TIO Media Release - Small businesses experience growing share of phone and internet complaints
Between October and December 2020, residential consumers and small businesses made 30,564 complaints about phone and internet services. This is a decrease of 11.2 per cent compared to the previous quarter. However, the seasonal comparison shows a 5.7 per cent increase when comparing July to December 2020 against the same period in the previous year
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman's Quarter 2 (Q2) 2020-21 Complaints Report shows while the number of complaints from small businesses decreased compared to the previous quarter, the proportion increased to 17 per cent of total complaints. This is the highest proportion of phone and internet complaints from small businesses in the last five quarters.
Problems with phone and internet services can hit hard for small business owners. Phone and internet problems often cost small businesses more than just the wait time. Last quarter, small businesses made over 400 complaints in which they claimed compensation for business losses.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman has developed tips to help small businesses stay connected to phone and internet services, and reduce common problems:
Make it easy for your provider to organise a new connection
Sign up to products that meet your business needs
Develop a back up plan to avoid financial loss
Remember we are here to help. If you and your telco can't work it out together, contact us on 1800 062 058 or lodge a complaint online.
Visit the TIO website for information on help available for small businesses www.tio.com.au
Fines Enforcement and Recovery Unit initiative for vulnerable clients
The Fines Enforcement and Recovery Unit recently met with the South Australian Financial Counsellors Association to discuss the initiatives - including non-monetary resolutions - it has in place to help vulnerable clients or clients in hardship to resolve their fines. Some of these initiatives include Community Service Arrangements and Approved Treatment Programs (ATPs), of which ATPs are relatively new provisions in the legislation. The discussion also covered the unit's response to COVID-19 and the importance placed on having respectful conversations with clients.
Let's start by exploring ATPs. This provision in our legislation allows a client to resolve their eligible fines debt by accessing an approved treatment programs for alcohol and/or drug substance dependence. Their eligible debt can be waived at a rate of $200 per day or $1000 per week in return for their participation or completion of an ATP. ATPs are defined as drug and/or alcohol counselling services, which are delivered by SA Health, funded by SA Health, or funded by the Commonwealth Government.
Although the ATP initiative is still fairly new, it has already delivered positive results. In fact, more than $1 million has been resolved for clients who have participated in or completed an ATP over the last 12 months.
This is a valuable option for those who may need support for substance dependence and also find themselves in a situation where they do not have the capacity to pay their fines.
The meeting also touched on the investment we've made over the past year in further enhancing the respectful, supportive and empathetic conversations we have with our clients. We understand each client's circumstances may be different and as always, we want to make sure we are having the right conversations to ensure we can get a positive resolution for both the client and the unit. Our key aim with our changed approach to clients is to engage with the unit to enable us to help them resolve their debts. We have many payment options, and clients can make a payment, submit an enquiry, add a fine to an existing arrangement or request a review of enforcement. This can all be done on our payment portal at https://myfines.sa.gov.au/OnlineFines/
Turning to the current worldwide pandemic now, it's clear it has affected many South Australians in different ways. Whether the impact was financial or health related, it was - and still is - a challenge we are all facing. At the Fines Unit, our clients (especially those who are vulnerable) were front of mind as soon as the COVID-19 situation evolved. A flyer was issued with all notices encouraging clients to get in touch if they had been impacted and which included information on www.fines.sa.gov.au urging them to touch base with the unit if they were experiencing hardship. We also stopped all enforcement actions during the height of the pandemic.
As South Australians enter a state of a new 'COVID-normal', we are closely monitoring the situation and will continue to consider the potential impacts on all clients.
We look forward to collaborating further with the financial counsellors sector in 2021 to continue the positive outcomes we have achieved together for our vulnerable clients.
It has been almost three years since several of our clients courageously took a stand to appear before the Banking Royal Commission. They did this knowing it wouldn't be easy, that they and their story would be scrutinised and called into question. However, they did it in the hope they would play a part in preventing the harm they experienced from happening to anyone else.
Today marks two years since the final report of the Banking Royal Commission was handed to the Government the very first recommendation of which stated that our safe lending laws should remain intact.
This is why it is so deeply insulting to our clients that right now the Federal Government is attempting to repeal these laws in direct contradiction of the Royal Commission recommendations.
Many of you already wrote to your federal MP to voice your concern about this proposal. Since then, more than 25,000 organisations and individuals have signed an open letter in support of saving our safe lending laws.
Will you add your name to the open letter before the Senate votes on the Government's proposal to scrap our safe lending laws?
Of course, our clients weren't the only ones harmed by irresponsible lenders. As community lawyers and financial counsellors, we hear countless stories of people struggling with the long-term impacts of unaffordable debt. People who are skipping meals for fear of falling behind in repayments. People who are too ashamed to tell their family just how much debt they're in. And some who are facing the prospect of homelessness.
We need Parliament to know that these experiences will become far more frequent unless they vote to save safe lending laws.
Can you add your name to the open letter calling on Parliament to save our critical safe lending laws?
Right now, the proposal to scrap safe lending laws is before a Senate Committee tasked with reviewing it by March this year. After the Committee reports back, it could be just a matter of days before it goes to a vote in the Senate.
We genuinely believe we can stop this in its tracks, but we need as much support as we can get. So please add your name to the letter today and share it with everyone you know.
Yours in hope,
Campaigns & Advocacy Adviser
Consumer Action Law Centre