Account Authority

Monday, January 13, 2020

Do you have someone authorised on your telco account?  If so, this is known as an Account Authority.  Do you know what they can do and what they can’t do?  A recent TDR case study highlighted what can go wrong with an Account Authority.

Let’s start with a short recap of the issue in the case study.  Tim (primary account holder) authorised a family member on his account.  That family member then charged several new phones to the account, got behind on payments, and changed the delivery location of bills.  This meant that Tim was unaware about what was going on and was left cleaning up the mess when the bill collectors came knocking.  What became clear during the course of the complaint was that Tim was unaware of what the Account Authority could do on the account. 

To help other consumers like Tim, TDR has put this handy guide together for you.

What is an Account Authority?  And why would I want one?

An Account Authority is someone who also has access to your telco account.  There are several ways this can be accomplished.  One way is through a Power of Attorney, which is a legal document used primarily when someone is incapacitated or otherwise cannot handle their own affairs.  More often, however, we authorise spouses, family members, and even flat mates on accounts as Account Authorities.  The primary reason for this is convenience—particularly when the service is shared.  Think about a flat with internet.  Only one person can create the account, but there may be four people using and paying for it.  Authorising the other flatmates on the account means that changes and decisions can be made by more than one person.  

What can an Account Authority do?  What can’t they do?

In reviewing a number of Account Authority policies and processes for many of our scheme members, TDR found that each provider had different levels of Account Authority.  For some of our members, there was only one level—you were either an Account Authority, or you weren’t.  For other members, they provided different levels of authority, including ones that allow the person to view invoices and make payments, change plans, and manage add-on services and products or others that only allow viewing invoices and making payments. 

Regardless of the provider, Account Authorities are generally not permitted to:

  • Terminate accounts
  • Terminate connections
  • Receive or request private information about the primary account holder (i.e., notes on the account), except where the household member exemption under the Telecommunications Privacy Code (2003) (Rule 11) applies for service or billing enquiries. 

However, Account Authorities are generally permitted to:

  • Change plans
  • Charge mobile phones and other devices to the account
  • Manage payments
  • Add/remove add-ons like calling packs
  • Update payment methods

What questions should I ask?

Having an Account Authority has many upsides.  There can also be hidden dangers to be aware of.  Here are some general tips:

  • Telcos in New Zealand have different levels of authority.  If you’re thinking about authorising someone on your account, ask your provider if they have different levels of authority, and if so, what each level of authority means and what the Account Authority can do.
  • Consider how long you need to have the Account Authority and talk with your telco about whether you can set up an Account Authority for a specific period of time.  For example, you may be leaving for a two-month overseas trip and you want to make sure that your flatmate, family member, or house sitter can deal with issues in your absence. 
  • Make sure you monitor account activity carefully.  When you have an Account Authority, it becomes even more important to check your bills for any unexpected charges or changes. 
  • Have regular conversations with your Account Authority(ies) about the account and ensure that there is a clear understanding between you about what you expect and what is not okay.  Just because an Account Authority can technically make certain changes to your account doesn’t mean that you want them to. 
  • Understand that you are on the hook financially for anything that your Account Authority does.  If they charge a new iPhone 11 Pro to your account (and your telco provider’s Account Authority policy allows them to), you become liable for that charge.