The communications watchdog has formally warned Optus over its poor handling of an IT error which caused more than 237,000 customers to be billed for a voicemail transcription service they didn’t request.
The error, which dated back to April 2009, was discovered in July 2012 and not resolved until September, even though Optus began receiving complaints from at least October 2011 “and most likely even earlier”, an Australian Communications and Media Authority report says.
ACMA said Optus’s sluggishness in identifying and resolving the issue contravened the telco industry’s consumer protection code.
The error caused the telco to accidentally charge postpaid mobile and small business customers for a service called SurePage – a voicemail alternative which diverts unanswered calls to an operator, who relays a message via SMS.
According to Optus’s website, users are charged $1.20 each time the operator takes a call.
The telco went public with the error in October, issuing a public apology and pledging to refund about the $8.8 million it accrued as a result.
About 30,000 customers will receive refunds of more than $100 and a further 30,000 will be refunded between $50 and $100.The remaining 175,000 will receive refunds below $50.
An Optus representative said on Thursday the majority of affected customers have already received compensation, with the remainder scheduled to receive it by the end of March.
According to ACMA’s report, 2600 customers were overcharged up to July 2011.
Complaints accelerated thereafter, with an additional 235,000 up to 30 September 2012, when the glitch was fixed.
ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman praised Optus’s “constructive engagement” with the investigation and the proactive move to compensate affected customers.
The decision to issue a formal warning is in line with action taken against Telstra in September when it was found to have incorrectly billed international data roaming customers.
Teresa Corbin, chief of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, urged any Optus customers who believe they were overcharged but haven’t been contacted to get in touch with Optus.
She said ACCAN research had found that about one in five customers receive unexpected charges, about half of whom do nothing about it.