A new report from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has shown the telecommunications industry continues to let down customers who are facing financial hardship.
The Financial hardship in the telco sector report found that in the last 12 months almost 2.4 million Australians experienced difficulty paying or had concerns with their telco bills.
It also showed just 57 per cent of Australians, and 64 per cent of those who experienced financial difficulty in the past 12 months, were aware they could contact their telco for help managing bills.
ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the research shows telcos still have some way to go to meet the reasonable expectations of consumers facing financial hardship.
“With the current cost of living pressures, telcos need to be even more attuned to the needs of customers who may be doing it hard,” Ms O’Loughlin said.
“This report identifies areas where we expect the telco industry to lift its game.
“Telecommunications is an essential service. Being connected and having access to a reliable and affordable phone and internet service has become crucial for many people to work and connect to education, health and government services.”
The report identifies a range of issues affecting telco consumers who are facing difficult financial circumstances, including that:
- Younger Australians are less likely to be aware that financial hardship assistance is available from telcos, with only 50 per cent of those aged 18-34 aware they could ask their telco for help.
- Consumers who reported financial difficulties or concerns with their telco bills reported it was rare for telcos to initiate contact, especially human contact, in relation to potential financial hardship.
- Telco providers were generally seen as being less well-equipped and with fewer assistance options than water and electricity providers.
- Telco providers were all seen as less flexible when dealing with customers in financial hardship than other service providers.
- Direct debit payments could become problematic at times of financial difficulty, adding to stress and incurring extra fees.
This is the fourth ACMA report on financial hardship in the telco sector and includes findings from ACMA consumer and industry research, industry reporting and audits of 11 telcos. Compared to previous reports, it takes a more contemporary approach to determining whether safeguards are providing appropriate support to vulnerable consumers.
The research complements the ACMA’s Statement of Expectations for telcos when dealing with vulnerable consumers and will inform its input into the industry’s review of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code. Protecting telco customers experiencing financial hardship is also one of the ACMA’s 2022–23 compliance priorities.