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Telecommunications (phones, internet, pay TV)

Telecommunications providers must follow strict laws and codes of conduct when dealing with consumers.

There are regulatory bodies that can help if you want to make a complaint about:

Get legal advice if you:

  • couldn’t afford the telecommunication contract at the time you signed up and you now can’t afford to pay
  • have a dispute with a telecommunications provider
  • aren't getting the services you signed up for from a telecommunications provider.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

Telecommunications providers must follow strict laws and codes of conduct when dealing with consumers. If you have a dispute with a telecommunications provider, you may need to get legal advice.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) can help you make a complaint about a telecommunications provider.

The TIO provides a free, independent dispute resolution service for most disputes with telecommunications service providers. Disputes can be lodged over the phone or online, and their decisions are binding on the telecommunications service provider.

If a dispute is lodged with the TIO, the service provider must stop any collection or enforcement action (including any debt collection on behalf of the service provider) until it can be resolved.

Before making a complaint to the TIO, you'll need to give the telecommunications service provider a chance to consider and resolve your issue. If they can’t resolve your issue, then you should contact the TIO. If the matter is complex, get legal advice.

Being an informed consumer

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

  • 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, and if there's any extra cancellation charges.

Be clear about your needs and how much you can afford. You should compare different providers before making a decision.

These websites have information about your consumer rights, factsheets and guides, and other helpful information:

Complaints about landline or internet services

Contact your telecommunications service provider if you have a complaint about the repairs and reliability of your landline or internet service. You should give them an opportunity to resolve the complaint before taking it to the TIO.

Telecommunications service providers have certain responsibilities to you as a consumer. These are set out in:

  • the Consumer 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

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, don't do it!

If they don't pay their bill, then you'll be liable to pay for any calls made and for any payments required under the phone contract.

 The Australian Securities and Investments Commission 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 phone service transfers

Get urgent legal advice if you didn’t agree to transfer services between telecommunications companies.

You can lodge a complaint with the TIO if you're dispute isn't resolved.  

You shouldn't have to receive or pay for services that you didn't agree to.

The company may have recorded any agreement made over the phone, and the terms and conditions of any contract may be available on their website.

Unsolicited sales

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

Put your name on the Do Not Call Register to stop telemarketers contacting you.

You can also ask the OFT to send you a ‘Do Not Knock’ sticker to put on your front door to stop door-to-door salespeople contacting you.

The ACCC takes complaints about pressure selling, but you should get legal advice as strict time limits may apply in some situations.

There is a cooling-off period of 10 business days (for an unsolicited sales contract) where you can cancel the contract if you change your mind. You should contact the service provider in writing if you want to cancel the contract. There isn’t any special form you'll 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. You may have up to 6 months to withdraw from the contract if they didn't meet these obligations.

If the complaint can't be resolved directly with the telecommunication service provider you can lodge a complaint with the TIO.

Complaints about faulty handsets

Your phone should be fit for the purpose it’s to be used for and without defect when purchased.

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 consumer guarantees set out in the Australian Consumer Law.

The ACCC can give you information about your consumer rights.  

You should keep a record of any conversations with your service provider about any complaints or problems. The seller should have 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 private lawyer can’t negotiate a successful outcome.

Complaints about bills

Talk to your service provider if you've received an unexpectedly high phone bill.

The Telecommunications Consumer Protection 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.

Visit the ACCAN or the ACCC websites for more information.

Get legal advice before lodging a complaint with the TIO.

I can’t afford my contract

You may have grounds for cancelling your telecommunications contract if you couldn't afford it when you signed up. If you're in this situation you should get legal advice.

The TIO has guidelines for service providers when dealing with consumers who find themselves in hardship. A financial counsellingservice may help you to access bill relief or to negotiate a hardship plan.

Your service provider must continue to give you access to services if you need your phone for essential services (such as getting medical help because of an ongoing health issue such as severe asthma). Get legal advice—if they won't cooperate—to find out if they've breached any of their legal obligations.

If a dispute has been lodged with the TIO, the service provider must stop all collection and enforcement action until it has been resolved.

Old phone debts and debt collectors

You can lodge a dispute with the TIO if you have a dispute about whether you owe money, or the amount being claimed.

There may be 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 there is a court judgment). You should get legal advice.

If you don’t pay, 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 payments.

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 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 Legal Aid offices in other states 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.

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (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 is the federal government regulator of telecommunications.

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)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.

National Broadbank Network has information online to help you to choose a broadband provider and contract.

Do Not Call Register is where you can register your details to stop telemarketers calling you. Registration is free and valid for 8 years.

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.

Related links and information
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