Commission recommends improvements to telco dispute resolution scheme

The Commerce Commission has issued a final report recommending a range of improvements to the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Scheme (TDRS) so that it delivers better outcomes for consumers and the industry.

The service was created more than a decade ago by industry body the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum (TCF) to deal with complaints about mobile, internet, and landline services that consumers cannot resolve directly with their providers. This is the Commission’s first review of the service as required by changes to the Telecommunications Act in 2018.

Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson said that improvements are needed to raise the profile of the TDRS with consumers and lift its performance to best practice levels.  

“Given the high volume of consumer complaints in the sector, there has never been a greater need for an effective industry dispute resolution mechanism,” he said. “Our work shows however that most consumers have never heard of the scheme and, even if they have, they can find themselves locked out because many basic issues, including speed and performance problems, are currently excluded.”

Mr Gilbertson said that this results in fragmentation of complaints between the TDRS, the Commission, other government agencies, and organisations like Consumer NZ and Citizens Advice Bureau. 

“The final recommendations we’re issuing today are a blueprint for making the TDRS a ‘one stop shop’ for the fast and effective resolution of all key telco consumer complaints," he said. "They are designed to boost consumer awareness, address the problems that actually matter to consumers, lead to faster resolution of complaints, and improve the overall governance and independence of the scheme.”

Among the recommendations, the Commission has called for a significant number of changes to be made to the TDRS Customer Complaints Code to better align the service with consumer expectations, capture more retail service quality issues, improve the complaint handling process and reduce the time taken for disputes to be resolved. Retail service quality issues include customer service, fault service levels, installation issues, contract issues, product disclosure, billing, the switching process, service performance, speed and availability. 

The Commission has also asked for governance changes to ensure the TDRS is independent of the TCF and the retail and wholesale telecommunications providers that make up the TCF’s membership, and to establish and preserve clear lines of accountability. 

Mr Gilbertson said the Commission has phased its recommendations over the next two years so that changes that will make the biggest difference for consumers (such as increasing awareness of the scheme and removing barriers to accessing the scheme) are prioritised over other changes that are likely to take more time (such as governance-related changes to increase independence).

The final recommendations follow consultation with the sector and other interested parties, including consumers and consumer groups. The Commission published an open letter in October 2020 seeking views on the TDRS. In March 2021, the Commission outlined its approach to reviewing the service, followed by publishing an issues paper in April which outlined the issues it intended to explore. In August, the Commission released its draft recommendations, alongside an independent expert review of the service by consultancy cameron. ralph. khoury (CRK), for consultation.

The final recommendations and the timeline for the TCF to implement them are in the report on the Commission’s website.