BEN GRUBB April 12, 2012
Bill shock ... you can get your money back.
Mobile phone customers hit by "bill shock" have about a 95 per cent chance of successfully recovering most of their excess charges.
A recent study found bill shock was hitting nearly half of Australia's mobile phone users and costing the country more than $557 million a year. But it is fairly simple to avoid most such charges - about 60-70 per cent in most cases - if you put in the time to complain through the right channels.
Some firms, such as Perth company Financial Redress, offer to go in to battle with the telcos for you in exchange for a 25 per cent fee, but managing director James Middleweek said anyone could shave thousands off their bills on their own without using a firm such as his.
Mr Middleweek claims his company has recovered about $310,000 in the past year for about 296 Australian mobile phone users who suffered from bill shock.
His company deals with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and the telcos directly on behalf of customers. His general piece of advice for consumers was that they "should be persistent" with their telcos and "not get fobbed off".
Clients of his who successfully got refunds on their bills ranged from ones with a statement of a few hundred dollars to $8000, he said.
The highest refund a client received was $4000 and, in most cases, customers got back 60 to 70 per cent of what they claimed, Mr Middleweek said.
Useful links from consumer group ACCAN:
Customers either got their refund back in the form of a credit or in cash and the type of refund was usually dependant on whether the customer had paid the bill or not before they came to his company to fight it with their telco, Mr Middelweek said.
"People often don't know that they can get their money back," he said.
"But if you get money back it does beg the question why they are being charged these charges in the first place."
Mr Middleweek said 3793 had registered their interest in using his service over the past year. But only 350 followed through with sending their statements for his company to evaluate whether there was a credible case for a refund.
After his company looked through all 350 statements, it was deemed that 310 customers had a case against their telco, Mr Middleweek said. Of those 310, Mr Middelweek said his company was successfully able to retrieve a substantial amount of money back for 296 customers (about 95 per cent of those it was deemed had a credible case).
The average refund was $1050, he said, and his company had spent about one to six hours working on each case.
The 14 customers who did not get their money back were either repeat offenders (they had fought a bill in the past, for example, and not changed their plan to avoid further bill shock) or were attempting to fight a bill that was a couple of years old, Mr Middleweek said.
Speaking from experience, he said what amazed him was that, if you complained about a bill with charges you did not know how you accumulated, a chunk of the bill was usually refunded if you fought hard enough.
"You should get back a substantial amount of money," Mr Middleweek said.
He said many telcos did not make it easy for customers to track their mobile usage, which often led to them getting a large bill.
"If [telcos] have mechanisms - which I think most of them do now - to monitor your usage, the onus seems to be on the customer to find out about them. I know one or two companies who are better at it than others."
Another reason bill shock came about was from telcos deliberately confusing customers with the vast range of plans on offer, Mr Middleweek said, which has been described by others as "confusopoly".
"The telcos make a lot of money out of bill shock," he said. "And for everyone who complains about a two or three thousand dollar bill shock, how many people don't [complain] and just pay it when they shouldn't?"