Telstra will refund a total of $21 million to customers after the telco realised it had been charging people for ADSL services that were deactivated.

Already, Telstra has refunded $17.7 million to customers with another $3.4 million still to hit people’s pockets over the long running bill error.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said over 6,500 Telstra customers – most of which were small businesses – had been wrongfully billed for an average of $2,600 each over an 11-year period.

ACMA slapped Telstra with a $3 million fine for the breach.

“Telstra has a history of incorrectly billing customers and it’s just not good enough,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said in a statement.

“At a time when many small businesses are facing economic pressure, unaccounted costs create very real stress and financial hardship.”

The incorrect billing occurred as recently as August this year.

In a statement emailed to Information Age, Telstra’s executive of global business services at Telstra, Dean Salter said the company was sorry for its billing errors.

“These ADSL billing errors occurred because we didn’t follow the proper deactivation process, including when some customers migrated to the NBN, which resulted in some customers being charged for inactive services,” he said.

“We’ve reached out to our customers to explain what went wrong and what we’re doing to fix it, including refunding them for the incorrect charges with interest.

“We know our customers deserve better, which is why we reported the issue to ACMA and conducted our own extensive investigation. We have put new controls in place to prevent this issue from happening again, including monthly checks if ADSL services are being used by customers before they’re billed.”

Under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, telcos must be able to demonstrate their bills are accurate. In 2020, ACMA ordered Telstra comply with the industry code and prove the accuracy of its bills which led to the discovery of the latest discrepency.

“Telstra is a major player in the Australian telco sector and it needs to continue to prioritise its billing compliance and get its systems in order,” O’Loughlin said.

Telstra was also caught out for its poor billing practices in 2018 when the company faced a $10 million fine for its Premium Direct Billing service that charged customers for content – like games and ringtones – they never wanted.

Telstra refunded over 100,000 customers over the billing service which regulators warned didn’t adequately explain how people would be charged for using the service.