The telecommunications industry has continually let down customers facing financial hardship, according to a new report.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has urged telcos including Optus and Telstra to improve on their support for customers in financial difficulty.
The authority’s report found that almost 2.4 million Australians had experienced difficulty paying or had concerns with their telco bills.
Young people were the most likely to not know they could reach out for help. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard
Only 57 per cent of all Australians and 64 per cent of those experiencing financial difficulty, were aware they could reach out to their telco company for help to pay their bills.
ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the research showed telcos still had 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.
“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.”
Telstra was slapped with a warning just weeks ago over its decision to cancel the plans of over 5400 people who failed to pay their bills without properly notifying them. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly
The report also outlined potential areas for telcos when dealing with issues that affect financially impacted customers.
Young Australians were least likely to know that their telco could offer financial hardship assistance, with only 50 per cent of those aged 18-34 knowing they could ask for help.
It also outlined that telcos rarely initiated contact or to offer assistance, especially human contact, with those who reported financial difficulties or concerns with paying.
Direct debit payments were also identified as being potentially “problematic” in times of financial difficulty as they “add to stress and incur extra fees”.
Telcos were also seen as “less flexible when dealing with customers in financial hardship than other service providers”.
Earlier in April, Telstra was slapped with a warning after it was found to have restricted or suspended the accounts of more than 5400 customers without giving them notice.
An ACMA investigation found that Telstra did not give customers at least five working days notice after they did not pay their bills.
Those who find themselves in a difficult position are urged to contact their telco, with options such as delaying payment, discounting fees and switching plans available. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard
Customers were prevented from making outbound calls except to emergency services and Telstra and some were prevented from receiving incoming calls.
Telstra says it reported itself to ACMA over the blunder that left customers with unpaid bills with restricted services.
“We quickly identified a system error that meant customers without an email address on credit management didn’t receive a letter letting them know that their service would be restricted unless payment was made,” a Telstra spokesperson said.
“We fixed the issue in our system and contacted the impacted customers.