount you could be charged for early termination
  • the cost of sending a standard text message, for using one megabyte of data in Australia and for making a standard national voice call of two minutes in duration
  • a warning about international mobile roaming costs
  • where you can find other call and data usage information (via instructions or a website link)
  • if there are any telecommunications products you must take up with the offer and how much this would cost, and
  • any important inclusions, exclusions or conditions that apply to the offer.

Other relevant information

Clause 4.1.2 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code requires providers to make available to you, additional information beyond the Critical Information Summary to help you compare products. This includes for example, information about:
  • billing options, billing periods and payment methods
  • how you can estimate your usage of a product, and choose the product that meets your needs
  • if relevant, mobile network coverage for the telecommunications product, including a map or diagram
  • how to activate or deactivate international mobile roaming on your service, and
  • the main features of any telecommunications goods forming part of an offer.

Standard form contracts

Telecommunications services and equipment are often offered under a post-paid, fixed-term contract. Most providers also offer pre-paid services and equipment such as mobile handsets that can be purchased outright.

Most telecommunications providers offer telecommunications services or products to consumers or small businesses under standard form contracts, where there is little or no opportunity to negotiate the terms of the contract (see Part 23 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) which sets out the regime for standard forms of agreement for telecommunications).

Before you sign any contract for telecommunications services, you should read the contract and ask questions about anything you do not understand or do not agree to. Sometimes contracts are entered into over the telephone, so you should make sure you listen carefully to the terms and conditions before you agree. You should also take care when signing up for a telecommunications service online, and avoid clicking 'I agree' without reading all the terms and conditions of the contract.

Bundled equipment and services

Many telecommunications providers offer discounts or special prices if you contract to receive more than one type of service. These multi-service offers are known as bundles. All services on a bundle will generally be linked under a single contract, with a single bill issued each month. Sometimes telecommunications services may also be bundled with pay-television services or even with electricity and gas services.

Under section 48 of the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)), it is unlawful for a provider to advertise a price for a service that is only available if it is bundled with another service, unless the provider also specifies, in a prominent way and as a single figure, the single price for the combined services.

Telecommunications providers are prevented under clause 4.2.1(f) of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code from using headline representations as to a price for a particular product or service, unless:
  • that product or service is available for purchase at the advertised price without being part of a bundled product or service, or
  • the advertised price is clearly identified as the price for that product or service when purchased as part of a bundled product or service.

Signing up for a service for someone else to use

If you sign up for a telecommunications service for someone else to use (for example, your child, partner or friend), you are still the account holder for the service. The account holder is legally responsible for the service including paying all bills, even if the bills are sent to the end-user. Telecommunications services are rarely offered to a consumer on the basis that they are only a guarantor for the service for someone else.

If a telecommunications provider does require a guarantor before they will provide a service, the prospective guarantor should be informed fully about the nature and effect of that guarantee (clause 6.2.1(c) of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code)).

In the case of an account holder who is not the end-user of the service being obtained, as soon as the provider becomes aware that account holder is not going to be the end-user, the account holder should be made fully aware of their liability for the service (clause 6.2.1(b) of the TCP Code).

Unfair contract terms

Rules in the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) make void any contract term that is unfair (see sections 23 to 27 of the Australian Consumer Law).

Under section 24(1) of the Australian Consumer Law, a term of a standard form consumer contract is unfair if:
  • it would cause a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations arising under the contract, and
  • it is not reasonably necessary in order to protect the legitimate interests of the party who would be advantaged by the term, and
  • it would cause detriment (whether financial or otherwise) to a party if it were to be applied or relied on.
The extent to which the term is transparent and the contract as a whole will be taken into account when assessing if a term is unfair (section 24(2) of the Australian Consumer Law). Examples of the kinds of terms that may be unfair (section 25 of the Australian Consumer Law) include terms that permit, or have the effect of permitting one party (but not another party) to avoid or limit performance of the contract, vary the terms of the contract, renew or not renew the contract, and terminate the contract. Another example is a term that penalises, or has the effect of penalising, one party (but not another party) for a breach or termination of the contract.

An unfair term is void. However, the rest of the contract continues to bind the parties if it is capable of operating without the unfair term (section 23(2) of the Australian Consumer Law).

Billing and charges

Itemised billing

A provider who supplies a standard telephone service must, under section 13 of Schedule 2 to the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), provide itemised billing unless you choose not to have it. Itemised billing means a bill that shows, for all calls other than untimed local calls:
  • the date on which the call was made
  • the number to which the call was made
  • the duration of the call, and
  • the charge applicable to the call.

A provider is not required to provide itemised billing for designated local calls, unless you ask for this.

Although this requirement only applies to standard telephone services, clause 5.5.3 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code requires providers to ensure they make available to their customers, itemised details of all charges for any telecommunications service, unless the consumer has otherwise agreed.

Bill provision, content, frequency and accuracy

Before signing up for a service, you should make sure you understand what charges are included in your plan and what charges may be billed separately from your plan charges. (See Included value charges and Other extra charges) You can also speak to your provider about the ability to bar premium services or third party purchases, or other spend control mechanisms. (See Managing spend, credit management and credit reporting)

The Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) contains a number of rules about how a telecommunications provider must bill for its services.

Some important rules include:
  • Providers must issue a bill for each billing period, unless the service is pre-paid or you pay the same fixed amount by direct debit each month and have agreed to not receive a bill (clause 5.2.1 of the TCP Code).
  • You must be told what bill media you will receive, for example paper or email bills. Bills must be in a format that you are able to store and reproduce. If a provider wants to change its bill media, it must tell you about the proposed change and any options available to you about the change (clauses 5.2.3 and 5.2.4 of the TCP Code).
  • You must be able to access billing information, including fully itemised bills, without charge for up to two years after a bill is issued (clauses 5.2.5 and 5.2.6 of the TCP Code).
  • There is certain information that must be contained within a bill, such as a description of the charges included and whether they are included usage or excess usage (clause 5.3.1 of the TCP Code).
  • The bill must be issued within 10 working days after closure of the billing period, and if the bill is late, then you must be given an extension of time to pay that is not less than the duration of the delay (clause 5.4.1 of the TCP Code).
Telecommunications providers must not bill for charges that are more than 160 days old, except in exceptional circumstances (clause 5.4.2 of the TCP Code).

Clause 5.5.1 of the TCP Code requires a provider to:
  • make sure it provides and can demonstrate valid and correctly calculated charges, and
  • take reasonable care and precautions to make sure it avoids any billing inaccuracy.
The provider must make sure enough information is readily available for you to verify that charges are correct and consistent with the provider's published or contracted charges and discounts, and with the product you requested, used, or contracted to receive (clause 5.5.2 of the TCP Code).

If you do not understand the charges appearing on your bill, you should ask your provider to explain these charges.

If you have been charged for services that you have not requested or have been misled into purchasing, or you have not been provided with reasonable tools to track or control your expenditure on these services, you may have grounds for making a complaint. If you dispute these charges, you should make a complaint to your provider. However, you should pay all undisputed charges such as the monthly plan fees while your complaint is being investigated by your provider. (See Making a complaint about your telecommunications service)

Included value charges

Most post-paid telecommunications services are offered by providers on the basis of included value plans. This means that by paying a monthly plan fee for the service, you will receive an included amount of calls, text messages and data usage (for mobile services) or data usage (for internet services) each month. Some plans may offer unlimited calls, text or data or a combination of these.

You should make sure you understand what is included and what may be excluded from your monthly plan for your post-paid service, to avoid bill shock for excess usage charges or unexpected charges on your bills.

Other extra charges

Types of extra charges

There are a range of extra charges that may appear on a telecommunications bill because these may be excluded from the included value of the plan.

These types of charges include excess usage charges, international mobile roaming charges, and third party purchases such as mobile premium services, app or in-app purchases, or direct carrier billing purchases.

Providers must set out any exclusions for post-paid plans in their Critical Information Summaries for those plans (clause 4.1.1(a) of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code).

Excess usage charges

Excess usage charges are charges for calls, text messages (SMS) or internet data usage above and beyond the usage allowed under your post-paid plan. In general, consumers on pre-paid plans should not be able to spend more than their pre-paid credit.

If you are on a post-paid included value plan, you could incur excess usage if you make more calls, send more text messages (SMS) or use the internet more than your plan allows. For example:
  • Included value mobile plans may allow calls and SMS up to a certain value, e.g. $550 worth of calls and text a month. If internet access is also included in the plan, only a set amount of internet data is allowed, e.g. 1GB.
  • Internet plans may allow a certain amount of internet data per month. These plans, if they are not unlimited, can offer as little as 200MB/month or as much as 1000GB/month.
  • Bundled internet and phone plans may have some unlimited features, like internet usage, but may only include a set amount of calls, e.g. 100 minutes of international calls a month.
Common situations that can lead to excess usage charges include:
  • signing up to a plan that covers less usage than what you really need (perhaps because the next highest plan seems too expensive)
  • moving house, having a family member being in hospital, or other situations that lead an increased use of your mobile phone.
  • going overseas and using your mobile via an overseas telephone network
  • watching a lot of television or films on the internet, e.g. via a Streaming Video On Demand service like Netflix, Stan or Presto
  • allowing apps or a handset operating system to be updated through a mobile network instead of home Wi-Fi (updates have to be downloaded as data), or
  • a change to the mobile network which means data is used up more quickly than normal, e.g. change from 3G to 4G mobile network.
Under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code), telecommunications providers are required to take various actions to help you manage expenditure on your telecommunications service. Under these rules, your provider must: You should pay attention to usage notifications sent by your provider, use the spend management tools made available or applied by your provider, and when appropriate modify your usage to prevent incurring charges you cannot afford.

International mobile roaming charges

International mobile roaming involves use of an international network by an Australian SIM in a device switched on in a country outside of Australia. Calls, texts and data services are routed via the international network and this can result in very high extra charges.

When the device is turned on in the overseas location, the SIM recognises that there is no Australian network coverage. The SIM will access the network of the overseas country, and all (SIM-dependent) usage will be routed via that network while the device remains in that country. The international network provider will pass on international mobile roaming usage information to the Australian network provider, which will then pass on the information to the consumer's mobile provider (this could be any of the main Australian mobile carriers or an Australian mobile reseller (also known as a mobile virtual network provider)).

If international mobile roaming is activated on your service, you can be charged for incoming calls and outgoing calls as well as for checking voicemail while overseas. You can also incur internet usage through automatic updates of your devices or by checking emails. Merely avoiding the use of the internet or having incoming calls only will not prevent unwanted debt.

International mobile roaming, especially data usage, can cost thousands of dollars each day in some countries, so it is very important that you contact your mobile provider to:
  • de-activate international roaming on your mobile service or mobile broadband service (if this is already enabled)
  • organise an ad-on roaming package before you travel if this suits your needs, or
  • discuss other options with your provider.
You should also track your usage wherever possible (noting there may be significant delays in access to real-time usage information) if you are using an ad-on roaming package or international roaming.

You should consider turning off your data roaming on your mobile phone or device while travelling overseas, using alternative methods such as your hotel's free Wi-Fi or buying an overseas SIM to use.

It is extremely important to report a lost or stolen phone immediately both to the police in the country where the loss or theft occurred and to your telecommunications provider.

Australian mobile carriers and mobile resellers are regulated by the Telecommunications (International Mobile Roaming) Industry Standard 2013 (Cth) (the International Mobile Roaming Standard) when they provide international mobile roaming services.

