Exetel initiates legal action against telco ombudsman

The procedures used by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) to deal with customer complaints could soon be scrutinised by the Federal Court, after telco Exetel served the ombudsman with a statement of claim, alleging a number of breaches.

Exetel is seeking damages for losses incurred as a result of alleged breaches in the way the TIO investigated customer complaints and enforced financial undertakings, according to a statement of claim issued on 12 October to lawyers representing the ombudsman.

The telco has also demanded the TIO cease the behaviour which led to the alleged breaches of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Services Standards) Act, breach of contract and also breach of duty of care.

The statement of claim - viewed by Computerworld Australia - said the TIO has 14 days to respond to the claims after that Exetel’s lawyers can file the action with the courts.

A spokeswoman for the TIO declined the opportunity to comment for this article, and said that “as the TIO is in communication with Exetel’s lawyers, we cannot comment at this time”.

Exetel chief executive, John Linton, has previously said the dispute over costs and the complaints handling function was raised almost nine months ago and legal proceedings would be initiated if a satisfactory resolution could not be reached.

The statement of claim alleged the TIO breached section 128 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Services Standards) Act, which specifies the type of complaints that can be investigated. It is alleged that the TIO investigated complaints which do not concern services provided by Exetel, including complaints which relate to an end user’s privately owned equipment.

It also claimed the TIO had committed multiple breaches of its own constitution - governing the manner in which complaints are investigated - including allegations Exetel wasn’t given a reasonable opportunity to respond to a customer complaint, the TIO investigated complaints outside its jurisdiction, the TIO accepted hypothetical complaints, and the TIO declining to investigate complaints that were “frivolous”, “vexatious” or “not made in good faith”.

There are also alleged breaches of section 140 of the Corporations Act 2001 because Exetel was over-charged for volume related costs and operating costs, which include cases where a complaint was not correctly categorised, as well as a complaint registered as an enquiry.

Exetel is seeking loss and damages for the alleged breaches of contract, the over-charging of volume related costs and operating costs, and also legal costs.

The TIO accepts and investigates complaints lodged by customers of telcos, and it can enforce undertakings, including financial payments for associated costs for the investigations.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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