Telstra forced to reimburse customers $1.73 million over billing errors

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

Telstra was forced to refund thousands of customers a total of $1.73 million after overcharging them, according to investigations by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The telecommunications giant was also fined $506,160 by the ACMA for failing to comply with previous instructions from the regulator.

Its investigation found that Telstra had issued inaccurate bills to more than 11,600 customers, including 4,400 who had received incorrect bills, despite the ACMA giving the company a formal instruction to comply with accuracy rules of invoicing.

It came after the ACMA ordered Telstra to comply with billing accuracy obligations after a 2020 investigation showed it had overcharged more than 10,000 customers by nearly 2.5 million dollars over a 12-year period.

Nerida O’Loughlin, chair of the ACMA, said the infringement notice was issued because Telstra was not complying with the 2020 directive.

“Telstra had already been formally ordered by the ACMA to comply with billing rules, so it should have acted to resolve these issues and not further inconvenience its customers,” she said.

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

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

More than 8,000 affected Telstra customers were collectively billed over $1.2 million for Belong-branded broadband services after moving to another telecom operator, with some even being billed more than once.

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

Telstra reported the errors, which occurred between July 2018 and October 2021, to the ACMA and has independently committed to issuing refunds.

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

These included a data transfer issue between its CRM system and billing system, manual processing errors and outdated employee instructions.

“Telstra is Australia’s largest telecommunications company. 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 Protection (TCP) Code, telecommunications operators must be able to verify and demonstrate that the charges billed are accurate.

Further breaches of the order to comply could result in the ACMA taking Telstra to court in federal court.

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