Understanding internet charges
Receiving unexpectedly high bills, also known as ‘bill shock’, has become more prevalent as people increasingly use their home internet service.
But never fear! There are some simple ways to avoid bill shock, including:
- understanding how much data you’re using or will need in future
- taking note of any spend management alerts you receive from your provider
- logging into your provider’s online portal to monitor your use
- asking about other spend management tools your provider may offer
- understanding what extra charges may apply if you exceed your monthly limits
- talking with your provider about how to restrict household access to your services—for example, using security tools like passwords
- considering using pre-paid products.
If you receive an unexpectedly high bill, you may wish to contact your provider for help.
Understanding your bills
As a customer, there are a number of important things you need to look out for when reviewing your internet bills. Below is a helpful checklist of things to keep in mind next time you receive your bill:
- You should receive your bill within 10 working days of the end of the billing period. There are some exemptions to this, however if the length of time is greater than 10 working days, you must be granted an equivalent payment extension.
- Your bill must be clear and accurate.
- It must contain an issue date, billing period, account reference number, due date and details of the charges.
- Information provided in your bill should make it easy enough for you to be able to verify charges in accordance with your service agreement. For example, a listing of itemised call charges.
- They must also endeavour to include all charges for the current billing period.
- Service providers cannot bill you for charges older than 160 days from when they were incurred.
All bills must be accurate and your service provider must be able to verify and demonstrate this. Service providers must comply with a Call Charging and Billing Accuracy Code in establishing their billing systems for fixed-line services.
Receiving bills—your rights
You will usually receive bills from your internet provider. However, a provider may not be required to issue a bill to you if:
- you pay by direct debit and
- you pay a fixed amount each month and
- you agree to the provider’s terms and conditions that explain that a bill won’t be issued unless the amount payable for the billing month is more than 10 per cent above the fixed amount you usually pay and
- your service provider obtains your consent to the higher charges and explains how you can make an enquiry.
Service providers are also not required to issue bills for pre-paid services.
If your service provider must provide you with a bill, it can do so by any format that you can store and reproduce. These formats may include a paper bill in the post, email or online.
If your service provider makes the bill available to you in an electronic form, it must offer at least one free method of accessing that information.
Your provider can change the way it provides you with bills, but it must inform you about the change and any options available to you. For example, it may offer to provide you with your preferred form of bill—such as paper—at an additional cost.
Disputing your bills
Before you make a complaint to your provider about a bill, you may wish to contact them to understand the charges. Your provider should charge you no more than the cost of local call to contact them to make a billing enquiry, unless it explains higher call costs in its terms and conditions.
If you received an unexpectedly high bill, there are spend management tools available to help you avoid these in future.
If your enquiry relates to old charges, then regardless of whether you previously received a bill you can get information about previous charges from your service provider or former service provider for up to six years. This information may include itemised charges.
If the information relates to the past two years, the service provider must provide one way of giving you the information free of charge.
If the information is two to six years old, the service provider may impose a charge, but for no more than the cost of providing the information.
If you remain dissatisfied after dealing with your service provider, you can contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). The TIO is an office of last resort—to be involved once all other avenues for dispute resolution have been explored. The TIO provides independent, just, informal and speedy resolution of telephone complaints and disputes.
Paying your bills
To help you pay your bills correctly, your provider must:
- Offer at least one free way for you to pay your bill.
- Record your payment no later than two days following the day it is notified of your payment, and enable you to easily check that your payments have been received. If you pay your bill on time, your provider must not generate another bill until it has applied your payment. Some exceptions apply to these rules.
Paying by direct debit
If you set up an arrangement with your provider to pay by direct debit, you provide what is called an ‘authorisation’. For direct debit payments, your provider must:
- follow your instructions as set out in the authorisation and enable you to check on what you agreed to in your authorisation
- enable you to access all billing information, such as charges for calls, 10 days before each direct debit occurs
- ensure that the direct debit takes place as close to the due date as possible
- make it easy for you to cancel your direct debit authorisation by providing a simple mechanism such as email or fax. It must then cancel your authorisation within three working days.
Difficulties paying your bills
If you cannot pay your phone by the due date because you’re experiencing financial difficulties, you should contact your service provider and let them know about your circumstances. You may qualify for a financial hardship arrangement under the service provider’s financial hardship policy.
Under the TCP Code, your service provider must inform you about its financial hardship policy and how it assesses if you’re eligible. This includes making a copy of the policy easy to find and access on its website. Your service provider must also make available:
- contact details for appropriately trained staff who can talk with you about the financial hardship policy
- information about how you can contact community financial counsellors or consumer advocates.
The policy must be explained to you in summary form on request, when you indicate that you’re experiencing financial hardship, or when the provider considers you may be eligible. This summary must include:
- options available to you to help you to manage your situation—these may include ways to limit access to your telecommunications service or ways to monitor your expenditure and use
- information about when you can contact the service provider about its financial hardship policy
- information that the service provider might require from you to assess your financial hardship, such as your income details
- an explanation of how the service provider will assess your financial hardship application.
If you apply for a financial hardship arrangement, your service provider must assess your eligibility for such an arrangement in a fair and timely manner, telling you how long it will take to assess your application. The provider must not charge you to assess your application for a financial hardship arrangement, or for the administration of any arrangement it offers you.
If the provider needs supporting documentation from you, it must explain where to send the documentation by either post, fax or email. The provider may decide not to assess your application if you do not send supporting documentation, or may cancel any arrangement it makes with you, if you provide false or incomplete information.
The provider must make attempts to make sure you understand the information it needs from you. Your application must be assessed within seven working days of your provider receiving the final information from you.
If your provider decides not to offer you a financial hardship arrangement, it must inform you immediately.
Your provider must follow certain steps before it suspends, restricts or disconnects your service, or before it imposes other conditions on your use of a service.
Financial hardship arrangements that your service provider may offer you include:
- an extension of your bill due date
- flexible options for repaying amounts you owe.