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Optus And Telstra Abandon Mobile Plans That Caught Customers In Web Of Confusion

Dozens of confused customers have contacted the telecommunications ombudsman, unclear on why they're receiving demands to hand back their handsets now that their contracts are drawing to a close.

The Optus and Telstra customers say they didn't realise what they were agreeing to when they signed the contracts.

As the contracts reach expiration dates, customers are receiving a text messages ordering them to return their handsets, or pay back the full value of the phone.

"To avoid paying a device non-return fee, (based on the fair market value of your phone, please) return your phone to us in good working order," the text reads.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is warning customers to carefully check the terms of their contract, as these customers weren't aware they were leasing, rather than paying off their phones.

Image: Getty

"It's pretty shocking if you're a consumer and you get a message that says you're going to have to return your phone in good working order, when you actually think that you own it," Teresa Corbin told 10 News First.

The texts have led to a series of complaints to the Telecommunications Ombudsman, Judi Jones.

"Over the last couple of months we've noticed a cluster of complaints about this issue which is consistent with a lease period of about two years coming to an end," said Jones.

"One in particular, from a 77-year-old lady who found out she was on a lease when she actually thought she was getting the mobile phone for free."

And if your phone isn't deemed to be damage free and in good working order, you'll be penalised. Some excess fees can be as high as $500.

Image: Getty

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In a statement, Telstra said:

"We have received some calls from customers as their lease plans start to end, mostly around clarity of what the next steps are and the options they have. They have an option of either bringing back the handset or making a one off final payment to own the handset outright.

All customers on these plans were aware of this when signing their contracts. Most are on 24 month plans where the full cost of the handset was not being covered under the plan."

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Optus also issued a statement.

"Last week Optus announced on our website that we were simplifying our plan offerings for customers by removing the option to lease handsets from 22 July. This is the first step in us simplifying our offerings to deliver exceptional value and service to our customers."

Jones says if you feel you were mislead, you should talk to your provider first, and if you're not satisfied with the result, you can take the matter further with the ombudsman.

There were more than 165,000 complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman in the 2017-18 financial year.

Both Telstra and Optus have now stopped issuing the lease contracts.

Telco rival Vodafone, never offered such deals.

Contact the author: tryan@networkten.com.au