Submission on the proposed changes to the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code

CPSA's submission to the Communications Alliance on the proposed changes to the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code

Download: pdfCPSA's submission on the proposed changes to the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code227.92 KB

CPSA welcomes the opportunity to make comment on the proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code 2012. CPSA’s constituents are pensioners of all ages and others living on low incomes throughout Australia, however our membership base comprises largely of low income older Australians living across NSW.

1. CPSA is very wary about any amendments to the Code which will remove requirements on suppliers to provide written information to customers when they enter into legal or financial relationships. It is vital that people are able to receive this information in clear, easy to read, plain English that they can take away to digest. Relying on retailer staff to explain important information adequately and being able to gauge whether someone has digested and fully understands the information and implications (and will remember them) is a notoriously difficult task. To remove obligations to provide certain information in writing appears to enable telecommunications providers to breach their legal obligations without recourse. Those who are hard of hearing, those for whom English is not their first language and those with memory difficulties will lose out. In cases where contracts are entered into over the phone or vital information is given, individuals should be provided with a recording of the conversation.

CPSA is particularly concerned about the proposed amendment to the communication of financial hardship arrangements to remove the requirement that details of this be provided in writing and through any other means agreed by the parties. People experiencing financial hardship are likely to be highly stressed and their phone bill is one of many things that they are struggling to pay. It is also of vital importance that information about hardship charters be prominently featured on company websites and in material provided to customers. To not do so would be a backward step, providing telcos with a free pass to not provide such services without repercussions to customers.

2. Similarly, CPSA does not want to see the removal of advertising obligations from the Code which would take away the role of Communications Compliance in checking compliance. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) plays a key role in enforcing compliance of the Code and CPSA is concerned that removing certain requirements will result in removing the ACMA from enforcement. One important area which CPSA does not want to see go is around the use of the word “cap”. Before the introduction of the Code, many customers were misled by the widespread use of the word “cap” in post-paid plans. Customers assumed that “cap” represented a limit on prices when in fact after the cap was reached charges for calls, texts and data usage were significantly higher. Likewise, CPSA is concerned about the deletion of limits on the use of the words and phrases “free”, “unlimited”, “no exceptions, exclusions or catches” and “offer” in advertising of telecommunication products. It is vital that there is clarification on these terms and a requirement that there be full disclosure around their usage so that consumers do not get caught out by deceptive or less than clear usage of such terms aimed at enticing new customers.

3. CPSA is also concerned that a number of proposed deletions (including those concerning accessibility) and that “a supplier must comply with all applicable laws in dealing with Consumers” are being justified as duplicating other legislation. CPSA cannot see an issue with consumer rights being reinforced by being mentioned in both legislation and the Code and furthermore questions whether this duplication is in fact the case in all instances. Likewise CPSA is concerned that the scrapping of key consumer protection measures in the Code (including resourcing of a complaints handling process and monitoring of the progress of the complaints) which are being heralded as no longer being warranted due to the Federal Government’s red tape reduction program.

4. CPSA is worried about the deletion of the requirement that international roaming charges be placed “in a prominent and/or easily navigable and/or easily searchable position on the Supplier’s website”.

5. CPSA understands that since the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code was introduced two years ago, complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman have fallen by 28 per cent to their lowest level in six years. The Code was introduced to address specific problems within the sector, particularly with regards to transparency and advertising and sales practices. It appears counter intuitive to remove the measures which have resulted in the reduction in complaints to the Ombudsman.

We therefore strongly encourage the Communications Alliance to reject the proposed TCP Code variations.