Fewer complaints were made about telco services in the last financial year, new data from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) shows – but it’s not all good news as more frustrated customers are appealing to the Ombudsman for help.

Telcos reported a marked decline in the total number of irate customers in the 2020-21 reporting period, with the figure dropping 18 per cent from over 1.3 million in 2019-20 to under 1.1 million last year.

The industry overall averaged 63 complaints per 100,000 services offered, a decline on the previous year.

ACMA was quick to point out, however, that the raw decrease in complaint numbers is somewhat offset by a rise in the length of time it takes for disputes to be resolved.

“The time taken to resolve complaints is going in the wrong direction and one million complaints a year is still far too many,” ACMA Authority Member Fiona Cameron said.

“With so many people working from home due to COVID restrictions, it is more important than ever that telcos prioritise fixing problems and we are looking to industry to improve in this area.”

Of the 32 telcos operating in Australia, 14 of them averaged taking between two and four days to resolve a customer complaint, 12 took between four and eight days, and two took an average of 10 to 12 days to fix their customers’ problems.

The slowest telco took an average of 20 days to resolve a customer complaint – an outlier to be sure, but still concerning for an industry that provides invaluable services around the country.

Another number that worried ACMA is the amount of complaints escalated to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, a sure sign that internal complaints mechanisms at some telcos aren’t up to scratch.

Since 2018-19, the proportion of complaints that customers are taking to the Ombudsman has grown by three percentage points, an increase that Cameron says simply isn’t good enough.

“This suggests that some telcos are not handling complaints at all well, and other smaller telcos are in fact not recording complaints at all,” she said.

“Seven smaller telcos have absurdly high escalation rates, just above 50 per cent, which indicates that some complaints are not being recorded in the first place and only being logged when escalated to the TIO.”

Regional areas are another area of concern for Australia’s telecommunications regulators with the TIO this week releasing its submission to the 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review.

That submission noted complaints from people outside metropolitan areas who say they were given incorrect or misleading advice about the availability of mobile services in their area.

Ombudsman Judi Jones said people in regional Australia deserved better access to vital telecommunications services.

“Regional communities face unique challenges in having a fault repaired or being able to access an alternative service,” she said.

“They also face a greater risk in natural disasters, such as bushfires and floods, where reliable telco services play a critical role in co-ordinating disaster response and recovery.

“Providing better access to information about available services could allow consumers to make more informed decisions, encourage competition, and bridge the telco divide between metropolitan and regional, rural and remote Australia.”