Optus is refunding 994 small- and medium-sized businesses a total of $788,609 after it breached telco billing rules by charging them for landline services they did not receive.
An Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigation found Optus continued to bill these customers after they had transferred their service to other providers.
The errors occurred between February 2011 and March 2021, at which point the company self-reported the matter to the ACMA and independently committed to issue refunds.
Optus advised that the issue occurred due to incorrect billing end-dates being entered into its system for customers transferring to other telcos.
ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said billing accuracy is a major concern for consumers, including small business.
“Errors like these by Optus can have a big impact on small business. Fifteen of these customers were charged more than $10,000, which can be a huge amount for a small business to lose.
“Optus is the second largest telecommunications company in Australia and should have systems in place to ensure it complies with all relevant regulation. It is alarming and unacceptable that such a fundamental flaw went undetected in Optus’s systems for so long,” Ms O’Loughlin said.
“We are closely monitoring Optus to ensure it refunds all affected customers and takes action to reduce the risk of future billing errors.”
Under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, telcos must be able to demonstrate that charges on their bills are valid. In this case, the Optus charges weren’t valid because the company was no longer providing these services to the affected customers.
Following the investigation, the ACMA has formally directed Optus to comply with the TCP Code.
Any further non-compliance could lead to significant consequences, with penalties of up to $250,000 for failure to comply with the ACMA direction.
Optus has contacted all affected customers and to date repaid 98 per cent of the charges plus interest. The company is also reporting back to the ACMA regularly on its refunding program.