Tesltra has paid a $3 million penalty and will refund a total of $21.1 million to customers after it charged more than 6,500 accounts for inactive internet services.

An investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found impacted customers were wrongly charged an average of around $2,600 between April 2012 and August 2023. 

The telecommunications provider self-reported the issue to the communications watchdog and has apologised to affected customers.

“Telstra has a history of incorrectly billing customers and it’s just not good enough,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.

“Telstra is a major player in the Australian telco sector and it needs to continue to prioritise its billing compliance and get its systems in order.”

By wrongly charging customers, the majority of which were small businesses, the company breached both the Telecommunications Consumer Protections code and a formal ACMA direction to comply with the code.

It was formally ordered to comply with billing accuracy rules after it was found to have overcharged more than 10,000 customers by nearly $2.5 million in 2020. 

An additional 2022 investigation found it overcharged more than 11,000 around $1.7 million.

“Getting something as important as billing wrong isn’t acceptable, and this is clearly not the experience we want to be providing our customers,” Telstra global business services group executive Dean Salter said.

“We’ve reached out to our customers to explain what went wrong and what we’re doing to fix it, including refunding them for the incorrect charges with interest.”

The latest billing issues stemmed from the company’s failure to correctly deactivate ADSL services, some of which occurred when some customers migrated to the NBN.

Telstra has since implemented controls to stop the issue reoccurring, such as monthly checks that an ADSL service is in use before a customer is billed. 

“At a time when many small businesses are facing economic pressures, unaccounted costs can create very real stress and financial hardship,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

"All telcos must have robust billing systems in place to ensure that consumers, including small businesses, are only paying for agreed and active services.”

Telstra is said to have already refunded more than $17.7 million to thousands of impacted customers.

Another $3.4 million is expected to be returned by the end of the year. 

The ACMA has warned further contraventions of the billing accuracy rules could result in more drastic action, including Federal Court proceedings.

Image by James McTaggart on Unsplash.