If you are a telecommunications service provider in Australia and your customers are forced to complain to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman or TIO (the nation’s telco watchdog) for resolution, you can expect to receive a bill for your troubles.  And it’s proving a great way to make money – for the government!

This year, the TIO helped more than 200,000 Australians, up 60% from 125,000 last year. It answered almost 300,000 telephone calls, and 57,000 letters and emails from consumers and small businesses Australia wide.

It dealt with a 54% increase in complaints to 230,000. A total of 90% of these complaints, 208,000, were resolved with a referral back to the service provider. For the first time, more people complained about their mobile phone service than their landlines.

This proved to a bumper year for the TIO as it invoiced Telstra over AU$14 million (US$13m) and its Big Pond subsidiary an additional AU$3 million for complaint handling fees. Optus was invoiced for a total of AU$4.1 million in complaint handling fees, AAPT $563,547 and iiNet just $137,906.

Most concerning was that there was a “dramatic increase” in complaints to do with billing, customer service and credit management. Billing and payments accounted for the highest number of complaints (rising 115% since last year). In that category, 37.8% of complaints revolved around disputed usage charges such as internet usage charges, unidentified charges on bills, and timed call charges that should have been incorporated into capped plans.

More than 50% of complaints in this category were about carriers failing to action undertakings; “for example, failing to send out copies of bills despite promising to do so several times,” the report said.

I wonder if moving to eBilling would help?