Under the rules in the International Mobile Roaming Standard:
  • Your mobile provider is required to send you a free text message within 10 minutes of you activating a SMS enabled mobile device. The message should warn you that significantly higher charges will apply and that there may be delays in receiving usage data and alerts (sections 5(1)(a) and 5(2)(a) of the International Mobile Roaming Standard).
  • If you are a customer of a provider who resells telecommunications services from a mobile carrier, the mobile carrier must still send the above text to you within 10 minutes and inform the reseller within one hour that international roaming services are being supplied (section 5(2) of the International Mobile Roaming Standard).
  • You must be told the maximum charge information for the country in which you are using your service and also be told how to decline the continued supply of international roaming (sections 5(1) and 6(3) of the International Mobile Roaming Standard).
  • The maximum charge information must be up-to-date and provided within 24 hours of your request (section 7 of the International Mobile Roaming Standard).
  • Your mobile provider is required to have a method available for you to decline roaming services. This method should either involve calling an Australian number (you must not be charged more than $AUD1 to make this call) or accessing your provider's website. Your request to cease international roaming must be processed within 24 hours (section 8 of the International Mobile Roaming Standard).
  • Your mobile provider is required to make international roaming spend management tools available and tell you about these. These spend management tools include both tools to monitor usage and notifications of expenditure (section 9 of the International Mobile Roaming Standard).

Mobile premium services

Mobile premium services are services delivered to a mobile service via text message (SMS) or multimedia message (MMS) from a number beginning with 19. The content could be a competition or quiz, a horoscope, or a ringtone.

Consumers can purchase these services by:
  • texting a numeric short-code or a keyword to a premium content service provider, or
  • entering their mobile number into an online form on a webpage or social media platform.
Consumers can buy services just once (e.g. one entry to a competition) or they can buy a subscription to a service (e.g. a horoscope). Subscriptions are charged on a recurring basis.

Under the Telecommunications Service Provider (Mobile Premium Services) Determination 2010 (No 1) (Cth) (the Mobile Premium Services Determination), mobile providers must give their customers or prospective customers the option to bar premium SMS and MMS, and they must give them a convenient method to do this (sections 6, 7(2) and 9(2) of the Mobile Premium Services Barring Determination).

There are several ways to stop receiving premium SMS or MMS:
  • You can ask your mobile provider to bar all premium SMS and MMS. The provider must do this as soon as possible (sections 7(2) and 9(2) of the Mobile Premium Services Barring Determination). With some providers, you can request this by logging into your account on your provider's website and changing your account preferences.
  • After your provider activates barring of premium SMS or MMS, you should not be able to access these services. Your provider cannot charge for supplying SMS or MMS charges after 6pm on the first business day after you have asked for barring (sections 7.2(b) of the Mobile Premium Services Barring Determination).
  • To stop receiving a premium service subscription, you can reply to the SMS or MMS by texting and sending the word STOP. You should not have to pay any further charges after you text STOP. You should also be removed from any marketing database for that subscription service.
Other rules that regulate mobile premium services, including sign-up rules, are contained within the Mobile Premium Services Code.

Mobile applications and in-app purchases

An app is a piece of software (a small software program) that can be pre-loaded or downloaded for use on a mobile device. Apps can be used for many purposes, including to navigate from one place to another, do daily tasks such as banking, access a social network such as facebook, shop, read or write a review, listen to music, watch television or a film, and play games.

Apps are often offered in two versions: a basic free version and a premium version. Apps sometimes offer optional extras and 'add-ons' to customers for a fee, for example virtual tools for a player to use in an on-line game. Consumers can also purchase ongoing subscriptions to information, news, weather, horoscopes, language lessons, etc.

In-app purchases are items a consumer purchases while using an app, after they have already installed the initial app on their mobile device. Examples include credits towards bonus game levels and music, e-books and movies.

Although many mobile applications are listed as free of charge, you can be charged for downloading data associated with apps, including updates to the app software. When apps are not free of charge, or you make an in-app purchase, the charges may be billed to your credit card or to your mobile bill.

The best way to avoid unwanted expenditure on apps and in-app purchases is to password protect the mobile device which has access to them and to ensure the settings on the device are set to limit access.

Third party purchases and direct carrier billing

Some content services accessed through mobile devices cost extra. Examples of products that often cost extra are one-off downloads of apps and games. Online stores like the Android PlayStore sell these types of content services. Customers can also initiate these purchases by clicking on a pop-up or banner advertisement in an app they are using.

There are several ways to pay for these content services and it is possible to set up a preferred method of payment:
  • by credit card or other banking service
  • through a third party payment service such as PayPal, or
  • through a mobile provider.
Paying through a mobile provider is known in the telecommunications industry as direct carrier billing. It is sometimes also known as premium direct billing, direct operator billing or direct account billing. Your mobile provider accepts the charges for these content services, and then passes on the charges to your mobile bill.

Direct carrier billing charges appear on mobile bills as content charges or third party purchasestm. Bills should include the purchase date, time, cost and contact details for the third party content provider (which may have a different name from the purchased content).

Even though you may not be aware of it, direct carrier billing could already be automatically activated on your mobile phone, tablet or other device. You can change your access to direct carrier billing by asking your provider to:
  • disable direct carrier billing altogether
  • bar access to direct carrier billing on particular devices, or
  • set a limit on the amount you can spend on direct carrier billing every month.
You can also monitor direct carrier billing access on your devices by:
  • controlling who has access to your devices, e.g. by setting password controls to prevent unauthorised or underage users from purchasing content
  • carefully reading information presented to you on your device, as it is possible to click on advertisements by accident
  • carefully checking bills and usage, e.g. by logging into an online account for pre-paid services, or
  • reading the terms and conditions of any purchase very carefully.

Information and 190 calls

Information calls are calls made to services to obtain information on a variety of topics such as financial investment, competitions, gardening, computer support and adult services; they have a '190' prefix. Calls to information services are charged at a higher rate than local calls and are often referred to as 'premium rate services'.

Information calls are charged at different rates, some incurring a flat rate call cost between 50 cents and $30, and others charged by the call length, up to $5 per minute (or higher costs from mobiles).

If you do not want this service, you can ask your provider if it can block access to 190 calls or information services from your service.

Charges incurred by third parties, including fraud, theft and equipment loss

It is your responsibility to protect your service from unauthorised use by a third party. This means you should make sure your Wi-Fi connections are secured with a password, and keep your devices secure when not in use.

Under clause 6.1.1 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, your provider is required to make information available to you about tools to protect your services from unauthorised access or use. (See Signing up a service for someone else to use)

If your mobile or other telecommunications device is lost or stolen, you should immediately contact your telecommunications provider so that they can block the device from being used. If you fail to make this report, you may be held liable for charges incurred as a result of unauthorised use of your device.

Payments and direct debits

The Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) contains a number of rules about payment methods for telecommunications services. Some rules include:
  • A provider must provide at least one method of bill payment that is free of charge (clause 5.6.1 of the TCP Code).
  • Payments made on or before the due date must be applied to your account within five days of being received by the provider or before the next bill is generated, whichever comes first. Payments received after the due date should be applied within five business days (clause 5.6.3 of the TCP Code).
The TCP Code also has a few specific rules about direct debits:
  • You must be given at least 10 working days to check your bill is correct before any amounts are direct debited except where otherwise agreed with you (clause 5.7.1(c) of the TCP Code).
  • It should be easy to cancel a direct debit authorisation (clause 5.7.1(e) of the TCP Code).
  • A provider must make sure the direct debit is taken as close as possible to the due date for payment (clause 5.1.7(d) of the TCP Code).
  • If you ask your provider to cancel a direct debit authorisation, it must be cancelled within three working days (clause 5.7.1(f) of the TCP Code).

Transferring telecommunications services

Transferring a service across different networks

Telecommunications providers must have the capability and technology to provide portability under the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 2015 (Cth). Porting refers to the ability to transfer a landline or mobile service (with the associated telephone number) from one telecommunications provider to another provider that uses another carrier's network. Transferring a service between providers but remaining on the same carrier network is known as a churn.

Although the churning of services is governed by contractual agreements between providers and their wholesalers, the porting of services between different carrier networks is regulated by rules in the Local Number Portability Code (for landline services) and the Mobile Number Portability Code (for mobile services). These industry codes set out detailed processes and performance requirements to ensure all parties involved in a port know what is required of them and to prevent unnecessary delays.

The performance requirements for porting a service, once the consumer's authorisation is confirmed, are:
  • For a landline service: 90% of ports are to be finalised within 30 minutes and 99% of ports are to be completed within two hours, from the receipt of notification of the port by the losing service provider (clause 4.2.33 of the Local Number Portability Code), or
  • For a mobile service: 90% of ports are to be finalised within three hours and 99% of ports are to be completed within two working days, from the date of the request for a service (clause 3.6.2 of the Mobile Number Portability Code).
When porting or transferring a service, the provider must ensure your right to use your number is not affected by the transfer.

Can all telephone numbers be transferred?

All numbers are and should be portable. However, in practice you may not be able to take your number with you when you change providers. This is because:
  • there is no obligation upon a gaining provider to accept a request to port your number, and
  • the porting of a number can be complex and expensive, especially when the port requires both a change in network and a change in technology (for example from VoIP to the copper network, or when a number has been connected out of its normal geographical area).
Telecommunications providers should be open and transparent at the point of sale about their ability and willingness to transfer a number. If a consumer is misled about this, it may be that the provider has not fulfilled the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) and general principles of contract law.

Agreement to a transfer of a service

Before your telecommunications service can be transferred from your current provider to another provider, you must consent and agree to the transfer. (See Entering into an agreement for a telecommunications service)

If the agreement to transfer a service is made as a result of an unsolicited sale, the Australian Consumer Law imposes an obligation on the provider not to supply or charge for goods or services during a 10 business day cooling off period. This means a service should not be transferred until after the cooling off period is over. (See Unsolicited sales and Cooling off periods)

In addition to the rules under the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) and general principles of contract law, the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) also contains rules for service transfers.

Under clauses 7.1.1(a) and 7.1.1(b) of the TCP Code, the telecommunications provider who is gaining the service (the gaining provider) must:
  • ensure you give consent to the transfer, and
  • uses reasonable endeavours to make sure you are authorised to transfer the service.
The gaining provider's sales representatives must be trained to promote and sell its products in a fair and accurate manner (clause 4.3.1 of the TCP Code). The information given to you before you agree to the transfer must be clear, accurate, free of material omissions, relevant, current, and timely (clause 3.2.1 of the TCP Code). Under clause 7.2.2 of the TCP Code, this information must include:
  • the identity of the gaining provider
  • that the transfer is subject to validating that the service can be transferred
  • if your service will be interrupted during the transfer
  • what type of equipment would be compatible with the new service
  • the terms and conditions of any equipment bought from the gaining provider to use with the new service
  • that you may have to pay early contract termination fees to the losing provider, and there may be other consequences too
  • how to make a complaint about the transfer process, and
  • any other terms and conditions of the transfer.
The gaining provider must make sure the transfer details it collects from you are accurate (clause 7.3.1 of the TCP Code).

The gaining provider must tell you if the service cannot be transferred, and explain what this means for you as well as other options that may be available (clause 7.3.4 of the TCP Code). The gaining provider must also keep you informed of any changes to the transfer process which may affect you, or changes to when the transfer will be completed (clause 7.4.1 of the TCP Code).

