FINANCIAL HARDSHIP ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE TO TELCO CUSTOMERS

Sydney, 2 April 2020: 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:

Spend controls;
  • 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.

ABOUT COMMUNICATIONS ALLIANCE
Communications Alliance is the primary telecommunications industry body in Australia. Its membership is drawn from a wide cross-section of the  communications industry, including carriers, carriage and internet  service providers, content providers, search engines, equipment vendors, IT companies, consultants and business groups.

Its vision is to  provide a unified voice for the telecommunications industry and to lead  it into the next generation of converging networks, technologies and  services. The prime mission of Communications Alliance is to promote the growth of the Australian communications industry and the protection of  consumer interests by fostering the highest standards of business ethics and behaviour through industry self-governance. For more details about Communications Alliance, see www.commsalliance.com.au.
 

Media information contact:
Sefiani
Kurt Graham kgraham@sefiani.com.au
0431 478 558