Telstra forced to repay customers $1.73m for billing errors

The issue could have “caused considerable strain and distress” for thousands of customers who were overcharged, despite the company being previously warned.

Telstra has been forced to repay thousands of customers a total of $1.73 million after overcharging them, investigations by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found.

The telecommunications giant has also copped a $506,160 fine from the ACMA for failure to follow previous directions from the regulator.

Its investigation found Telstra issued inaccurate bills to more than 11,600 customers, including 4400 who were given incorrect bills, despite the ACMA issuing the company with a formal direction to comply with billing accuracy rules.

It came after the ACMA had directed Telstra to comply with billing accuracy obligations after an investigation in 2020 showed it had overcharged more than 10,000 customers almost $2.5 million over a 12 year period.

Nerida O’Loughlin, ACMA chair, said the infringement notice was issued as a result of Telstra not complying with the 2020 direction.

“Telstra had already been formally directed by the ACMA to comply with billing rules so should have moved to address these issues and not inconvenienced its customers further,” she said.

“At a time when Australians are being very careful with their budgets, these errors are particularly concerning as they could have caused considerable strain and distress.

“Telecommunications is an essential service for Australian households and businesses, and there are no excuses for overcharging customers.”

Over 8000 affected Telstra customers were collectively charged more than $1.2 million for Belong-branded broadband services after they had moved to another telco with some even billed more than once.

Other Telstra customers were charged internet plan set-up fees that no longer applied or were overcharged for other phone services.

Telstra self-reported the errors, which occurred between July 2018 and October 2021, to the ACMA and independently committed to issue refunds.

Telstra said the errors occurred due to several issues with its internal systems.

These included a data transfer problem between its customer relationship management system and its billing system, manual processing errors, and out-of-date employee instructions.

“Telstra is the largest telecommunications company in Australia. I would expect its billing systems to be more sophisticated and compliant with industry-wide consumer protection rules,” Ms O’Loughlin added.

Under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, telcos must be able to verify and demonstrate that billed charges are accurate.

Further contraventions of the direction to comply could lead to the ACMA commencing proceedings against Telstra in the Federal Court.

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