Southern Phone pays $244,000 penalty for inadequate complaints handling

Southern Phone Company Limited (Southern Phone), which is wholly owned by AGL Energy, has paid a $244,140 penalty for failing to adequately deal with customer complaints.

An Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigation found Southern Phone breached telecommunications complaint handling rules on 77 occasions between April and June 2023.

Under the Consumer Complaints Handling Standard, telcos are required to meet minimum standards and timeframes when managing complaints. If the telco does not believe it can meet the complaint resolution timeframes, it must notify the customer.

On 38 occasions Southern Phone failed to notify the customer of an expected delay or implement a resolution within the required ten working days for non-urgent complaints. The ACMA also found Southern Phone failed to keep adequate complaints handling records on 39 occasions.

ACMA member and consumer lead Samantha Yorke said telco customers have a right to expect their complaints will be actioned in a timely manner and be advised if there are delays.

“Efficient handling of customer complaints needs to be treated as a high priority for telcos. Southern Phone lacked the proper processes to manage these complaints and it needs to do better,” Ms Yorke said.

“Experiencing issues with your phone and internet can be frustrating, but to then have a complaint mismanaged by your service provider just exacerbates the problem.

“Telcos report receiving more than 2,500 complaints each day. While we have seen some recent improvement, this is still too high considering how fundamentally important these services are to consumers.

“Telcos need make a concerted effort to address the unacceptable level of complaints and the way they are being handled,” Ms Yorke said.

In addition to the financial penalty, Southern Phone has entered into a court-enforceable undertaking committing to an independent review of its compliance with complaints handling rules and to make improvements where needed.

The ACMA initiated its investigation following a review of Southern Phone’s complaints-handling performance. Telcos that supply more than 30,000 services must report to the ACMA on their complaint handling on a quarterly basis.

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