The gaining provider must tell you when the transfer is complete, preferably on the day it happens, otherwise within five working days (clause 7.5.1 of the TCP Code).

(See Contracts and consumer protection)

Relocating landline services to a new premises

Sometimes a consumer will want to remain with the same provider but take their current telephone number to a new address. This is not actually a transfer, but rather a new service connection with an existing telephone number.

Sometimes a consumer may also want to change their provider at the same time as they change physical address. This would constitute a transfer if they kept the same number, but only after a new landline service connection occurs at the new premises.

When there are delays in connecting a new landline service at the new premises (with or without an existing phone number), the customer may be entitled to compensation under the Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth) (the CSG Standard) (see Delayed connections). This only refers to delays in the connection of a service at the new address, not the attachment of a specific number to that new connection.

Other types of transfer delays are not subject to compensation under the CSG Standard, unless a mistake is made by the provider which causes the disconnection of a service (see Disconnecting a telecommunications service).

Faulty telecommunications equipment or services

Problems with your equipment

The Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) sets out a number of consumer guarantees that are relevant to telecommunications equipment (usually bundled with services). These guarantees include, that the telecommunications equipment:
  • is of acceptable quality, that is, it is safe, lasting, with no faults, and can do all the things someone would normally expect this type of equipment to do (section 54 of the Australian Consumer Law)
  • is reasonably fit for any purpose the provider told you it would be fit for and for any purpose you told the provider (section 55 of the Australian Consumer Law)
  • matches descriptions made by the salesperson, on packaging and labels, and in promotions or advertising (section 56 of the Australian Consumer Law)
  • matches any demonstration model or sample asked for (section 57 of the Australian Consumer Law).
If a provider fails to fulfil one of the consumer guarantees when supplying telecommunications equipment, the Australian Consumer Law provides remedies for this failure. The actual remedy depends on which guarantee is breached, the extent of the failure to meet the guarantee and what the consumer chooses to do, if relevant, in response to the failure.

Under section 259(3) of the Australian Consumer Law, if there is a major failure to comply with a consumer guarantee for equipment (as defined in section 260 of the Australian Consumer Law), you can choose to:
  • reject the equipment and seek a refund or replacement with equipment of the same type, or
  • keep the equipment and seek compensation for the reduction in the value of the equipment.
If there is a minor failure to comply with a consumer guarantee, the provider can choose to offer a free repair of the equipment. If the provider fails to give a free repair within a reasonable time or cannot fix the faulty equipment, you can get it repaired elsewhere and recover reasonable costs from the provider, or seek a refund or replacement of the equipment (section 259(2) of the Australian Consumer Law).

The Australian Consumer Law also considers when the equipment is supplied in conjunction with a contract for services. In some circumstances the contract for the supply of services may be terminated if the law entitles you to return the equipment.

Consumer guarantees relating to goods cannot be excluded, restricted or modified by contract.

(See Contracts and consumer protection)

Problems with your service

Problems with a telecommunications service could be caused by a large number of factors. For example, the cabling to your property could be damaged by a storm or by rodents, or your property could be too far from the nearest telecommunications exchange or has poor mobile network coverage.

The Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) sets out a number of consumer guarantees that are relevant to telecommunications services. These guarantees include, that the telecommunications service must be:
  • supplied with due care and skill or technical knowledge and taking all necessary steps to avoid loss and damage (section 60 of the Australian Consumer Law)
  • fit for purpose or give the results that the provider and you had agreed to (section 61 of the Australian Consumer Law), and
  • delivered within a reasonable time when there is no agreed end date (section 62 of the Australian Consumer Law).
If a provider fails to fulfil one of the consumer guarantees when providing a telecommunications service, the Australian Consumer Law provides remedies for this failure. The actual remedy depends on which guarantee is breached, the extent of the failure to meet the guarantee, and what the consumer chooses to do in response to the failure.

Under section 267(3) of the Australian Consumer Law, if there is a major failure to comply with a consumer guarantee for services (as defined in section 268 of the Australian Consumer Law), you can choose to:
  • cancel the contract for the services and obtain a refund to the extent the services have not been used, or
  • seek compensation for the reduction in the value of the services below the price paid.
If there is a minor failure to comply with a consumer guarantee, the provider can choose to fix the problem with the service within a reasonable time. If the provider fails to fix the problem within a reasonable time, you can get the service repaired elsewhere and recover reasonable costs from the provider, or cancel the contract and seek a refund (section 267(2) of the Australian Consumer Law).

The Australian Consumer Law also considers when the equipment is supplied in conjunction with a contract for services. In some circumstances the contract for the supply of services may be terminated if the law entitles you to return the equipment.

Consumer guarantees relating to services cannot be excluded, restricted or modified by contract.

The Australian Consumer Law also prohibits providers from making false or misleading representations (section 29 of the Australian Consumer Law), or from engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct (section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law), meaning that they are not allowed to say or imply that they can offer services when there is insufficient coverage or infrastructure to support that claim.

The Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) adds to these protections by prohibiting telecommunications providers from advertising services in locations where there is no network coverage to support these services (clause 4.2.1(j) of the TCP Code). Providers are also not allowed to make claims about the performance characteristics of their services (for example about broadband speeds) unless they are able to substantiate those claims (clause 4.2.1(m) of the TCP Code). Providers must also make a network coverage map or diagram available to customers when selling mobile services (clause 4.1.2(g) of the TCP Code).

Repairing faulty landline services

For landline services, an additional form of protection exists under the Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth) (the CSG Standard).

The CSG Standard sets out guaranteed maximum timeframes for the repair of a CSG eligible service (a standard telephone service or an equivalent-to-voice-telephony service for a person with a disability). For a CSG eligible service or enhanced call handling features, if a fault does not require external or internal plant work, or does not require the provider to attend the premises, the fault must be rectified by the end of the first full business day after the customer reports the fault.

For all other faults on landline services or enhanced call handling features, the fault must be rectified within the guaranteed maximum rectification period as follows:

Table 3: Guaranteed maximum fault repair timeframes under the CSG Standard

Location of the consumer's service

Maximum rectification period

In an urban centre with a population of 10,000 people or more

the end of the first full business day after the customer reports the fault

In an urban centre with a population of less than 10,000 people, or a locality or other recognised community of more than 200 people

the end of the second full business day after the customer reports the fault

Everywhere else

the end of the third full business day after the customer reports the fault
The CSG Standard prescribes a set amount of compensation to be paid for each day of delay that a consumer experiences. It also requires that compensation be paid for missed appointments if compensation is not already payable for that day. The maximum amount of compensation available is $25,000 (section 117 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth)).

[See Table 2: Compensation amounts under the CSG Standard under Connecting landline services for compensation amounts for fault repair delays]

In certain circumstances a provider may not have to pay compensation under the CSG Standard for fault repair delays. These circumstances include when:
  • the consumer has given consent to a CSG waiver and that waiver process meets all the requirements in the CSG Standard
  • the provider has made a reasonable offer of an interim service or alternative service for the consumer to use while they await their service to be repaired
  • the consumer already has five or more landline services at the premises, or
  • the provider cannot meet a performance standard because of:
    • circumstances beyond its control (for example, a natural disaster or extreme weather conditions causing mass outages), or
    • the need to move staff or equipment to an area affected by circumstances beyond its control.

Privacy protections for telecommunications consumers

Telecommunications providers and privacy protections

A number of federal laws and regulations require telecommunications providers to protect consumer personal information from unauthorised collection, use and disclosure. These laws and regulations include: [See Privacy for more general privacy information]

Australian Privacy Principles

The Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) set out in Schedule 1 of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), are a set of 13 law based principles that specify how personal information should be treated by APP entities (either organisations or agencies that are required to comply with the Privacy Act). The principles apply to the period during which personal information remains identified or reasonably identifiable, from before it is collected until it has been destroyed or de-identified.

The APPs apply to both government agencies and private organisations (section 6 of the Privacy Act 1988). Businesses which have a turnover of less than $3 million are exempt from having to comply with the APPs.

APP 1 requires APP entities to manage personal information in an open and transparent way. It does this by requiring APP entities to plan and explain up front how they will handle personal information before it is collected.

APP 2 says that individuals must have the option of not identifying themselves or using a pseudonym, if it is practicable and permitted by law.

APP 3 requires APP entities to know when and how they can collect solicited personal information. Solicited personal information means the provider:
  • explicitly requests the information from another organisation, or
  • takes active steps to collect the personal information, or
  • requests or takes steps to collect other information that contains personal information.
APP 4 requires APP entities to manage personal information that is unsolicited. APP 4 covers when and how unsolicited information can be collected, used and destroyed.

APP 5 requires APP entities to take reasonable steps to notify an individual that it has collected personal information. The notification must include specific information. Where possible, it should occur either before or at the time of collection.

APP 6 says that an APP entity may only use or disclose personal information for the purpose for which it was collected (the primary purpose), except in very limited circumstances.

APP 7 specifies when APP entities may use personal information for the purposes of direct marketing. Direct marketing means that an APP entity is communicating directly to an individual to promote goods and services. APP 7 also covers situations where personal information is obtained or provided to third party APP entities for the purposes of facilitating direct marketing.

APP 8 requires APP entities to take reasonable steps to ensure that an overseas recipient of personal information does not breach the APPs. If an overseas recipient of personal information disclosed by a provider breaches Australian privacy law in relation to that information, the provider is responsible for the overseas recipient's actions.

APP 9 specifies when an organisation can and cannot adopt a government related identifier as its own identifier of an individual. This is only allowed in very limited circumstances. Examples of government related identifiers include tax file numbers, Centrelink reference numbers, driver licence numbers and passport numbers.

APP 10 has two requirements:
  • APP entities must ensure that the personal information they collect, use or disclose is accurate, up-to-date and complete. Providers must do this when they collect personal information, and before they disclose that information. They should also regularly review this information to ensure that it is correct.
  • APP entities must, when they use or disclose information, take reasonable steps to ensure that the use or disclosure is relevant to the reason why that information was collected.
APP 11 requires APP entities to take reasonable steps to protect personal information from:
  • misuse, interference and loss, and
  • unauthorised access, modification or disclosure.
If personal information is no longer needed, providers must take reasonable steps to destroy or de-identify that information.

APP 12 requires providers to give a consumer access, on the consumer's request, to personal information they hold about the consumer. It includes:
  • the requirement for giving access to personal information on request
  • exceptions to giving access, and
  • minimum access requirements.
Under APP 13, a consumer may request that a provider correct their personal information, or a provider may identify that personal information may be incorrect. Where personal information is found to be incorrect, providers must take reasonable steps to correct that information.

Unwanted telemarketing and spam

Telemarketing and the Do Not Call Register

The Do Not Call Register Act 2006 (Cth) prohibits telemarketing and fax marketing calls to services listed on the Do Not Call Register, unless certain exceptions apply for example, calls from charitable organisations or educational institutions (sections 11 and 12B of the Do Not Call Register Act 2006).

Sections 5 to 5B of the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 define telemarketing to include telemarketing voice calls and marketing faxes that:
  • offer, advertise or promote goods or services
  • advertise or promote a supplier of those goods or services
  • offer, advertise or promote business and investment opportunities, or
  • solicit donations.
These marketing communications are typically unsolicited.

The Do Not Call Register (DNCR) is a database of telephone numbers. Consumers can register their landline, mobile and fax numbers on the register for free if they do not want to receive calls or faxes from telemarketers. Once registered, the number remains on the DNCR indefinitely (section 17 of the Do Not Call Register Act 2006).

