Advocacy Groups Lodge "Freecall Super-Complaint"
Wednesday, 29th September 2010 at 4:55 pm
Three peak consumer advocacy groups have joined forces to lodge Australia’s first ever "super-complaint” over the cost of calling 1800 and 1300 numbers for mobile phones users.
The consumer groups, including the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), say that an eight-minute “freecall” on a mobile actually costs around $7.50.
In Australia the number of mobile phones now outnumbers the population with 24 million, compared to just 10 million landlines. But consumers who use a mobile phone to call any 13/1800 number – including vital government agencies, telecommunication and utility providers – are stung with a per-minute rate.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), the Australian Financial Counselling and Credit Reform Association (AFCCRA) and ACOSS are taking up the fight against the call costs.
They say that the regulation surrounding 1800 freecall and 13 numbers, which are free or the cost of a local call from a land line respectively, needs to be updated to reflect the growing number of people who only have access to a mobile phone.
The groups have united to produce a detailed “super complaint” on the issue which they have lodged with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, asking the regulator to thoroughly investigate and respond within 90 days.
Acting ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin says there is tremendous confusion among consumers as to how much these calls actually cost, because people wrongly assume that all calls to a 1300 or 1800 number are free.
She says the very reason that freecall numbers were introduced in 1997 was to remove the financial barrier for those contacting essential services. The equity it was meant to create has largely been eroded by regulation that hasn’t kept up with technology.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie says when money is tight every cent counts and for those on a low income, a mobile phone is a real lifeline.
She says ACOSS is concerned that the cost of calling freecall numbers may be deterring people from contacting vital government services.
Dr Goldie says that indigenous consumers subject to income management under the NT intervention are further disadvantaged as they have to call a “freecall” number to find out how much credit they have left available on their Basics Card used to purchase essential goods.
The groups have made a number of recommendations in their super-complaint, including changes to the Numbering Plan to include mobiles, changes to billing processes by the telcos or a technological change whereby a new number range could be created exclusively for mobiles, so people are still able to connect with essential and important services.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network is Australia's new communications consumer watchdog. ACCAN’s purpose is to improve consumer advocacy, undertake research and analysis from a consumer perspective and make the market work for communications consumers. The operation of ACCAN is made possible by funding provided by the Australian government.
The Australian Council of Social Service is the peak body of the community services and welfare sector and the national voice for the needs of people affected by poverty and inequality.
The Australian Financial Counselling and Credit Reform Association is the peak body for financial counsellors in Australia. Financial counsellors assist people in financial difficulty, providing information, support and advocacy. They work in community agencies and their services are free, confidential and independent.