There was an “unacceptably high” increase in complaints by small businesses about their telco in the last quarter, with a vast increase in overall complaints, according to the Small Business Ombudsman.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman revealed this week that small business complaints about telcos increased by almost 30 per cent in the last quarter.

It marked the third consecutive quarter of growth in overall complaints, hitting 34,476.

More than 15 per cent of these complaints came from small businesses, the highest proportion and volume by SMEs in more than a year.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Judi Jones said the skyrocketing numbers of telco complaints by small businesses is concerning, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have said before the relationship between small businesses and their providers is vital to the businesses’ ongoing success,” Jones said.

“Any issues between a small business and their provider in the delivery of a service can have significant consequences and I urge the parties to work together on solutions.”

Too many Australian businesses are getting a “raw deal” from their phone and internet providers, Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell said.

“The number of small business complaints to the TIO are unacceptably high and telcos need to improve the small business customer experience as a matter of urgency,” Carnell said. “Clearly our telcos have a major problem when more than 5,500 small business customers have made complaints against their providers in the space of a few months.

“Phone and internet are essential to services to small businesses, particularly during the COVID crisis when so many Australian small businesses are working remotely and struggling to stay afloat.”

The largest portion of these complaints were regarding “multiple services” – bundled packages such as phone, landline and internet in one.

“This year has been incredibly difficult for small businesses and many have made huge efforts to digitise their business in order to survive,” Carnell said.

“It is critical telecommunications providers take greater steps to support their small business customers and to promptly assist when an issue arises.”

The Ombudsman found that complaints have increased across all of the top 10 issues reported to it, including being unable to contact a provider and business loss compensation, increasing 47 per cent and 42 per cent respectively.

“For the third quarter in a row we are seeing incremental growth in overall complaints,” Jones said.

“We are continuing to share the insights learned from our data with the telcos to improve the consumer experience.”

In light of the new report, the Consumer Action Law Centre and community legal centre WEstJustice called on the government to lift telco standards, saying the sector has failed to meet community expectations and has left families and businesses “high and dry in their time of need”.

“Consumer organisations regularly hear from people about their futile attempts to contact their telco provider,” Consumer Action Law Centre CEO Gerard Brody said.

“If they are able to get in touch, we have heard about shocking responses including flat-out refusals of requests for hardship assistance. The telco industry is largely self-regulated with lax rules and a hamstrung regulator.

“Australian families and small businesses are paying the price for the lack of safeguards and standards in this industry.”

Earlier this month the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman revealed that there has been a surge in complaints about call centres this year, with a 1,500 per cent year-on-year increase in complaints from customers that they could not contact internet providers when they needed help the most.