A number can be registered on the DNCR if it is:
  • used or maintained primarily for private or domestic purposes, or
  • used or maintained exclusively for transmitting and/or receiving faxes, or
  • used or maintained exclusively for use by a government body, or
  • an emergency service number.
Telemarketing voice calls to numbers used for private or domestic purposes (residential numbers) are regulated by the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 and the Telemarketing and Research Calls Industry Standard 2007 (Cth). Telemarketing voice calls to business numbers are not regulated by these rules.

Fax marketing sent to residential or business fax numbers is regulated by the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 and the Fax Marketing Industry Standard 2011 (Cth).

Telemarketing and research calls

Section 5 of the Telemarketing and Research Calls Industry Standard 2007 (Cth) prohibits telemarketers (except where permission has been given in advance) from calling or attempting to call:
  • before 9am or after 8pm on a weekday
  • before 9am or after 5pm on a Saturday
  • on a Sunday
  • on New Year's Day, Australia Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day, Christmas Day, Boxing Day or any other weekday given in lieu of one of these public holidays.
Research calls have slightly less strict rules, in that researchers are allowed to call on a Sunday, but it must only be after 9am and before 5pm. They are also allowed to call until 8:30pm on a weekday. Other than this the rules are the same for research calls as they are for telemarketing calls.

Sections 6 to 8 of the Telemarketing and Research Calls Industry Standard 2007 also covers the information telemarketers or researchers should provide to the people they call, the visibility of calling line identification and the termination of such calls.

Fax marketing

Section 5 of the Fax Marketing Industry Standard 2011 (Cth) prohibits fax marketers (except where permission has been given in advance) from sending faxes:
  • before 9am or after 8pm on a weekday
  • before 9am or after 5pm on a Saturday
  • on a Sunday
  • on New Year's Day, Australia Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day, Christmas Day, Boxing Day or any other weekday given in lieu of one of these public holidays.
Section 6 of the Fax Marketing Industry Standard 2011 also covers the information that should be included in fax marketing, including the name and contact details of the fax advertiser and how to opt out of receiving such faxes.

Spam

The Spam Act 2003 (Cth) prohibits the sending of unsolicited commercial electronic messages, known as spam, with an Australian link (section 16 of the Spam Act 2003). A message has an Australian link if it originates or was commissioned in Australia, or originates overseas but was sent to an address accessed in Australia.

The Spam Act 2003 covers email, instant messaging, SMS and MMS (text and image-based mobile phone messaging) of a commercial nature. It does not cover faxes, internet pop-ups or voice telemarketing.

The Spam Act 2003 requires that every commercial electronic message sent must:
  • have your express consent to receive these messages or your consent can be reasonably inferred from your conduct or an established business relationship with the organisation (Schedule 2 of the Spam Act 2003)
  • accurately identify the person or organisation that authorised the sending of the message and how to contact them (section 17 of the Spam Act 2003), and
  • contain a functional and legitimate facility. This is an electronic address you can use to tell the sender you do not wish to receive messages (section 18 of the Spam Act 2003).
If these conditions are not met, the message is classified as spam. Complaints about spam emails or messages should be referred to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Silent numbers and calling number display

An individual's name, phone number and address are generally considered personal information under the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) in Schedule 1 of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).

Part 4 of Schedule 2 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) requires telecommunications providers to give Telstra, as the organisation responsible to maintain the Integrated Public Number Database, certain types of information such as the name, address and phone number of their customers. Under clause 10 of the Carrier Licence Conditions (Telstra Corporation Ltd) Declaration 1997, Telstra is required to use this information to:
  • assist emergency services
  • provide directory assistance services
  • provide operator assistance services, and
  • publish public number directories such as the White Pages.
All landline numbers and associated addresses to which they are connected to, are by default, disclosed to the Integrated Public Number Database, listed in public number directories and given out by directory assistance services.

A consumer who does not want their telephone number listed in printed or online directories or disclosed by operator assistance can ask their telecommunications provider for a silent or unlisted number. A telecommunications provider can charge a fee for a silent number service.

The Telecommunications Act 1997 generally prohibits the disclosure of an unlisted number and associated address. An unlisted number and associated personal information should not be listed in printed or online directories or disclosed by operator assistance or other provider representatives.

A silent number also has a feature that prevents the number from being displayed when making calls, this is calling number display blocking. The Calling Number Display Code sets out the following obligations for unlisted landline numbers:
  • a telecommunications provider must automatically block calling number display for unlisted landline numbers (clause 3.2 of the Calling Number Display Code)
  • when a consumer changes their phone number, and the original number was unlisted, calling number display blocking must be automatically activated for the new number unless the consumer no longer wants an unlisted number (clause 3.6.1(a) of the Calling Number Display Code)
  • calling number display blocking must operate across all networks (clause 3.1.2 of the Calling Number Display Code), and
  • calling number display must be active for all calls to emergency services (clause 3.3 of the Calling Number Display Code).
The Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth) (the CSG Standard) sets timeframes for activating and repairing faulty calling number display blocking, which is an enhanced call handling feature on a landline service. This means that delays in activating or blocking calling number display (on a landline service that is already active) could result in compensation under the CSG Standard. [See Connecting landline services and Table 1: Guaranteed maximum connection timeframes under the CSG Standard; Table 2: Compensation amounts under the CSG Standard]

Metadata, interception and recording of calls

Metadata

Under Part 5-1A of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth) (the TIA Act), all telecommunications providers must retain specific telecommunications data relating to the services they offer, for a period of two years unless certain exemptions apply. This set of telecommunications data is known as metadata.

Data that must be retained under section 187AA of the TIA Act includes:
  1. the subscriber of, and accounts, services, telecommunications devices and other relevant services relating to, the relevant service
  2. the source of a communication
  3. the destination of a communication
  4. the date, time and duration of a communication, or of its connection to a relevant service
  5. the type of a communication or of a relevant service used in connection with a communication, and
  6. the location of equipment, or a line, used in connection with a communication.
Information kept under the data retention regime is considered, for the purposes of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), to be personal information about an individual if the information relates to the individual or a communication to which the individual is a party (section 187LA of the TIA Act). All telecommunications providers, regardless of size of business and turnover, have to comply with the obligations in the Privacy Act 1988 in connection with the retained data.

A limited range of law enforcement and security agencies are be able to access the retained data held by telecommunications providers under the processes and rules in the TIA Act.

Interception

Interception involves listening to or recording a communication in its passage over a telecommunications network without the knowledge of the person making the communication (section 6 of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth) (the TIA Act)). Interception includes wiretapping or monitoring websites visited or the contents of emails sent.

The TIA Act prohibits interception except in very limited circumstances, for example by:
  • an employee of a carrier who is carrying out necessary installation or maintenance work, or
  • law enforcement and security intelligence agencies who have obtained a warrant.
Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) also protects communications by placing a general prohibition on the use or disclosure of information that relates to:
  • the contents or substance of any communication that is carried across a telecommunications network
  • the telecommunications services supplied by carriers and carriage service providers, and
  • the affairs or personal particulars of other persons (including unlisted telephone numbers).
The Telecommunications Act 1997 specifies limited circumstances in which use or disclosure of these types of personal information may be lawful (and sets out associated record keeping requirements). Examples of purposes for which this use or disclosure may be lawful include law enforcement, dealing with threats to life or health, and the operation and maintenance of the Integrated Public Number Database.

Recording of calls

Providers of services, including telecommunications providers, often record (or monitor) conversations with consumers for a variety of reasons, including to:
  • make a clear record of what was agreed between the parties to that conversation, and who the parties to the conversation were
  • ensure quality advice and assistance is being provided by staff, or
  • train new staff.
Recording of calls involves listening to or recording a communication after it has left the telecommunications network. It can occur by way of a speaker phone or other listening device.

In order to listen in on or record calls, a provider must have informed you that they are going to listen in or record the call. If you are not informed about the recording of the call, the provider may have contravened the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth) (the TIA Act) or one of the State or Territory listening and or surveillance device statutes such as the Telecommunications (Interception) Northern Territory Act 2001 (NT) or the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NT).

Your consent before a call is recorded is not required by the TIA Act, however this may be required under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). The information contained within the recording would also be subject to the protection of the Privacy Act 1988 if it contained your personal or sensitive information.

Life threatening and unwelcome communications

The Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) prohibits the use of a carriage service to threaten to kill or cause serious harm, or in a way that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive (sections 474.15 to 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995).

Life threatening communications

The Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code contains the following rules for telecommunications providers when dealing with and responding to complaints about life threatening communications.

A life threatening communication involves the use of a carriage service connected with an event which gives a person reasonable grounds to believe that there is a serious and imminent threat to the life or health of a person (Background to the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code). Examples of these types of communications include:
  • a threat to seriously injure a person
  • a bomb threat
  • an extortion demand
  • a kidnapping threat, or
  • a threat to public safety.
The Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code sets out provider obligations and procedures for cooperative handling of life threatening communications, including the requirement for immediate, predictable and coordinated action from all parties involved.

If you report a life threatening communication to your telecommunications provider, it is required to:
  • refer you to the police (clause 3.1.4 of the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code)
  • run a trace to identify the source of the communications (clause 3.2.1 of the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code)
  • once the source is identified, report the identity of the source to the police (clauses 3.2.7 and 3.2.9 of the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code).
The provider cannot reveal the source of the communications to you.

Unwelcome communications

The Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code contains the following rules for telecommunications providers when dealing with and responding to complaints about unwelcome communications.

Unwelcome communications are unsolicited communications that, by virtue of the content, frequency or timing, are offensive or tend to menace or harass the recipient (Background to the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code).

Before a provider is required to follow the rules in the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code:
  • the person complaining about the unwelcome communications must be the account holder, or their authorised representative
  • an unwelcome communication must have been received within the last 30 days, and
  • a pattern of unwelcome communications must be identified.
Clause 2.2 of the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code defines a pattern of unwelcome communications as:
  • ten or more unwelcome communications in a 24 hour period, or
  • three or more unwelcome communications that are spread over a period of more than 24 hours and less than 120 hours, or
  • unwelcome communications made at consistent and/or regular intervals.
If you report an unwelcome communication that meets these criteria to your provider, your provider is required to:
  • tell you about all available options to solve the problem (clause 4.2.4 of the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code), for example:
    • using voicemail to screen callers
    • activating calling number display and blocking
    • changing phone numbers and email addresses
    • arranging email blocking with your email service provider
    • registering on the Do Not Call Register
  • with your consent, disclosing your details to all other relevant providers to identify the source of the unwelcome communications and arrange for the unwelcome communications to stop (clauses 4.3 and 4.4 of the Handling of Life Threatening and Unwelcome Communications Code).
The provider cannot reveal the identity of the source of the communications to you.

Managing spend, credit management and credit reporting

Monitoring telecommunications usage

Under clause 6.5.1(a) of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code), telecommunications providers must provide their customers with spend management tools. These tools help you take timely action to manage your usage and spend on your telecommunications service.

For both pre-paid and post-paid services the provider must offer at least one spend management tool from the following (clause 6.5.5 of the TCP Code):
  • near to real-time access to usage information
  • plans that limit use of a service to stop charges for that service exceeding an agreed spend
  • optional call barring or restrictions on certain services
  • usage charge advice provided before or during use of a high value service
  • pre-paid services without an unlimited automatic top-up
  • hard caps
  • reducing broadband internet download speed when a usage limit is reached, or
  • any other spend management tool the provider may choose to offer.
If your provider does not provide you with an internet service, your provider must offer at least one spend management tool which is not dependent on you having internet access (clause 6.5.1(c) of the TCP Code).

