The TIO is one of Australia’s best known and arguably most influential Ombudsman schemes. Over many years it has built a high level of awareness and credibility and contributed to better consumer outcomes in a critical sector that continues to grow in importance for all Australians.
Our review is set against that background of success. We apologise in advance if our commentary forgets some of these successes as it inevitably focuses on areas open to improvement.
The review found:
1. A large scale, high volume complaints scheme with considerable accumulated skill in handling the unique nature of consumer complaints in the telecommunications sector.
2. High levels of support for the organisation from most stakeholder groups.
3. Some criticism of TIO process – that is in part due to a lack of understanding of how an ombudsman must operate, particularly in a high volume environment, in part because of a lack of visibility of how the TIO actually operates and in part, valid suggestions for improvement .
4. A fee structure that is generating quite some aggravation – in particular for small telecommunications providers – putting some pressure to relieve this aggravation on the funding review that is currently underway.
5. An organisation that has been put under some internal pressure as a result of the need to scale down in size over a few years – and scale back up again more recently. That period of downsizing coincided with pressure from industry for TIO to also scale back its activity regarded as ‘non-core’ (policy, awareness, consumer engagement, etc).
6. An organisation that has adjusted its operating stance in recent times – sometimes rethinking an approach, sometimes a temporary adjustment, sometimes in response to external forces – which has triggered some concerns from key stakeholders. These concerns are not that the TIO is currently failing in some significant way. However, to the extent that these stakeholders see these directions as the TIO ‘withdrawing’ from its broader role, from active engagement with stakeholders, from contributing to the co-regulatory framework, from leveraging its knowledge for continuous improvement - they are not comfortable with the directions signalled by these adjustments and would be significantly more concerned if the direction is maintained.
7. While some stakeholders continue to argue for the TIO to ‘stick to complaintshandling’ and keep focusing on lowering costs, many stakeholders are asking for more transparency, better reporting, greater engagement, continuing contribution to coregulation and policy and a more proactive role in systemic improvement of outcomes in the sector.