Whether it’s from incorrect billing, unexpected costs or unfulfilled promises, we’ve all had our hair-pulling moments with telecommunications companies. But in one telco’s case, a federal court judge has actually ruled its behaviour as “unconscionable”.
Sydney-based Harrison Telecommunications, better known as SoleNet and Sure Telecom, was found yesterday in the Federal Court in Melbourne to be demanding early termination or cancellation fees from customers after transferring them from one company to another without their consent.
Not only was the company unjustified in demanding such fees, for four of the six customers that gave evidence during the case, the telco was judged to be engaged in “undue harassment” in chasing up payments.
The owner of SoleNet and Sole Telecom, James Lee Harrison, was ruled to be constantly restructuring the business to “avoid regulatory sanctions and unpaid debts to regulators” – behaviour which Justice Mark Moshinsky criticised as “unconscionable conduct”.
“He was aware that the transfers involved, at best, a lack of transparency or, at worst, trickery or deception, vis-à-vis customers,” Moshinsky said. “I do not think there is any doubt that Mr Harrison was well aware of each of the elements of the system of conduct or pattern of behaviour.”
The court action was brought on in April by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, with the assistance of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and Australian Communications & Media Authority.
“This outcome sends a clear message to companies and directors that they cannot avoid their obligations under the Australian Consumer Law by corporate restructures which involve transferring customers without their consent,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
The court has given all parties until February 10 to make submissions on what penalties Harrison Telecommunications should face.