The ACMA announced the directive to Telstra on Thursday, revealing that the overcharging, averaging of $231 per customer, occurred between February 2008 and February 2020 when customers were provided with an interim service (usually a mobile phone) during delays to their connection or repair of landline services.
Telstra - Australia’s largest telco - self-reported the issue to the ACMA and explained that the billing error resulted from mistakes made when introducing a new customer relationship management system in 2008.
ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the errors were a clear breach of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code.
“The amount charged for an interim service must not exceed what a customer would have been charged under their existing or requested landline service,” O’Loughlin said.
“Overcharging can potentially lead to financial difficulties for affected customers which is why the ACMA considers accuracy in billing practices to be an important consumer protection.
“Australians should have confidence that they will not be overcharged for their telco services, helping them to effectively plan for and manage their household budgets.
“For Telstra to allow an issue like this to go unnoticed for such a long time and impact so many customers, is simply unacceptable,” she said.
O’Loughlin also reminded telcos that they must have adequate systems in place to prevent these errors from occurring, stating that, “If telcos are relying on IT systems to meet their regulatory obligations then they must have appropriate testing and assurance processes in place to ensure compliance.”
The ACMA statement also noted that: “The ACMA acknowledges that Telstra moved reasonably swiftly to fix the problem once identified.
“Telstra also took the appropriate steps to address the issue including refunding affected customers, and has committed to removing all ongoing charging for interim services to prevent the problem from occurring again.
“Following the investigation, the ACMA has formally directed Telstra to comply with the TCP Code.
“Any further non-compliance could lead to significant consequences for Telstra, with penalties of up to $250,000 for failing to comply with the TCP Code."
The ACMA's directive to Telstra on overcharging comes - as reported by iTWire on Tuesday - when the ACMA issued a statement announcing that all Australian telcos offering fixed broadband services will be required to publish their customer service commitments and details of their associated performance under proposed new industry rules.
The ACMA's statement came in the wake of its recent research which it said showed that while price was important to many consumers, non-price factors such as issues and faults being fixed or good customer service ranked higher overall.