Telecommunications providers are also required to ensure that information about their spend management tools is accessible and available at no cost to their customers (clause 6.5.1(b) of the TCP Code). The information should cover any cost of using the spend management tools, any possible delays in accessing unbilled usage information, any usage types that are not included (e.g. usage outside Australia) and how you can get help to use the tools.

Expenditure notifications

If you are a residential consumer, and you are on a post-paid broadband internet service or another plan (for example a mobile plan) that contains an allowance of included value, your provider must send you an electronic notification (such as a text message) that tells you when you have reached 50%, 85% and 100% of your usage allowance (clause 6.5.2 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code). These notifications must be sent within 48 hours of the usage thresholds being reached. At 100%, the provider must also tell you:
  • the charges applying now that 100% of your allowance has been used
  • that the information in the notification may be up to 48 hours old, and
  • that the notification does not include calls or text and multimedia messages to overseas or usage outside Australia.
Telecommunications providers that are mobile carriers must also supply easily accessible spend management tools for their customers when they are roaming overseas. [See International mobile roaming charges for more information] Under section 9 of the Telecommunications (International Mobile Roaming) Industry Standard 2013 (Cth), such tools must meet the following requirements:
  • For a post-paid service, you must be notified each time you are estimated to have accrued another $100 in unbilled usage as soon as reasonably practicable.
  • For a service with an included value allowance, you must be notified as soon as reasonably practicable after you reach 50%, 85% and 100% of your included value.
  • For an automatic pre-pay service, you must be notified as soon as reasonably practicable when the provider estimates that you have accrued another $100 in usage, and also when the provider deducts another automatic pre-payment.
Resellers of telecommunications services do not need to meet these obligations yet.

Mobile premium services are another type of usage for which expenditure notifications must be given to you. Suppliers of premium content services must give expenditure notices by text message (clauses 4.3.4 and 4.4.11 of the Mobile Premium Services Code):
  • once you have spent $30 of premium fees per premium service per month
  • each time you incur an additional $30 of premium fees using the same premium service.
You should pay attention to usage notifications sent by your provider, use the spend management tools made available or applied by your provider, and when appropriate modify your usage to prevent incurring charges you cannot afford.

Credit management

Telecommunications providers are entitled to seek payment for unpaid charges on services they supply. They can take credit management action including trying to collect the debt, restricting or disconnecting the service, or reporting the payment default to a credit reporting body. Before taking these steps, telecommunications providers must comply with all relevant rules.

Under clause 6.9.1(a) of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code), telecommunications providers must not take credit management action on a disputed amount that is the subject of an unresolved complaint which is being investigated by the provider, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman or a relevant recognised third party.

If you are disputing only part of a bill, the provider must inform you that credit management will continue for the charges that are not in dispute (clause 6.9.1(d) of the TCP Code). If the undisputed debt is sold or assigned to a third party or listed with a credit reporting body, the debt passed on or listed must not contain any legitimately disputed portions of debt (clause 6.9.1(c) of the TCP Code). Once a dispute over a debt has been resolved, the provider must inform you before it recommences credit management activity (clause 6.9.1(b) of the TCP Code).

A provider must suspend credit management action while discussing an arrangement under a financial hardship policy with you or while such an arrangement is in place (clause 6.14.1(a) of the TCP Code). Exceptions to this rule include where you agree you cannot meet your obligations under an arrangement, or you breach the arrangement and cannot be contacted by the provider. [See Financial hardship for more information]

Debt collection

Telecommunications providers sometimes use external collections agents to collect unpaid debts. Providers may also do this through an internal collections team. When collecting debts, telecommunications providers, their agents or representatives must comply with the relevant laws, industry codes and guidelines.

The Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) prohibits the use of:
  • physical force
  • undue harassment
  • coercion
to support a demand for payment for goods or services. The Australian Consumer Law also prohibits misleading, deceptive, and unconscionable conduct by providers.

Each state and territory sets limitation periods on debt recovery. The limitation period is normally six years, however in the Northern Territory a three year period applies (section 12 of the Limitation Act 1981 (NT)). Telecommunications providers must not collect an unpaid debt that falls outside this limitation period (it is statute-barred). Telecommunications providers must also not tell you that they will or can take legal action against you when a debt is statute-barred as this may be misleading or deceptive conduct.

Under clause 6.9.1(a) of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code), a telecommunications provider must not collect on a debt or sell a debt to a collections agent if the debt is disputed or is the subject of an unresolved complaint which is being investigated by the provider, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman or a relevant recognised third party.

A provider must suspend credit management action while discussing an arrangement under a financial hardship policy with you or while such an arrangement is in place (clause 6.14.1(a) of the TCP Code). Exceptions to this rule include where you agree you cannot meet your obligations under an arrangement, or you breach the arrangement and cannot be contacted by the provider.

Under clause 6.10.1 of the TCP Code, a provider must make sure: A provider must make sure that all debts sold or assigned to a third party do not include any disputed amounts (clause 6.9.1(c) of the TCP Code). A provider must resolve any billing complaint or telecommunications service issue that arises after a debt has been sold or assigned to a third party (clause 6.8.1(e) of the TCP Code).

Restriction, suspension and disconnection of services for non-payment

If you do not pay for your telecommunications services by the due date for payment, your telecommunications provider can restrict or suspend your service. Further failure to pay may result in the disconnection of the service entirely. Full disconnection can result in the loss of your telephone number and email address. It will also result in the application of early contract termination fees to the account if you are on a fixed term contract for your service.

Although having access to a service cut off can be very frustrating and inconvenient, a telecommunications provider is entitled to take steps to limit both your exposure and their risk to excessive debt.

Before restricting, suspending or disconnecting a service, telecommunications providers must comply with relevant rules.

Under clause 6.7.1(c) the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code), a provider must give you, as the account holder of the service or your authorised representative, written notice at least five business days before restricting, suspending, or disconnecting your service for credit management reasons. The notice must include an indication of the earliest date the restriction, suspension, or disconnection could occur. The provider must give this notice using a method of communication that is reasonable to you based on your usage history (for example, not send you an email when you do not use the internet).

The notice warning of suspension or restriction must also contain information about a provider' hardship policy, about your liability for on-going or additional charges while the service is unusable, and about the impact of the suspension/restriction on other services (clause 6.7.1(d) of the TCP Code).

Before disconnecting a service for credit management reasons, a provider is required under clause 6.7.1(e) of the TCP Code, to send you a separate disconnection notice telling you that after the disconnection:
  • your service, product or telephone number may no longer be available
  • information about the consequences of non-payment, including that a default may be reported to a credit reporting body
  • the debt may be passed to a collection agency or debt buyer
  • legal action may be taken
  • how you can access the provider's financial hardship policy.
Under clause 6.7.1(a) of the TCP Code, a provider can restrict, suspend, or disconnect a service without notice only if:
  • your account status presents an unacceptably high credit risk to the provider
  • the provider reasonably suspects fraud or attempted fraud, or
  • your account has reached a nominated restriction point.
If you request this, the provider must review any decision to restrict, suspend or disconnect a service (clause 6.8.1(a) of the TCP Code). If you remain dissatisfied with the outcome of the review the provider must tell you how you can make a complaint (clause 6.8.1(b) of the TCP Code).

A provider should not impose a reconnection charge following suspension or disconnection if it resulted from the provider's mistake (clause 6.8.1(c) of the TCP Code).

Suspending or disconnecting a landline service for non-payment

The Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth) (the CSG Standard) sets out performance standards for the connection and fault repair of CSG eligible services (standard telephone services, or an equivalent-to-voice-telephony service for a person with a disability), and the attendance of appointments by telecommunications providers. [See Connecting landline services and Repairing faulty landline services for more information]

Under section 20(2) of the CSG Standard, a provider is exempt from the performance standards in the CSG Standard if it disconnected a landline service because of overdue charges after giving you 21 days written notice that:
  • the charges were overdue
  • you could ask the provider to reconsider its decision to disconnect the service
  • you could complain to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) if you were not satisfied with the provider's response
and one of the following occurred:
  • you did not pay the charges or contact the provider to ask for reconsideration of the disconnection within 21 days
  • you did not contact the TIO within seven days if the provider still intended to disconnect the service after reconsideration, or
  • you contacted the TIO within seven days of the provider's response, and the TIO gave a direction that supported the provider's decision to disconnect the service.
For a landline service, when the provider did not meet a legislated performance standard, including compliance with the notice requirements prior to disconnection of the service, compensation under the CSG Standard may be payable to the consumer. [See Table 2: Compensation amounts under the CSG Standard under Connecting landline services for more information]

Credit reporting and default listings

If you do not pay for your telecommunications services by the due date for payment, your telecommunications provider, as a credit provider under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), can report your payment default to a credit reporting body. Credit reporting bodies are organisations that store credit information about individuals and businesses given credit in Australia. A default listed on your credit report can prevent you from successfully obtaining finance or credit for this period.

Under Part IIIA of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), a credit provider can only report a payment default to a credit reporting body if your debt is $150 or more, and over 60 days overdue (section 6Q of the Privacy Act 1988). The minimum threshold of $150 relates to a single overdue payment. Separate overdue payments of less than $150 cannot be combined and listed as a single default. If your credit report contains information about a payment that has been overdue for at least 60 days but that is less than $150, you can request to have that information removed from your credit report.

When disclosing default information to a credit reporting body, your telecommunications provider can add an additional amount to reflect fees and other amounts that are owing (such as late payment fees) as a result of the overdue payment (section 9.3 of the Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code 2014 (Cth) (the Credit Reporting Code)). These additional fees do not have to be over 60 days old before they are reported. Any extra fees that are less than 60 days overdue cannot be used to bring the total debt to over $150, if it is under that threshold.

Credit reporting bodies keep default information for five years before destroying it. If you pay off the debt within the five years, the debt is recorded as paid but the default information still remains on your credit file.

Before disclosing default information to a credit reporting body, your provider must send you two separate notices:
Notice 1: A written notice informing you of the overdue payment and asking for payment (section 6Q of the Privacy Act 1988). The first notice can be sent as soon as the payment becomes overdue.
Notice 2: A written notice informing you that if you do not pay the overdue amount, your provider intends to give information about the default to a credit reporting body (section 21D(3)(d)(i) of the Privacy Act 1988). The second notice cannot be sent earlier than 30 days from the first notice (section 9.3(c) of the Credit Reporting Code).

Your provider must have sent you both notices before it can disclose your default to a credit reporting body. Importantly, your provider must wait at least 14 days after issuing you with the second notice before disclosing the default to a credit reporting body for inclusion in your credit report (section 21D(3)(d)(ii) of the Privacy Act 1988). This minimum 14 day period is to give you one final opportunity to pay the overdue amount.

If you still do not pay the overdue amount and this amount is at least 60 days overdue, your provider can disclose your default to a credit reporting body. The disclosure of the default information must:
  • not be done earlier than 14 days or later than 90 days after the second notice is sent (section 21D(3)(d)(ii) of the Privacy Act 1988 and clause 9.3(f) of the Credit Reporting Code)
  • be for the amount specified in the second notice that is at least 60 days overdue, plus any accrued interest, fees and other amounts, less any part payments that have been made (section 6Q of the Privacy Act 1988 and clause 9.3 of the Credit Reporting Code).
If the provider does not disclose the default to a credit reporting body within that 90 day period, it must send you another notice informing you of its intention to list the default. The provider must then wait at least another 14 days before disclosing the default to a credit reporting body for inclusion in your credit report.

