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Rules to protect customers in financial hardship

Telcos must give customers who are finding it hard to pay their bills the information and help they need to stay connected.

The rules in the Telecommunications (Financial Hardship) Industry Standard 2024 (the Financial Hardship Standard) replace the Chapter 7 obligations in the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code.

The rules in the Financial Hardship Standard apply to telcos dealing with residential, small business and not-for-profit customers. Transition arrangements are outlined below.

Rules telcos must follow

If a customer is having trouble paying their bills or they indicate they are having financial difficulties, you must tell them about your payment assistance policy and discuss options to help them. Keeping these customers connected is a priority.

Key requirements

Financial hardship policies are now called 'payment assistance policies'.

Under the Financial Hardship Standard, you must:

  • publish a payment assistance policy that is clearly available on your website and app. The policy must be:
    • linked to from the homepage
    • clear and easy to understand
    • summarised on the page where the customer can apply for assistance.
  • proactively identify customers who are, or may be, experiencing financial hardship
  • train telco staff who deal directly with customers on the rules in the Financial Hardship Standard, your payment assistance policy, and your financial hardship processes and procedures
  • offer at least 6 options to assist customers – see below
  • focus on keeping customers connected and only use suspension or disconnection as a last resort
  • tell the customer the outcome of a financial hardship application within 2 business days (the timeframe for assessing an application is still within 5 business days)
  • keep records to show compliance with key aspects of the Financial Hardship Standard.

Options for assistance

You must offer at least 6 options for assistance that are realistic, appropriate and tailored to the customer.

You must take into account the customer’s circumstances, including if they are affected by domestic or family violence, and capacity to pay.

Compulsory options you must offer:

  • postponing, extending or deferring the time for paying a bill, and
  • setting up payment plans tailored to a customer's ability to pay. 

Other options for assistance may be:

  • discounting a bill charge
  • waiving a debt
  • offering spend controls
  • moving the customer to a lower cost option
  • applying a credit to the customer's account
  • offering a free non-automatic payment method.

See the Financial Hardship Standard for other examples of options you could offer.

Transition arrangements

Telcos have until 30 April 2024 (20 business days from the start of the new Standard) to review the financial hardship arrangements they had in place before 29 March 2024.

If those old arrangements do not comply with your new payment assistance policy, you must write to existing customers on the old policy and provide them with the new policy arrangements.

If you do not follow the rules

We monitor the telco industry and investigate telcos when we believe there may be non-compliance with the rules.

If we find that you have broken the rules, we can take enforcement action. We may formally warn you or direct you to take remedial action, give you an infringement notice, or start court proceedings.

We publish our enforcement outcomes on our website.

Find out more

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