The Commerce Commission is recommending a raft of improvements to the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Scheme (TDRS), including independence from carrier group the Telecommunications Carriers' Forum (TCF).
Telecommunications commissioner Tristan Gilbertson said improvements were needed to raise the profile of the TDRS with consumers and lift its performance.
“Given the high volume of consumer complaints in the sector, there has never been a greater need for an effective industry dispute resolution mechanism,” he said.
“Our work shows however that most consumers have never heard of the scheme and, even if they have, they can find themselves locked out because many basic issues, including speed and performance problems, are currently excluded.”
The commission is also seeking governance changes to establish and preserve clear lines of accountability by ensuring the TDRS is independent of the TCF and the retail and wholesale telecommunications providers that make up its membership.
TCF chief executive Paul Brislen said work had already begun a programme to upgrade the disputes scheme so it continued to meet the needs of the consumers.
“Currently, consumers are given contradictory messages about who to contact if they have issues with their provider. We want to make these processes as clear as possible for consumers and we support the commission’s view about having a one-stop shop for consumers to resolve their complaints,” he said
The number of complaints received by the TDRS had grown on average by 14 per cent year on year, Brislen said. In 2019/20, it resolved 2812 complaints and enquiries.
The industry had also changed since the TDRS' inception and consumers now saw telecommunications as an essential service, he said. The scheme had to be fit for purpose.
The TDRS was created more than a decade ago by industry body the TCF to deal with complaints about mobile, internet and landline services that consumers cannot resolve with their providers. This is the Commission’s first review of the service, which was required by changes to the Telecommunications Act in 2018.
Gilbertson said the existing structure resulted in fragmentation of complaints between the TDRS, the commission, other government agencies, and organisations such as Consumer NZ and Citizens Advice Bureau.
“The final recommendations we’re issuing today are a blueprint for making the TDRS a ‘one-stop-shop’ for the fast and effective resolution of all key telco consumer complaints," he said.
"They are designed to boost consumer awareness, address the problems that actually matter to consumers, lead to faster resolution of complaints, and improve the overall governance and independence of the scheme.”
Among the recommendations, the Commission has called for a significant number of changes to be made to the TDRS Customer Complaints Code to better align the service with consumer expectations, capture more retail service quality issues, improve the complaint handling process and reduce the time taken for disputes to be resolved.
The commission has phased its recommendations over the next two years so that changes that will make the biggest difference for consumers were prioritised over other changes that are likely to take more time.
After consultations, the commission released its draft recommendations in August, alongside an independent expert review of the service by consultancy Cameron. Ralph. Khoury (CRK), for consultation.