Other rules for disclosing default information include:
  • the credit provider must be legally entitled to pursue the debt, meaning the debt must not be statute-barred (section 6Q(1)(c) of the Privacy Act 1988), and
  • a debt cannot be disclosed as a default more than once (section 9.4 of the Credit Reporting Code).
A credit provider must not disclose default information if you have made a hardship request and the credit provider is considering this request (section 9.1 of the Credit Reporting Code). If the credit provider refuses your hardship request it must wait 14 days before disclosing default information. If you have made any hardship requests on the same grounds within the previous four months however, the credit provider can disclose your default information to a credit reporting body (section 9.2 of the Credit Reporting Code).

With some exceptions, a credit provider must give you access to your credit related personal information on request, and within 30 days of your request (section 21T of the Privacy Act 1988 and section 19.1 of the Credit Reporting Code). This includes access to default and serious credit infringement information. You can also ask a credit provider to correct credit related personal information it holds about you (sections 21V to 21W of the Privacy Act 1988 and section 20 of the Credit Reporting Code). If the credit provider agrees that the information is incorrect, it must take reasonable steps to correct the information within 30 days, or any longer time agreed with you in writing (section 21V(2) of the Privacy Act 1988).

You are entitled to ask a credit reporting body for access to your credit report. This access is free:
  • once every 12 months (section 20R(5) of the Privacy Act 1988)
  • if you have been refused credit, within the past 90 days (section 19.2 of the Credit Reporting Code), or
  • if your request for access relates to a decision by a credit reporting body or a credit provider to correct information included in your credit report (section 19.3 of the Credit Reporting Code).
Chapter 6 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) has additional rules:
  • before disconnecting a service a provider must send you written notice saying default information may be disclosed (clause 6.7.1(e) of the TCP Code)
  • when the provider finds out that default information was disclosed by mistake, or the default is not your fault, it must use reasonable endeavours to tell the credit reporting body within one working day (clauses 6.8.1(f) and (g) of the TCP Code), and
  • the provider must not disclose default information to a credit reporting body if any part of the overdue payment is in dispute (clause 6.9.1(c) of the TCP Code).

Disconnecting a telecommunications service

Consequences of disconnection

Your service can be disconnected by your provider: Once your service is disconnected, several events can occur:
  • The telephone number associated with your service is returned to the carrier to whom it was allocated, to be quarantined and for eventual re-issuance. This means your number cannot be transferred to another provider or to new premises. It is also sometimes difficult to get your number back. If you want to transfer your existing number to a new provider or to new premises, you should always ask your provider to keep your service active until the service is transferred or a new service is connected at the new premises. Do not ask for your service to be disconnected if you want to retain your telephone number. The rules around telecommunications numbering are regulated by the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 2015 (Cth), the Rights of Use of Numbers Code, the Local Number Portability Code and the Mobile Number Portability Code.
  • Copper infrastructure used to deliver your internet services may be removed or split from the property to facilitate the connection of a service elsewhere. This may mean that if you later apply for an internet service at the same address, you may not be able to get this service. As internet services are not considered an essential service under the universal service regime, there is nothing that can be done to facilitate a new internet connection until new infrastructure becomes available (due to another consumer disconnecting a service) or the National Broadband Network is rolled out in your area.
  • If you are still within a fixed term contract, and the agreement is not subject to a termination or cooling off period, your provider can apply an early termination fee to your account. This fee compensates the provider for the money they have lost as a result of your contract not being completed and for any remaining cost of equipment. Under clause 4.1.1(a) of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, your provider must include information about the existence of any early termination fees in the Critical Information Summary for your plan.

Disconnections resulting from a provider's administrative error

If your landline service is disconnected in error by your provider (e.g. because the provider typed in the wrong number when processing a transfer request), your service should be re-connected at the end of the first full business day after you report the disconnection (section 12 of the Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth) (the CSG Standard). If your service is not re-connected within this timeframe, you may be entitled to compensation under the CSG Standard. [See Table 2: Compensation amounts under the CSG Standard under Connecting landline services for more information]

If your provider disconnects any other type of service in error, it must re-connect the service within a reasonable time after you report the disconnection. [See Problems with your service for more information]

When a previous occupant's service has not been disconnected

Sometimes a consumer will move in to new premises only to discover that the former occupant had not disconnected their landline service before leaving the premises. The inability of the new occupant to connect their own landline or internet services as a result is known as connect outstanding. The Connect Outstanding Code sets out procedures for rectifying the problem.

Rules in the Connect Outstanding Code include:
  • all relevant providers should make every effort to avoid a delay between disconnection and re-connection of a standard telephone service (clause 7 of the Connect Outstanding Code)
  • the new occupant's provider must tell the new occupant if there is an existing standard telephone service that has not been disconnected and proof of occupancy is required, including the minimum criteria for the proof of occupancy (clause 8.2.2 of the Connect Outstanding Code), and
  • if there are no objections from another provider, the new occupant's provider must make sure the new service is connected within eight clear business days of receipt of valid proof of occupancy from the new occupant, or on the new occupant's requested connection date if that is later (clause 8.1.1 of the Connect Outstanding Code).

Special circumstances

Everyone uses telecommunications services. Telecommunications services are now vital to everyday life.

For vulnerable groups such as people from different cultural and language backgrounds, people with disabilities or life threatening medical conditions, people of particular ages, those who live in remote or rural areas or those going through hardship, telecommunications services are an essential means of maintaining contact with their family and support groups, earning a living and accessing medical or emergency services.

There are a range of rules to ensure that people in special circumstances can continue to use their telecommunications services effectively, and are protected from discrimination and unfairness.

Consumers with disabilities

Commonwealth and State or Territory anti-discrimination legislation such as the Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 (NT), are important sources of protection for consumers with disabilities.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) makes it illegal to discriminate based on disability when offering any kind of goods or services.

The Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) protects personal information, including sensitive information about medical matters, and the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) prohibits misleading or deceptive conduct, and unconscionable conduct.

In the telecommunications industry, the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) sets out a universal service regime to ensure that all people in Australia, wherever they reside or carry on business, have reasonable access to a standard telephone service, or an equivalent service if the person has a disability. This is called the Universal Service Obligation. Telstra is the current universal service provider. As part of its obligations under the universal service regime, Telstra must supply customer equipment that can be used by a person with a disability to access a standard telephone service, in order to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The equipment may be subject to rental charges and is provided following an application process which assesses eligibility criteria for the equipment.

Under clause 4.1.3 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code), if you identify a particular need to a telecommunications provider, such as a disability that causes you to use your service in a different way or that indicates a certain type of equipment will not be appropriate, the provider must indicate if it has an offer available that suits your stated needs.

Clause 4.4.2 of the TCP Code requires providers to make information available about telecommunications products it has available specifically for consumers with different disabilities and how these products operate. If the product is telecommunications equipment, any information provided must follow the Information on Accessibility Features for Telephone Equipment Code and its accompanying Guideline.

Vulnerable consumers

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the ACCC) Guidelines on Don't take advantage of disadvantage: a compliance guide for businesses dealing with disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers (2011) (the Guidelines) say that some groups of people may be disadvantaged or vulnerable in the market place if they:
  • have a low income
  • are from a non-English speaking background
  • have a disability, including intellectual, psychiatric, physical, sensory, neurological or a learning disability
  • have a serious or chronic illness
  • have poor reading, writing and numerical skills
  • are homeless
  • are very young
  • are elderly
  • come from a remote area, or
  • have an Indigenous background.
Telecommunications providers are required under clause 6.10.1(b) Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP Code), to adopt best practice as set out in the Guidelines.

The Guidelines include the following guidance for providers:
  • If it is apparent that a potential customer may not have the capacity to make a voluntary or informed purchasing or contractual decision, a provider needs to act responsibly and take extra care in its dealings to ensure that no unfair advantage is taken.
  • A provider should be alert to any special needs its customers have and make sure it has systems in place to prevent any unfair treatment.
  • A provider should consider that it may be appropriate for a guardian, carer or other appropriate person to be present to either act on the consumer's behalf or help explain and assist the consumer with a decision.
  • If things go wrong, a provider should be open to resolving complaints and, where appropriate, setting aside contracts or agreements.
Under clause 4.4.3 of the TCP Code, a provider must train its sales representatives on how to interact with disadvantaged or vulnerable consumers appropriately.

Accessing information and communicating with a telecommunications provider

Under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code), a provider must:
  • communicate with you in plain language (clause 3.1.1 of the TCP Code)
  • communicate with you in a way that is appropriate to your communications needs including if you have special needs (clause 3.2.2 of the TCP Code)
  • ensure that you can view and download all relevant terms and conditions of its telecommunications products from a website and that the website is accessible (clauses 3.2.3 and 3.2.4 of the TCP Code)
  • if a provider advertises its services in another language, it must also provide reasonable information to assist consumers who do not speak English to find out where to obtain help in that advertised language (clause 4.4.1(b) of the TCP Code)
  • ensure that you can appoint an authorised representative to act on your behalf, if you require this (clause 3.4.1 of the TCP Code), and
  • ensure that you can easily use an advocate to communicate with the provider, if you require this (clause 3.5.1 of the TCP Code).

Financial hardship

Consumers in financial hardship are often willing to pay their debts but do not currently have the financial capacity to do so. Consumers in financial hardship struggle to pay their bills on time or at all. Their financial hardship can be a short term or long term situation.

The Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) contains a number of rules about how providers should engage with customers who are experiencing financial hardship. If a consumer disputes their debt, their dispute should be addressed separately to any discussion about financial hardship.

A provider must have information available about its processes to help consumers who are having trouble paying their bills (clause 5.1.1(a)(vi) of the TCP Code).

Under clause 6.11.1 of the TCP Code, a provider must have a financial hardship policy and make sure it is easy for consumers to find and access. The policy must be readily accessible on the provider's website. The provider must also provide:
  • relevant contact details of staff with whom the consumer may discuss the financial hardship policy, and
  • information on where the consumer can find contact details of community financial counsellors or consumer advocates who deal with financial difficulty matters.
A provider must tell a consumer about its financial hardship policy:
  • at the time of, or before, issuing the first bill (clause 5.1.1(b)(iii) of the TCP Code)
  • when issuing a reminder notice (clause 6.6.1 of the TCP Code)
  • when notifying the consumer about restriction, suspension, or disconnection of the consumer's service (clause 6.7.1(d) of the TCP Code), and
  • when sending a disconnection notice (clause 6.7.1(e) of the TCP Code).
A provider must give a summary to a consumer of how the provider's financial hardship policy can help them, on request, or when the consumer indicates to the provider they are experiencing financial hardship, or if the provider considers the consumer may be eligible for the policy (clause 6.11.1(e) of the TCP Code).

If you are in hardship and discuss this with your provider, your provider must where possible, offer you flexible repayment options to meet your individual circumstances (clause 6.12.1(f) of the TCP Code). Your provider must review your financial hardship arrangements if you tell your provider that your circumstances have changed (clause 6.12.1(h) of the TCP Code).

Under clause 6.14.1(a) of the TCP Code, a provider must suspend credit management action while an arrangement under a financial hardship policy is being discussed or is in place, unless:
  • you agree otherwise
  • you have breached the arrangement, or
  • the provider decides it is reasonable to do so given the circumstances, for example to prevent a further increase in the debt owed,
and the provider is unable to contact you using reasonable steps.

