Consumer Protection in the Communications Industry: Moving to best practice - Issues Paper (July 2008)

2.4. Dispute resolution

The legislation permits codes to confer power on the TIO to handle customer complaints about breaches of the code, and this has become a standard part of the code regime. Other arrangements are in place for disputes between industry members (not discussed in this paper).

The TIO will usually consent to deal with Consumer Codes only. However, it may also deal with operational/network codes if it believes this will improve consumer protection.[15]

The operation of the TIO has been the subject of detailed review and reform. We do not believe that all relevant issues have yet been addressed – for example in relation to TIO governance – however these issues are not the subject of this paper. Overall, the TIO plays a similar role to independent External Dispute Resolution providers in certain other industry sectors (notable financial services and energy) – allowing routine complaints to be handled quickly without charge to the consumer.

A more innovative approach to complaints in the telecommunications sector may also be required, particularly in relation to systemic problems. Consumer stakeholders in Australia are currently advocating for the introduction of a super-complaints model – similar to the model operating in the UK. Super-complaints are made by designated consumer bodies to consumer regulators, who must make a considered response within 90 days to properly investigated complaints.[16]

The super-complaint mechanism is not intended for complaints about matters that can be handled directly by existing enforcement powers or complaints resolution agencies, particularly single-firm conduct. In that regard super-complaints would neither replace nor crowd-out standard complaint processes in the telecommunications sector. Instead, the super-complaint mechanism enables consumer groups to bring to the attention of the regulator market features harming the interests of consumers. Super complaints are also relevant to code compliance monitoring, and could play a useful role in identifying the failure of specific codes of conduct.

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[16] CHOICE, Submission by CHOICE to the Productivity Commission Review of Consumer Policy Framework, February 2008, pages 10–11, <>; Joint Consumer Groups, Model Consumer Submission in Response to Productivity Commission Draft Report on Australia’s Consumer Policy Framework, March 2008, pages 21–23, <>.