Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman: 2013 - 2014 Annual Report
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Protecting vulnerable consumers

We stopped a company from taking money out of vulnerable consumers’ Centrelink payments in February 2013.

Centrepay, a government service that allows consumers to pay bills from their Centrelink entitlements, cancelled a contract with Excite 2011 following a TIO systemic investigation. This will stop Excite 2011 from deducting money from disadvantaged or vulnerable consumers who may have been unable to pay for the services in the first place.

Issues raised by consumers

More than 100 customers of Excite 2011 made a complaint to us about unusual direct debits to their accounts from May 2011. Some of the common issues they told us were:

  • money was taken from their bank accounts or Centrelink benefits without their permission
  • they were not given the chance to check the charges as Excite did not send them invoices, and
  • they were no longer customers of Excite 2011.

What we did

Our Industry Improvement team investigated Excite 2011’s practices, and we raised our concerns with the company in October 2011. Excite did not respond to our concerns, and did not take any action to stop the issues.

We referred the case to the Australian Communications and Media Authority in March 2012. We also alerted the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which referred the issue to Victoria Police.

In February 2013, we alerted the federal Department of Human Services about the issue. As a result, Centrepay, which is run by the department, cancelled the contract that allowed Excite to direct debit consumers’ Centrelink payments.

We have not received complaints about this issue since May 2013.