This year, 35,000 fewer consumers made new complaints to the TIO. This is a reduction of 18 per cent from the previous year, and you need to go back five years to find a period when fewer new complaints were made to the TIO. In a telecommunications market where mobile services grew more than 30 per cent in five years, this is a marked turnaround.
My view is that this reduction can fairly be connected to a publicly-stated focus by telecommunications industry leaders to do better by their customers. Clear evidence is also emerging that the stronger rules in the 2012 Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code are working. Third, the regulatory focus on compliance with the new rules is having an effect.
We are also playing our role through drawing to service providers' attention the issues that are causing complaints. Resolving these quickly means fewer complaints.
These results make me cautiously optimistic. It is important to acknowledge that more than 158,000 new consumer disputes were still filed with the TIO. More than half of these included a customer service complaint about issues such as broken promises or wrong advice.
Most complaints were resolved through our "referral" process to specialist complaint handling teams or officers, which suggests that, too often, simple complaints are not resolved until the Ombudsman is involved.
There was a new challenge for my office this year: the emergence of enormous variations in demand for our service. While complaints were substantially reduced, the lowest volumes were in the first six months of the year. From September 2012 to February 2013, demand increased by 38 per cent. We have needed to adjust and refine our forecast and management models, and promote more flexibility in every part of the TIO.
This report is titled "An independent voice" to reflect our increased focus on providing expert information about issues that affect telco consumers. This year we include additional data analysis, more systemic case studies and more transparent reporting about our own performance. Our strategy is to continue to improve our reporting in the coming year.
Independent surveys of consumers and service providers about satisfaction with our service were very positive. More than 90 per cent of both groups confirmed they were satisfied with conciliations, with the clear majority extremely or very satisfied.
These results, and our other achievements in the past year, reflect well on the TIO's staff, management, Council and Board. All have my thanks and recognition for their outstanding contributions. Throughout this report we profile some of our award-winning staff, who every day demonstrate a commitment to our vision of delivering excellent dispute resolution services and improving the telecommunications industry.