In October 2010 we revised the way we report our complaint statistics, categorising the data into enquiries, new complaints and investigations. Our stakeholders can now easily identify the volume of cases we handled and the extent to which we conciliate or investigate those cases. This improves our accountability and makes our statistics easier to interpret.
Enquiries are matters we cannot deal with directly, such as when a consumer comes to us before contacting their service provider or complains about something outside our functions or powers.
New complaints are recorded when a residential or small business consumer contacts us about a matter they have already raised with their service provider. These are often resolved through referral by us back to the service provider’s complaint handling specialists to give consumers and service providers another chance to work out the complaint together. When a new complaint remains unresolved, we will use other methods to resolve the complaint.
Investigations include complaints that require further involvement by us. They include informal conciliation and formal investigations that will require evidence of claims. When all else fails, we will make a decision about the case.
In April 2011, we began introducing a streamlined, less formal conciliation process to deal with complaints not resolved by referral. The process of conciliation encourages and assists consumers and providers to:
We manage the conciliation process, confirming that communication between the parties is taking place, providing information about the issues in dispute and helping to generate options for resolution.
Early evidence from the conciliation process is showing that complaints are being resolved more quickly, and fewer cases require detailed investigation.
Tamara’s complaint is an example of a complaint conciliated by the TIO.
Our complaint handling procedures (CHPs) provide clarity and transparency for consumers and service providers with information about how we handle complaints, and ensure consistency and fairness in our decision making. Importantly, where a consumer or service provider believes that we have not followed our process, they can request a review of our decisions.
Over the course of 2010-11, we consolidated our CHPs to make them more streamlined and transparent. We introduced an Objectives and Definitions section, clearly separated specific procedures, removed overlapping sections, introduced numbered paragraphs for each CHP and improved clarity of language for publication on our website.
Two major amendments to the TIO Constitution came into effect in February 2011.
The first clarifies the TIO’s jurisdiction to investigate complaints about “bundled” services that comprise carriage services through a telecommunications provider and equipment typically leased through a finance company. Consumers with disputes about bundles often claim that they are unaware that their telecommunications agreement was bundled with a finance agreement or that they were promised “free” equipment such as plasma TVs or laptops. While they can terminate their telephone service agreement, they are unable to terminate the finance contract without incurring a substantial early termination charge. The constitutional amendment allows the TIO to hold the service provider responsible for the actions or omissions of the finance company if it considers it fair and reasonable to do so.
The second amendment allows the Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman to issue an Interim Direction requiring a service provider to cease credit management action while the TIO is considering or investigating a complaint. No interim directions have been required. However, in some cases we have been required to draw this power to service provider’s attentions to make sure they cease credit management action such as pursuing a debt. This is an important safeguard to maintain status quo while a complaint is being investigated.
The TIO has a series of publicly available position statements that set out our position on a range of issues. We have, over a number of years, developed targeted position statements to help give certainty to consumers and their providers of the approaches we take to particular types of complaints that have been repeatedly reported to our office.
In early 2011, the TIO began a comprehensive review of these Position Statements to ensure they remain relevant and contain accurate, consistent and up-to-date information. We have consulted representatives of service providers and consumer groups to get feedback on how to make our Position Statements more accessible. The review is still under way and will be completed by early next year.
The tags by which the TIO describes and categorises the issues a consumer raises in a complaint are known as keywords. Keywords form the basis of our reporting about complaint issues. During 2010-11, the TIO introduced a number of new keywords after a review conducted over the course of the previous financial year.
The new keywords reflect new products and services while other existing ones were finetuned to reflect industry changes. Some of these keywords relate to complaints about: