Optus outage drives spike in telco customer complaints

Maeve Bannister |

The Optus outage was behind an influx of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
The Optus outage was behind an influx of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

An Optus network outage that left millions without phone and internet service sparked a flurry of complaints to the industry watchdog as customers sought credits, discounts and an apology. 

Consumers lodged 14,671 complaints between October and December 2023, an increase of more than 13 per cent compared with the previous quarter.

But the data collected by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman also showed complaints dropped nearly 18 per cent compared with the same period in 2022.

The Optus outage in November, which left more than 10 million customers without phone and internet access for up to 14 hours, was behind an influx of complaints.

The watchdog received more than 900 complaints about the incident, 20 per cent of which were from small businesses.

Complaints included financial losses, termination fees and a lack of or delayed action by the telco giant. 

As reparation, most customers sought credits, refunded or discounted services, financial compensation or an apology.

“For some people, the offer of free data to compensate for a full day outage is fair and reasonable,” ombudsman Cynthia Gebert said.

“But businesses who lost profit, people who couldn’t call triple zero, or who experienced other significant losses told us that free data is not enough.”

Despite the outage experienced by its main competitor, 36.8 per cent of all complaints in the past quarter were about Telstra, compared with 31.4 per cent about Optus. 

Nine of the top 10 providers recorded an increase in complaints.

Only Southern Phone registered a decrease of nearly 29 per cent, from 294 complaints to 209.

Customer service issues and problems with bills continued to be the top reasons for consumers contacting the ombudsman.  

But the biggest increase in complaints related to delays in establishing a service, particularly from Queensland customers in Moreton Bay, Logan and on the Gold Coast.

More than 450 people also contacted the ombudsman about financial hardship or repayment arrangements.