Financial Hardship Assistance Available to Telco Customers
Communications Alliance has today welcomed the ACMA’s publication of its report on financial hardship in the telecommunications industry. The Industry’s Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code requires all providers to have a Financial Hardship policy, and sets specific rules on its availability and contents.
“Helping customers stay connected through difficult circumstances is important to Industry and vital for consumers in need. We will use these data to continue improving financial hardship assistance available to customers.” said Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton.
“All providers are required to publish their Financial Hardship policy on their website, including guidance on how to apply for assistance, and we strongly encourage anyone having difficulties paying their bills to ask for help.”
“The revised TCP Code, which came into force in August 2019, has also strengthened the previously existing Financial Hardship protections, the results of which would not be reflected in this report,” continued Stanton.
“These strengthened provisions are in place now, and increasingly relevant during the current crisis.”
“In addition to the existing provisions, telcos are re-assigning staff to Financial Hardship teams so they can respond to customer requests more quickly and putting in place a range of initiatives to support customers.”
These initiatives include:
- Bonus or unlimited data automatically applied to mobile and home broadband plans
- Unlimited national calls
- Significantly reducing costs of data overages plans which are not unlimited
- Temporarily stopping all service suspensions due to late payments
- Free-rating of official health and government websites such as MyGov and Centrelink
- Increasing data capacity on networks to keep up with demand
“This is a rapidly evolving situation. Providers are working daily to adapt their services and support offerings to best assist their customers, and we encourage all customers to check their provider’s website for the most up-to-date information on assistance available to them,” said Stanton.
Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) have also published “Keeping Australia Connected
,” industry advice and information for consumers on how Australia’s communication networks are responding to the increasing demand and traffic, as well as information and tips for customers to ensure minimal disruption to their service. The advice also recommends customers explore self-service and online options for communicating with their providers.
All telcos are required to have a Financial Hardship policy readily available for their customers (and most – if not all – are including a link to and information on that assistance in all of their communications re COVID-19), and must provide flexible repayment options to meet each customer’s circumstances. Further information on Financial Hardship Assistance:
Chapter 7 of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code
is dedicated to financial hardship assistance.
Among other requirements, Retail Service Providers (RSPs) must offer a minimum of three of the below options to help keep residential and small business customers connected:
- Restriction of service, in respect of overall or specific services;
- Transferring the Customer to a Pre-Paid Service;
- Transferring the Customer to a contract which includes hard caps or Shaping; or
- Low cost interim options until the Customer can continue with original payments.
and a minimum of three of the below options for suitable financial arrangements:
- Temporarily postponing or deferring payments (for a longer period than would typically be offered to Customers requesting an extension outside of Financial Hardship arrangements);
- Agreeing on an alternative arrangement, plan, or contract, including discussing Pre-Paid Services;
- Discounting or waiving of debt;
- Waiving late payment fees;
- Waiving cancellation fees; or
- Incentives for making payments, for example payment matching.
Applications for assistance must be assessed in a fair and timely manner.
Many providers also offer a simple option for a customer to ‘pause’ their payment for a month, and Chapter 6 of the TCP Code also contains strict rules on how and when a provider can suspend a customer’s service.
Communications Alliance Welcomes Encouraging ACMA Complaints Data
Communications Alliance has welcomed encouraging new data showing a sharp drop in the volume of complaints being received by Australian telecommunications providers.
The figures released by the industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) show telcos received around 283,000 complaints in the 2019 December quarter, a decline of 25.9 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.
Complaints about services operating on nbn-based broadband networks were down 36.4 per cent in the same period. The average time taken to resolve customer complaints also fell markedly, from six days to four, across the September and December quarters.
“This much stronger performance by the Australian telcos is good news for consumers and mirrors the reduction also being experienced in complaints to the industry ombudsman,” said Communications Alliance CEO, John Stanton.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for the industry, of course, as demand for telco services has grown rapidly and required telcos to augment and reconfigure networks to ensure that customers stay connected and can use their services for personal and professional needs.”
“So far, the networks have held up extremely well under the increased pressure, although unavoidable disruptions to some offshore and onshore call centres have made customer service excellence more difficult to achieve.”
Deloitte Access Economics Report Examines Regulation in the Telecommunications Industry
During yesterday’s CommsDay Summit, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton launched the second part of the Connected Nation report, on Australia’s telecommunications regulatory framework.
The research was commissioned by Communications Alliance and undertaken by Deloitte Access Economics.
Part 1, launched by the Hon. Paul Fletcher MP in November 2019, found that Australia’s telecommunications industry directly contributes more than $51 billion annually to the Australian economy and supports more than 260,000 jobs across the nation.
Part 2 The Regulatory Ecosystem found that regulatory compliance is the second biggest challenge facing the sector, and that 2.4% of the industry’s workforce are employed in roles directly related to compliance with legislative and regulatory frameworks – the 15th highest proportion out of 70 industry subdivisions examined.
It assesses the regulatory mix, including quasi-regulation, co-regulation, and direct government regulation, using international indicators and examining outcomes of regulatory types through their efficiency, compliance, effectiveness, and responsiveness.
The report finds that:
“based on this analysis, there is a case for more carefully considering the role of co-regulation in the telecommunications industry. From the evidence in this report, compliance levels are high and indicators suggest that effectiveness of the regulatory system is contributing to a well-functioning market. Co-regulation can be more flexible and responsive in an area of rapid technological change. Surveyed businesses believe that the effort and cost of co-regulatory requirements are lower than direct regulation, implying greater regulatory efficiency than direct regulation.” Deloitte Access Economics – Connected Nation: The Regulatory Ecosystem.
Visit the 2019 ACOMMS photo gallery here and highlights video here. Media Release here.