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Telecommunications (phones, internet, pay TV)

Telecommunication providers are covered by laws and codes of conduct and there are regulatory bodies that can help if you want to make a complaint about:

  • landline or internet services
  • pay TV or subscription services
  • transferring your phone service
  • faulty handsets
  • bills for telecommunication services.

If you couldn’t afford your telecommunication contract at the time you signed-up or you now can’t afford to pay, you should get legal advice.

If you have a dispute with a telecommunications provider, you may need legal advice.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO)

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has a free, independent dispute resolution service for most disputes with telecommunications service providers. Disputes can be lodged over the phone or online. The TIO can make decisions which are binding on the telecommunications service provider.

If a dispute is lodged with the TIO, the telecommunications service provider must stop all collection and enforcement action until it can be resolved. This includes debt collectors trying to collect money on behalf of the telecommunications service provider.

Before making a complaint to the TIO, you need to give the telecommunications service provider a chance to consider and resolve your issue. If it’s not resolved then you can contact the TIO. If the matter is complex, get legal advice.

Becoming an informed consumer

You should be aware of any hidden costs, and your rights and responsibilities before signing up for new services such as:

  • a landline and/or internet contract
  • mobile phone—prepaid, handset inclusive or service only
  • buying a phone card
  • choosing a mobile to use overseas
  • premium SMS or apps.

Make sure you understand the length of the contract period, and if there are any extra charges for cancelling the service. Be clear about your needs and how much you can afford to pay for the service. You should compare different providers before making a decision.

For information about your consumer rights, factsheets and helpful hints and tips, visit the following websites:

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) empowers consumers and provides factsheets on common areas of concern.

MoneySmart Rookie has information about your rights and responsibilities in relation to mobile phone deals and plans.

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) regulates the sale of consumer goods and services.

Complaints about landline or internet services

If you have a complaint about the repairs and reliability of your landline or internet service, then you should contact your telecommunications service provider and give them an opportunity to resolve the complaint. If the issue isn’t resolved, then you can make a complaint to the TIO.

Telecommunications service providers have certain responsibilities to you as a consumer.

These are set out in:

  • the Customer Service Guarantee which is a regulation requiring service providers for landline phone services to meet certain timelines for connections and fixing faults, and provides for compensation when these timelines are not met
  • the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code which is a code of conduct for the telecommunications industry in Australia setting out certain rights for consumers on selling, billing and charging telecommunication services
  • The Australian Consumer Law covers unconscionable business behaviour, misleading and deceptive conduct, unfair terms, consumer guarantees (used to be called warranties) and rules about unsolicited sales. See Buying goods and services.

Complaints about pay TV subscription or services

Complaints about landline connections should be lodged with the TIO. All other complaints should be made to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

The Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA) is the industry body for pay TV subscription services. They have a code of practice for customer service standards and handling complaints that members must follow.

Being a referee or guarantor for a friend

If a friend asks you to be a guarantor or referee for their phone make sure you read the contract very carefully before signing it. Depending on how the contract is written, you could be considered the owner of the phone and will be liable to pay for any calls made on it and any payments required under the contract.

ASIC’s MoneySmart website has important information about being a guarantor.

If you think you were misled about your role in the contract, get urgent legal advice about cancelling the contract.

Complaints about transferring my phone service

If you didn’t agree to transfer phone services, you should get legal advice as soon as possible. If the dispute isn’t resolved, you can lodge a complaint with the TIO. You’re not obliged to receive or pay for services you didn’t agree to. It is possible to make an agreement over the phone and the company may have recorded any agreement that was made.  You should ask them for a copy of any recording that was made.

Door-to-door sales

Telemarketers and door-to-door salespeople may contact you to transfer your phone service.

You can stop telemarketers contacting you by putting your name on the Do Not Call Register. You can stop door-to-door salespeople knocking on your door by asking OFT to send you a ‘Do Not Knock’ sticker to put on your front door.

The ACCC investigates complaints about pressure selling tactics, but you should get urgent legal advice as strict time limits apply to some legal rights.

An unsolicited sales contract has a cooling-off period of 10 days, during which you can cancel the contract if you change your mind. To cancel your contract you should contact the service provider in writing.

There isn’t any special form you need to use to cancel an unsolicited sales contract within the 10 day cooling-off period, but a consumer lawyer can give you a sample letter.

Under the Australian Consumer Law door-to-door sellers and telemarketers also have certain responsibilities when signing you up for goods and services.  If they do not meet these responsibilities you may have up to 6 months to cancel the contract.  You should get legal advice. 

If you can’t resolve the complaint directly with the telecommunications service provider, you can lodge a complaint with the TIO.

Complaints about faulty handsets

Service providers have been directed by the ACCC that a mobile phone (eg handset) should last as long as its contract term.

The seller has a responsibility to repair a faulty phone within the compulsory guarantee period set out in the Australian Consumer Law. The phone should be fit for the purpose it’s to be used for and without defect when purchased.

If you’ve got a complaint or problem, make sure you keep a record of any conversations you have about the problem with the service provider.

