Telstra has refunded customers more than A$1.73 million ($1.3 million) and paid a A$506,160 infringement notice after an investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that the telco overcharged even more customers than initially thought.
The ACMA investigation was a follow-up of its 2020 probe in which it found Telstra had overcharged more than 10,000 customers almost A$2.5 million over a 12-year period. At the time, the ACMA directed Telstra to comply with billing accuracy obligations.
However, the new investigation revealed that Telstra issued inaccurate bills to more than 11,600 additional customers, including 4,400 who were given incorrect bills after the ACMA had issued Telstra the formal direction to comply with billing accuracy rules.
ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the infringement notice was issued because Telstra didn’t complying with the 2020 direction.
“Telstra had already been formally directed by the ACMA to comply with billing rules so should have moved to address these issues and not inconvenienced its customers further,” Ms O’Loughlin said. “At a time when Australians are being very careful with their budgets, these errors are particularly concerning as they could have caused considerable strain and distress.
O’Loughlin added that “there are no excuses for overcharging customers.”
According to the ACMA, over 8,000 affected Telstra customers were collectively charged more than A$1.2 million for “Belong” broadband services after they had moved to another telco. Some were billed more than once. Other Telstra customers were charged internet plan set-up fees that no longer applied or were overcharged for other phone services.
The ACMA noted that Telstra itself reported the errors (which occurred between July 2018 and October 2021) to the ACMA and independently promised to issue refunds.
Telstra attributed the errors to problems with its internal systems, including a data transfer problem between its CRM system and its billing system, manual processing errors, and out-of-date employee instructions.
O’Loughlin commented: “Telstra is the largest telecommunications company in Australia. I would expect its billing systems to be more sophisticated and compliant with industry-wide consumer protection rules.”
The ACMA added that it will bring the matter to the federal court system if Telstra continues to contravene the rules and bill customers incorrectly.