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Offline overseas call centres prompt surge of complaints

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Australian internet customers being unable to contact their provider’s overseas call centres during pandemic shutdowns have prompted a big rise in the number of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

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The  ombudsman fielded 2000 complaints last financial year after customers were unable to contact their internet provider.

That was up a whopping 1500 per cent compared to the previous 12 months.

The ombudsman’s 2019-20 annual report, published on Wednesday, said the crisis had placed unusual pressure on offshore call centres in India and the Philippines from March to June, with many forced to close.

“This led to a rapid increase in the number of complaints from consumers who were unable to contact their provider,” ombudsman Judi Jones wrote.

It flowed on from difficulties arising from the summer bushfires, with complaints about not having a working phone or internet connection jumping by almost 70 per cent year-on-year over January to March.

“The bushfire and flood season highlighted the vulnerability of Australians living in regional, rural, and remote areas,” the ombudsman’s department said in a statement.

“For consumers impacted by natural disasters, not being connected to phone and internet meant exclusion from basic services and running a business.”

Overall, 127,151 complaints were referred to the telco ombudsman over the financial year to June 30 – down four per cent from 2018-19.

Mobile service complaints remained steady, but the bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic impacted internet and landline numbers over the final two quarters.

Although internet complaints fell by 0.7 per cent from 2018-19, it was still the most common source of customers’ ire and accounted for 33.7 per cent of all complaints.

That rose to 38.6 per cent over the final quarter as locked-down Australians became more dependent on their home internet connections.

The ombudsman said industry, government and regulators had responded, providing temporary financial relief and extra NBN capacity amid “unprecedented challenges”.

Despite increasingly reliant Australian consumers facing connection frustrations, she praised telcos for largely continuing to deliver services.

“The lessons learnt from the rollout of the NBN over the last three years has galvanised and matured Australia’s telecommunications sector,” she said.

“These lessons have strengthened the telco ecosystem with industry, government, regulators, advocates, and ombudsman, each playing a part to ensure continuity of service for consumers in the face of great change.

“But as this year’s events have shown us, there is always more work to do.”

-AAP

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