A provider must not sell a debt during a financial hardship arrangement (clause 6.14.1(c) of the TCP Code).

In addition to these rules, the Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code 2014 (Cth) (the Credit Reporting Code) requires a credit provider not to disclose default information if you have made a hardship request and the credit provider is considering this request (section 9.1 of the Credit Reporting Code). If the credit provider refuses your hardship request it must wait 14 days before disclosing default information. If you have made any hardship requests on the same grounds within the previous four months however, the credit provider can disclose your default information to a credit reporting body (section 9.2 of the Credit Reporting Code).

Priority assistance for consumers with life threatening medical conditions

Priority assistance is a level of service offered to consumers with life threatening medical conditions, who are given faster connection and fault repair timeframes for their landline services.

The Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) sets out a universal service regime to ensure that all people in Australia, wherever they reside or carry on business, have reasonable access to a standard telephone service, or an equivalent service if the person has a disability. This is called the Universal Service Obligation. Telstra is the current universal service provider.

As the universal service provider and under clause 19 of the Carrier Licence Conditions (Telstra Corporation Ltd) Declaration 1997, Telstra is required to:
  • develop, implement and maintain a documented priority assistance policy, and
  • develop, implement and maintain processes, systems and practices to ensure that priority customers can be identified and given priority assistance.
Telstra's Priority Assistance for Life Threatening Medical Conditions Policy includes the following commitments:
  • Telstra will generate public awareness of priority assistance as to why Telstra is offering priority assistance, what priority assistance will deliver, who is eligible, and how customers can apply.
  • Eligibility for priority assistance must be substantiated with valid medical certification.
  • Telstra has a simple registration process and clear eligibility criteria for customers requesting priority assistance.
  • A priority customer is entitled to priority assistance for one fixed voice service per place of residence.
  • Unless there are circumstances beyond Telstra's control, or Telstra must rely on infrastructure being provided by another network owner, the maximum timeframe to connect a new priority service, or rectify a fault on a priority customer's nominated service is:
    • in urban and rural areas - within 24 hours of receiving a request
    • in remote areas - within 48 hours of receiving a request, or
    • such other longer timeframe that is requested by the priority customer.
  • When the above timeframes cannot be met, Telstra will offer the priority customer an interim priority service.
  • When a priority customer's service is suspended for credit management reasons the priority customer will still be able to access emergency services and Telstra's customer service centre.
NBN Co's Wholesale Broadband Agreement sets out specific rules for providers who offer priority assistance, when ordering connection or fault repair of National Broadband Network services. These include that a battery backup service is mandatory for consumers who request or use priority assistance services (clause 9.2 of the Wholesale Broadband Agreement).

Under the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), providers that do not offer priority assistance services must tell this to all prospective residential customers who ask for standard telephone services, and give these prospective customers the names of one or more providers that do (section 19(2) of Schedule 2 to the Telecommunications Act 1997).

The Priority Assistance for Life Threatening Medical Conditions Industry Code sets out rules about priority assistance for providers that are not the universal service provider.

Telecommunications case examples

Connecting a landline service

Elizabeth moved into a new house on Tuesday, 2 February 2016. The house is in a rural area, but has had a landline connection previously.

The day before Elizabeth moved to her new house, she telephoned a telecommunications provider and asked it to connect a landline service for her at the new address. She was told that the connection would take place on Wednesday, 3 February 2016. However, the landline service was not connected until late afternoon on Thursday, 11 February 2016.

Under the Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (Cth) (the CSG Standard), the provider has two working days after receiving the connection request to connect a service in a place that already has an in-place connection, even if it is in a rural area. As such, Elizabeth's landline service should have been connected by Wednesday, 3 February 2016.

Elizabeth is entitled to compensation under the CSG Standard as she has experienced a delay of six working days for the connection of her landline service, starting from the day after the date the service should have been connected until 11 February 2016. This is calculated at $14.52 per working day for the first five days, and $48.40 for a further day of delay, and amounts to $121.

Transfers and telemarketing

Ricardo received a telemarketing call from a provider who offered him a special discount on landline and internet services if he signed up for a new 24 month contract. Ricardo agreed to the transfer and the contract. However, when Ricardo received further information about the agreement in the mail three days later, he decided that he did not want these services. Ricardo called the provider on the same day to cancel the contract. The provider told Ricardo he would have to pay an early termination fee of $680 if he cancelled the contract.

Because Ricardo received an unsolicited telemarketing call, the agreement he entered into to transfer his service to the provider is an unsolicited agreement. Under the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)), the provider has to give Ricardo a period of 10 working days (the cooling off period) in which he can terminate the agreement without being charged an early termination fee. The 10 working day period commences from the date Ricardo received the written information about the agreement.

Billing and spend management

Jane signed up for a new mobile service on a $69 plan a month ago and agreed to let her provider direct debit her bank account to pay her bills. Jane has just learnt that her mortgage payment was rejected due to insufficient funds in her bank account because her provider direct debited $762 instead of the $69 she was expecting it to debit. Jane says her provider did not send her a bill, and that it is now refusing to give her itemised billing information so she can work out why the charges are so high. She also says that she did not receive any notice that she had exceeded her monthly usage allowance in any way.

The Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) contains a number of rules that could apply.

Jane should have been given a Critical Information Summary that set out all important pricing information about her plan including the minimum monthly charge payable, the cost of making standard calls, text and using data, the included value within her plan, and any other inclusions and exclusions (clause 4.1.1(a) of the TCP Code). Jane's provider is required to send Jane usage notifications when she reached 50%, 85% and 100% of her included usage allowance (clause 6.5.2 of the TCP Code).

Jane is also entitled to receive a bill unless the charges are going to be the same fixed amount in each billing period and she has agreed not to be issued with a bill (clause 5.2.1 of the TCP Code). She should be given at least 10 working days to check her bill before a direct debit is processed (clause 5.7.1(c) of the TCP Code). Finally, Jane is also entitled to itemised billing from her provider unless she has otherwise agreed (clause 5.5.3 of the TCP Code) and access to two years of billing information without charge (clause 5.2.5 of the TCP Code).

Privacy and financial hardship

Harry's wife was badly injured in a car accident six months ago and he has had to reduce his working hours to care for her. This has placed the family under considerable financial stress and they are struggling to keep up with their bills.

Harry called his telecommunications provider to see if he could get a payment arrangement to pay off his accrued debt because of his circumstances. The provider agreed that Harry would repay the debt at $25 per week for the next six months. Harry has kept to the payment arrangement, but last week his services were cut off and his provider says it will not reconnect unless his debt is paid in full immediately. Harry tried to apply for a loan for this debt, but the load was rejected on the grounds that there is a telco-related credit default listed against him by his telecommunications provider. Harry has had no notice of this default.

As Harry is experiencing financial hardship and has a financial hardship arrangement in place, clause 9.1 of the Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code 2014 (Cth) (the Credit Reporting Code) prevents his provider from disclosing an overdue payment to a credit reporting body as default information. In addition, clause 6.14.1 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) requires a provider to suspend credit management (including disclosing any default information to a credit reporting body) whilst a financial hardship arrangement is in place.

Separately, under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth), Harry's provider cannot disclose default information about the debt unless the provider has sent Harry an overdue notice asking for payment of that debt (section 6Q of the Privacy Act 1988). Harry's provider must also have sent Harry a second, separate notice at least 30 days after the first notice which states that the provider intends to report the default to a credit reporting body if the debt is not paid (section 21D(3)(d)(i) of the Privacy Act 1988). A debt must have been overdue for a minimum of 60 days before it can be reported as a default (section 6Q of the Privacy Act 1988).

Harry's provider must also wait at least 14 days after issuing the second notice, before it discloses the default to a credit reporting body (section 21D(3)(d)(ii) of the Privacy Act 1988).

If these requirements have not been met, the default information must be removed from Harry's credit record.

Making a complaint about your telecommunications service

If you are experiencing a problem with your service, you should discuss this with your provider. It is useful to keep notes of your interactions with your provider, including the dates and times you contacted it, who you spoke to and any reference number for your complaint. In addition, keep records of any faults you are experiencing with your service and report these to your provider every time they happen.

If you are disputing charges on your bill and have raised this dispute with your provider, you should not stop paying for your service entirely. You should pay the amount that you believe to be correct and that you do not dispute. For example, if you were told at the point of sale that you would receive a monthly discount but this has not been applied to your account, then continue to pay for your monthly charges except for the promised discount amount. This would limit your exposure to unmanageable debt while waiting for your dispute to be resolved.

If you have a complaint about your telecommunications service, make this complaint to your provider in the first instance. If you need help making this complaint, you should seek the assistance of an authorised representative, advocate (e.g. financial counsellor) or an interpreter service. You can also ask someone you trust, like a family member or friend, to speak on your behalf if you need help to make your complaint.

Chapter 8 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (the TCP Code) sets minimum standards for complaint handling in the telecommunications industry.

Providers must allow complaints to be made by phone, fax, letter, online, email, or in person when a provider has a retail store (clauses 8.1.1(a)(vii)(C) and (D) of the TCP Code). Phone calls to make complaints should be free, or charged at local or low cost rates, when made using the provider's service (clause 8.1.1(a)(vii)(A) of the TCP Code). There should be no charge for making a complaint (a provider may recover costs involved with the provision of information in limited circumstances) (clause 8.1.1(a)(ii) of the TCP Code).

If you need help to make a complaint (e.g. because of a disability, hardship or non-English speaking background), your provider should assist you to formulate, lodge and progress that complaint. Your provider also has to allow you to use an advocate or authorised representative if you want one (clauses 8.1.1(a)(vii)(E) and (F) of the TCP Code).

Providers must have an internal escalation process, that is transparent and accessible, as well as a prioritisation process (clauses 8.1.1(a)(viii) and (x) of the TCP Code).

Your complaint should be acknowledged immediately when made in person or over the phone, otherwise within two business days (clause 8.2.1(a)(i) of the TCP Code). You should be able to monitor the progress of your complaint, and be notified of delays to promised timeframes (clauses 8.2.1(a)(ix) and (x) of the TCP Code). Any remedy offered should be tailored to suit the individual circumstances of the complaint (clause 8.2.1(a)(iv) of the TCP Code).

Your provider must action any resolution within 10 working days of your acceptance (clause 8.2.1(a)(xii) of the TCP Code).

If you tell your provider you are dissatisfied with the outcome to your complaint or how it is being handled, your provider must tell you about its internal escalation process and options for external dispute resolution including the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (clause 8.2.1(c) of the TCP Code).

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

Part 6 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (Cth) requires all telecommunications providers to be members of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) scheme. The TIO provides a free and independent dispute resolution service for small business and residential consumers in Australia who have a complaint about their telecommunications services.

Established in 1993, the TIO is an essential component of the consumer protection regime in the telecommunications industry. The TIO helps over 100,000 consumers each year resolve complaints with their telecommunications providers at no cost to the consumer. The TIO also assists many telecommunications providers who are members of the TIO Scheme to improve their complaint handling practices, processes and procedures to deliver better outcomes for their customers.

From 12 March 2014, the TIO is also a recognised external dispute resolution scheme under section 35A of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). Under this recognition, the TIO is empowered to receive, investigate, facilitate the resolution of, make decisions and recommendations for, and report on, complaints about acts or practices of TIO members (telecommunications providers) that may be an interference with the privacy of an individual under subsections 13(1) and/or 13(2) of the Privacy Act 1988.

