Did you know that telcos have an obligation to help their customers who experience financial difficulties?
These obligations are captured under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, which provides a host of consumer safeguards for mobile, landline and internet customers. The safeguards set out clear rules that telco providers must follow when communicating and dealing with customers.
An important safeguard relates to customers who have difficulty paying their bills or meeting unexpectedly high bills. Telcos must offer these customers spend management tools, financial hardship advice and options to restrict services.
In 2013, the ACMA audited the industry’s compliance with these rules and found that the industry was largely compliant. Part of the 2013 audit included a proposal to review telco complaints in two years to assess whether the trend towards compliance continued.
We are pleased to report that our latest audit into telco providers’ financial hardship practices shows the positive levels of compliance within the industry are continuing. As part of this audit, we identified a number of telco providers who had increased Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) complaints relating to financial hardship, and asked them to provide information about their financial hardship practices. Specifically, we asked them to:
- identify how many financial hardship applications they received in a specific period of time and how many financial hardship arrangements they made
- indicate what kind of payment arrangements were being made and whether any payment arrangements needed to be renegotiated
- provide copies of reminder notices given to consumers
- explain their financial hardship complaint process, including how they train their staff on the issue.
While the results of our audit showed that the industry was dealing with consumers experiencing financial hardship in a way that remains largely compliant with the TCP Code obligations, it also identified that telco providers often don’t know if a consumer is experiencing financial hardship until the consumer is placed into credit management. This may be because the consumer doesn’t disclose their financial hardship and/or the telco provider doesn’t have the appropriate practices and procedures in place to help identify consumers experiencing financial hardship in the early stages of the bill cycle.
Consideration of possible ways to address these issues will be with be the focus of ongoing work for the ACMA.