ACMA rings up $244,000 penalty for Southern Phone

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Source: Unsplash/ Priscilla Du Preez

Southern Phone Company Limited has been fined $244,140 for failing to adequately manage customer complaints. An investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that Southern Phone breached telecommunications complaint handling regulations on 77 occasions between April and June 2023.

According to ACMA, Southern Phone failed to notify a customer of delays or implement a resolution within ten working days on 38 occasions. The media watchdog also found in its investigation that the company didn’t keep adequate complaint-handling records on 39 separate occasions.

Southern Phone’s under-resourcing

SmartCompany understands that Southern Phone cooperated with the investigation and accepted ACMA’s findings.

Southern Phone is said to have experienced resourcing issues during the first half of 2023. As a result, it didn’t have the systems and processes in place to prevent the breach of ACMA’s rules.

Since then, the company has changed its system to better track complaints, as well as provided additional training to staff.

In addition to the financial penalty, Southern Phone has agreed to a court-enforceable undertaking that includes an independent review of its compliance with complaints handling rules and the implementation of necessary improvements.

“Southern Phone company acknowledges the findings from an investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regarding Q2 of 2023,” a Southern Phone spokesperson said to SmartCompany.

“Since that investigation, it has made a number of improvements including implementing changes to its IT systems.  It has also paid infringement notices and provided an undertaking to the ACMA setting out remedial actions and steps as to its systems, processes and practices for achieving compliance going forward.”

ACMA’s investigation followed a review of the Southern Phone’s complaint-handling performance. In Australia, telco companies that provide more than 30,000 services are required to report their complaint-handling practices to ACMA quarterly.

“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,” ACMA member and consumer lead, Samantha Yorke, said in a statement.

“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.”

Yorke also stated that Australian telcos report receiving over 2,500 complaints a day, which ACMA considers to be too high for essential services.

ACMA’s 2022-23 complaints data also showed that complaints increased by 2.3% compared to the previous year.

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

Southern Phone certainly hasn’t been the only telco to come under ACMA’s scrutiny recently. In 2023 Telstra was fined $3 million for charging people with inactive internet services over 11 years.

Separately, it also paid a $300,000 infringement notice for not providing accurate details for people on the Public Number Database (IPND). This database is used by Triple Zero to find people as well as by the Emergency Alert Service to warn Australians in emergency situations such as bush fires.

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