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The Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code is an industry code that sets out rules and benchmarks for how telcos must deal with their customers. It protects customers who use mobile phone, landline and internet services, including the NBN.

Sales, advertising, customer service, contracts, billing, credit and debt management, financial hardship arrangements and switching telcos are all covered under the TCP Code.

The TCP Code has been around since 2007 and is reviewed at least every 5 years.

What does it mean for you?

The TCP Code plays a huge role in ensuring that telcos are treating their customers fairly. It is a key part of the consumer protection framework for the telecommunications industry.

Not only does it set out your rights and entitlements when dealing with your telco provider, it also sets performance measures that they must adhere to.

Under the TCP Code, telcos must:

  • Speak plainly and clearly with customers
  •  Sell phone and internet products in a way that’s fair, transparent, responsible and accurate
  • Explain the key terms, conditions and costs of the product to the customer
  •  Deal with customer enquiries in a timely and effective manner
  • Interact with disadvantaged and vulnerable people ‘appropriately’
  • Keep records about customer service interactions

All telcos who provide services to customers in Australia are bound to the TCP Code. If your provider isn’t acting in a way that’s consistent with the TCP Code, you have the right to complain. You should always complain to your telco first, as they must follow certain processes to address your complaint.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigates providers that breach the TCP Code rules and can distribute fines or warnings. Telcos are also subject to enforcement action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

What's changed since the last review?

According to the recent ‘Investigating Complaints about Essential Mobile Services’ report from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), mis-selling practices, information asymmetry, inaccessible customer self-service arrangements and automatic payment methods are continuing to cause problems for Australian consumers.

The TIO reports that they received more than 3,500 complaints about misleading conduct from telcos between July 2020 and March 2022. Furthermore, the TIO has said that customers are frustrated by a lack of consistent, clear or helpful information from their provider when their network goes down.

To make sure that the TCP Code accurately reflects the issues that are affecting Australian consumers today, as well as current market offers and trends, the ACMA periodically reviews the TCP Code.

The last review of the TCP Code took place in 2019. Some of the changes that were made then include:

  • Tightening of rules about staff training for telcos
  • Compulsory participation in Communications Alliance’s Complaints in Context Reporting for some telcos
  • The introduction of new rules around when a credit assessment needs to be undertaken
  • Improved financial hardship arrangements
  • The need for telcos with an existing website to ‘have regard to’ Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and for new websites to comply with the guidelines.

However, ACCAN has said that these rules still don’t offer enough protection for consumers. We’d like to see improvements on the accessibility front, as well as better financial hardship policies and explicit obligations to reduce wait times for customer service. Indeed, it is ACCAN's view that a directly regulated Telecommunications Consumer Protections Framework must be established, to regulate issues related to consumer choice, competition, fairness, and managing access to services. For more information about the limitations of the TCP Code, visit our Consumer Safeguards Review Part C submission.

What will be discussed at the ACCANect 2022 Annual Conference?

The 2024 review of this Code is fast approaching, and consumer advocates are starting to turn their attention to how the TCP Code can be strengthened to better meet the needs of consumers.

In a panel discussion about the review, Consumer Action Law Centre, Financial Counselling Australia, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network, and NSW Farmers will provide their thoughts to ACCAN's CEO Andrew Williams on what needs to be included in the TCP Code review to make the communications market fairer for all consumers.

To register to watch this session, visit our conference website, or check the program for more information. 


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