The TIO's primary role is to provide a dispute resolution service that is guided by and is committed to the principles of accessibility, independence, fairness, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness as set out in the Benchmarks for Industry based Customer Dispute Resolution Schemes. The TIO has regard to the law and good industry practice, and also what is fair and reasonable in all the circumstances. The consumer must have given the telecommunications provider an opportunity to consider the complaint before the TIO can get involved.

The TIO is able to handle complaints about telecommunications services, including requiring telecommunications providers to make available documents or information relevant to the complaint. The TIO has the authority to decide the resolution of a complaint that the telecommunications company is legally obliged to implement up to $50,000, and make recommendations up to $100,000.

The TIO may stop handling a complaint at any time if it is fair and reasonable to do so, for example if the consumer has refused to pay undisputed charges that the TIO considers to be reasonable or if the provider has made a fair offer to resolve the complaint and the consumer has not accepted this offer.

For more information about the TIO, please visit www.tio.com.au.

Useful contacts for telecommunications

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO)

The TIO is a fast, free, fair and independent dispute resolution service for small business and residential customers who have a complaint about their telephone or internet service in Australia. Before you can lodge a complaint with the TIO, you must have already complained to your provider and given it a chance to consider your complaint. If your complaint is still unresolved or you are dissatisfied with your provider's response, you may then complain to the TIO.

Tel: 1800 062 058

Fax: 1800 630 614

TTY: 1800 675 692

Post: PO Box 276, Collins Street West Vic 8007

Online complaint form: http://www.tio.com.au/making-a-complaint

Web: http://www.tio.com.au/

Northern Territory Consumer Affairs

Consumer Affairs (NT) is an independent office within the Department of Attorney - General and Justice. It provides a free enquiry service to assist with consumer and fair trading issues, and is also able to conciliate complaints that cannot be resolved by the parties without third-party assistance.

Tel: (08) 8999 1999 or 1800 019 319

Fax: (08) 8935 7738

SMS: 040 111 6801

Email: consumer@nt.gov.au

Web: http://www.consumeraffairs.nt.gov.au

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC)

The OAIC is the national privacy regulator and accepts privacy complaints from individuals about federal government agencies and private sector organisations regulated under the Privacy Act 1988. Before you can lodge a complaint with the OAIC, you will generally need to complain directly to the agency or organisation and allow 30 days for it to respond. If you do not receive a response within 30 days, or you are dissatisfied with the response, you may then complain to the OAIC.

Tel: 1300 363 992

Fax: +61 2 9284 9666

Post: GPO Box 5218, Sydney NSW 2001

Online complaint form: https://forms.business.gov.au/aba/oaic/privacy-complaint-/

Email: enquiries@oaic.gov.au

Web: https://www.oaic.gov.au/

Do Not Call Register

You can list your home, mobile or fax numbers on the Do Not Call Register to reduce telemarketing calls. Registration is free. Telemarketers and fax marketers have 30 days from the date you register to stop contacting you. Lodge a complaint if you still receive telemarketing calls.

Tel: 1300 792 958

Register numbers online: https://www.donotcall.gov.au/consumers/register-your-numbers/

Make complaint: 1300 792 958 or https://www.donotcall.gov.au/consumers/lodge-a-complaint/lodge-a-complaint/

Web: https://www.donotcall.gov.au/

Spam

Report the receipt of spam (unsolicited commercial electronic messages) to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) using the methods below. The ACMA will not contact you about your complaint unless it requires further information.

SMS spam:

Forward the message to the Spam SMS service on 0429 999 888. You will be billed the standard rate charged by your provider for sending an SMS.

Email spam:

Forward the message to the Spam Intelligence Database at report@submit.spam.acma.gov.au. When forwarding an email, do not change the subject line or add additional text. The ACMA will contact you if it requires further information.

Online complaint form: available here

Scamwatch

Scamwatch is run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. It provides information to consumers and small businesses about how to recognise and avoid scams. If you become aware of a scam, or have been a victim of a scam, report to Scamwatch.

Tel: 1300 795 995

Online report form: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam

Web: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/

Who is my provider?

By calling this number, you should be able to find out who your local and long distance telecommunications providers are, as well as if there are internet (ADSL) codes on your phone line.

Tel: 1800 150 436

What is my number?

By calling this number, you should be able to find out the number of the telephone you are calling from, for example if you have moved into a house and a telephone service is still connected.

Tel: 12722123

National Relay Service

The National Relay Service is a communication solution for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment. It is available 24 hours, 7 days a week.

TTY users:133 677, or 1800 555 677 to call an 1800 number

Speak and Listen:1300 555 727, or 1800 555 727 to call an 1800 number

SMS relay:0423 677 767, or if calling an SMS relay user: 133 677

Web: http://relayservice.gov.au/

Translating and Interpreting Service

The Translating and Interpreting Service is an interpreting service for people who do not speak English and for agencies and businesses that need to communicate with their non-English speaking clients. It enables non-English speakers to independently access services and information in Australia. It is available 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Tel: 131 450

Enquiry line: 1300 655 082

Fax: 1300 654 151 (for on-site interpreter bookings)

Email: tis@immi.gov.au (for on-site interpreter bookings)

Web: https://www.tisnational.gov.au/en

The Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission provides free access to the law and legal assistance to people who are unable to afford the services of a private lawyer. Legal Aid in the NT usually only assists in matters that are before the Courts in the Northern Territory, but assistance can be given to apply for aid from another Commission in another State or Territory.

Tel: 1800 019 343

Email: info@ntlac.nt.gov.au

Web: http://www.ntlac.nt.gov.au/

Financial counselling

Financial counsellors assist people with a wide range of financial problems. They work with their clients to help them get out of the cycle of debt and take control of their finances.

Tel: 1800 007 007

You can talk to a phone financial counsellor from anywhere in Australia. Usual opening hours are 9.30 am to 4.30 pm, Monday to Friday. This number will automatically switch through to the service in the State or Territory closest to you.

This service assists women in the Katherine region.

Tel: 1800 620 108 or 08 8972 1712

Fax: 08 8972 1572

Web: www.kwils.com.au

Post: PO Box 1194 Katherine NT 0851

Location: Shop 5, 17 First Street, Katherine

This service provides free initial legal advice sessions held weekly at Darwin, Casuarina and Palmerston.

Tel: 1800 812 953

TTY: (08) 8982 1177

Fax: 08 8982 1112

Web: www.dcls.org.au

Post: GPO Box 3180 Darwin NT 0801

Location: 8 Manton Street, Darwin, 0801

TEWLS provides referrals, legal advice, casework and community education to women in the Top End of the Northern Territory.

Tel: 1800 234 441 or (08) 8982 3000

Fax: (08) 8941 9935

Email: admin_tewls@clc.net.au

Web: http://www.tewls.org.au/

Location: Ground Floor, 2/5 Edmunds Street Darwin NT 0801

Post: GPO Box 1901, Darwin NT 0801

Telstra Indigenous Communities Hotline (Telstra is the universal service provider)

The Telstra Indigenous Communities Hotline is designed to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Telstra customers connect and maintain their telephone services (which extends to addressing billing and other issues). Requests and complaints are transferred to other Telstra departments, who may then contact the customer.

The centre is based in Townsville Queensland. Its staff are mainly from the Murri and Thursday Island communities, but the centre can access other interpreters if needed. Customers lodge their complaints either directly, using English or "broken" (a pigeon dialect spoken widely), or through a liaison person such as a friend, family, from community/Land Council.

Tel: 1800 444 403 (open weekdays only)

Telstra Multicultural Services (Telstra is the universal service provider)

These numbers enable non-English speaking Telstra customers to contact Telstra and speak with a staff member who speaks their own language.

If you would like to speak with a Telstra Customer Service Representative in a language other than English, please call one of the following numbers for the language you wish to speak in:
  • Arabic: 1800 726 001
  • Cantonese: 1800 677 008
  • Greek: 1800 189 129
  • Indonesian: 1800 429 432
  • Italian: 1800 649 013
  • Korean: 1800 773 421
  • Mandarin: 1800 678 876
  • Spanish: 1800 726 002
  • Vietnamese: 1800 644 500
Web: https://www.telstra.com.au/contact-us/multilingual-services

Postal operators and regulatory framework

Australia Post

The main postal operator in Australia is Australia Post. Australia Post is a government-owned business, with the Australian government as the only shareholder through the Minister for Communications and the Minister for Finance. It is established under the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989 (Cth). The Australia Post Board and management are responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation. Australia Post receives no funding from the government.

Under section 27 of the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989, Australia Post is required to supply a letter service that is reasonably accessible to all people in Australia on an equitable basis, wherever they reside or carry on business. The service must be available at a single uniform rate of postage for the carriage within Australia, by ordinary post, of letters that are standard postal articles.

Performance standards (including delivery times) for Australia Post's letter service must reasonably meet the social, industrial and commercial needs of the Australian community. Specific timeframes for delivery and rules about accessibility of postal outlets and mail lodgement points are specified by the Australian Postal Corporation (Performance Standards) Regulations 1998.

Australia Post's Service Charter sets out the standards a customer can expect from Australia Post, how to obtain information from Australia Post, how to complain if the standards are not met, and offers advice on how a customer can help Australia Post to improve service. A copy of the Charter can be accessed at www.auspost.com.au.

The Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989 also serves to protect Australians by protecting the information and documents that Australia Post's employees (and former employees) may have come into contact with in the course of their duties. Part 7B of the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989 specifies very limited circumstances in which documents and information can be used or disclosed (e.g. to establish next of kin if someone has passed away or disclosure to customers or security agencies). These protections compliment those specified in the Privacy Act 1988.

Australia Post offers many different types of products and services in addition to its mail delivery service. How Australia Post sells these products and services are also subject to the consumer protections in the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)).

Other postal service operators

There are a number of private postal service operators within Australia in addition to Australia Post. These providers are not subject to the same legislative standards that Australia Post is, but they are still required to act within the rules of other legislation, such as the Australian Consumer Law (in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) and the Privacy Act 1988.

Complaints about postal services

If you are a customer of Australia Post or another postal operator and you have a complaint, you should complain directly to Australia Post or the other postal operator in the first instance.

If you are unable to resolve your complaint, you can make a complaint to the Postal Industry Ombudsman.

The Postal Industry Ombudsman is a function of the Commonwealth Ombudsman under the Ombudsman Act 1976. The Postal Industry Ombudsman is an independent body that can investigate administrative actions and decisions, and can make suggestions or recommendations for resolving the complaint. Information about complaints commonly received about the postal industry has been published by the Postal Industry Ombudsman on its website and may assist in deciding how a complaint should be progressed.

Australia Post is required to be a member of the Postal Industry Ombudsman scheme, but other postal operators can voluntarily register to become members too. If the postal operator who is the subject of the complaint is not a member of the Postal Industry Ombudsman Scheme, then the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the Northern Territory Consumer Affairs office may be able to assist.

Useful contacts for postal services

Postal Industry Ombudsman (PIO)

The PIO is a function of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. It receives and investigates complaints about Australia Post, and other private postal operators who have voluntarily registered under the PIO scheme.

Tel: 1300 362 072 or from overseas +61 2 6276 0111

Indigenous Line: 1800 060 789

Email: pio@ombudsman.gov.au

Online complaint form: https://forms.business.gov.au/smartforms/servlet/SmartForm.html?formCode=oco-complaint-form

Post: GPO Box 442 Canberra ACT 2601

Web: http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/about/postal-industry-ombudsman

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