The ACCAN and the ACCC have information about your consumer rights.

You must give the seller an opportunity to repair or replace a faulty handset before terminating a contract. Get legal advice if you can’t resolve the problem quickly.

Disputes may have to go to the QCAT if the OFT, ACCC or a lawyer can’t negotiate a successful outcome.

Complaints about bills

If you’ve received an unexpectedly high bill you should try and resolve this with the service provider. For more information about what options are available to you, visit the ACCAN website.

For information about your rights, see the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code. The code specifies that telecommunications service providers have time limits for billing you for call charges. If they don’t bill you within the specified time period, they can’t recover money for the charges from you.

The ACCC website also has information to help you.

Before lodging a complaint with the TIO, get legal advice.

I can’t afford the contract

If you couldn’t afford the telecommunication contract at the time you signed up, then this may be grounds for cancelling the contract. You should get legal advice.

The TIO sets out guidelines for service providers when consumers find themselves in hardship. A financial counselling service may help you to access bill relief or to negotiate a hardship plan.

If you need your phone for essential services (such as getting medical help because of an ongoing health issue such as severe asthma) then the service provider must continue to maintain services to you. If they won’t cooperate, you should get legal advice to find out if any legal obligations have been breached by them.

If you lodge a dispute with the TIO, the service provider must stop all collection and enforcement action while the dispute is resolved.

Old phone debts and debt collectors

If there’s a dispute about whether you owe money, or the amount being claimed, you may be able to lodge a dispute with the TIO.

It’s possible there is no legal obligation to pay an old debt if the time limit for collecting the debt has expired (usually 6 years from last payment unless a court judgment has been obtained). You should get legal advice.

If you don’t pay, then it’s possible the telecommunications service provider can list you as defaulting on your credit report after giving you 60 days’ notice to pay a debt and a warning they will list the debt.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if you:

  • have an unresolved dispute with your telecommunications service provider
  • think you’ve been talked into signing a contract that was unfair
  • have tried to negotiate an arrangement to pay off your telecommunications debt but are still having trouble making repayments.

How to get legal advice

We may give legal advice about telecommunications contracts and disputes.

The following services may be able to give legal advice.

Caxton Legal Centre Consumer Law Service gives free specialist legal advice to people with consumer and consumer credit legal problems, including loans, bankruptcy, debt collection, mortgage brokers and financial advisors.

Gladstone Community Advisory Service gives free legal advice about consumer matters.

Cairns Community Legal Centre - Consumer Law Service gives legal help about consumer credit matters; consumer product disputes; consumer service disputes; consumer debt matters; bankruptcy and other consumer law matters for socially and financially disadvantaged members of the community.

LawRight Self Representation Service (Federal) gives legal advice and help to people involved in civil proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court or Federal Court for matters involving bankruptcy and consumer and competition law. The service may help with drafting documents and correspondence relating to your legal matter. They don’t provide representation.

LawRight Self Representation Service (Courts) gives legal advice and help to people involved in civil proceedings before the Brisbane District Court, Brisbane Supreme Court and Queensland Court of Appeal. They may also be able to help with drafting documents and correspondence relating to your legal matter. They don’t provide legal representation.

LawRight Self Representation Service (QCAT) gives free legal advice and help to people at the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The service may help with drafting documents and correspondence relating to your legal matter. They don’t provide legal representation

LawRight Refugee Civil Law Clinic gives free legal advice and help to refugees, humanitarian entrants, asylum seekers and temporary protection visa holders, including advice about debts, loan agreements and bankruptcy.

LawRight Mental Health Law Clinic gives legal advice on civil law issues arising as a result of a person's mental health problems, including credit or debit law issues.

Students Legal Service—University of Queensland (UQ) gives free legal advice to UQ students, including advice about consumer matters and responding to letters of demand.

Community legal centres give legal advice on a range of topics. Contact them to find out if they can help.

National Legal Aid can refer you to other Legal Aid Commissions if your debt or court proceedings are in another state.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice or representation.

Who else can help?

These organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.

TIO has a free alternative dispute resolution service for unresolved complaints about telephone or internet services.

ACCAN aims to empower consumers and produces information sheets on common consumer concerns.

Communications Alliance is the industry body for telecommunications providers, and they aim to improve standards in the industry. Visit their website for more information about Mobile Premium Services.

Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is the federal government regulator of telecommunications.

ACCC gives information about telephone and mobile services, complaints, guarantees (used to be called warranties) and Australian Consumer Law—including unconscionable conduct, unsolicited selling, misleading and deceptive conduct and unfair terms in telecommunications contracts.

Do Not Call Register is where you can register your details to stop telemarketers calling you. Registration is free and means you remain on the register for life.

ASTRA is the industry body for pay TV subscription services and has a code of practice for how members handle complaints and customer service.

MoneySmart Rookie has information about mobile phone deals and plans.

Financial counselling services may be able to help you with a payment plan to take to the telecommunications service provider or debt collector.

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