Albanese Government will ensure telco customers are treated fairly

The Albanese Government is concerned by a report today by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) which outlines deficiencies in the way telcos engage with customers in financial hardship.

It has never been more important to support customers who are doing it tough given the current cost of living pressures. While there are examples of good practice, the telco industry can and should do better.

Key findings of the report, which used data sourced from telecommunications providers and independent surveys by Roy Morgan and OmniPoll Pty Ltd, include:

  • The rates of telco financial hardship are significant and the expectations of consumers are not being met, with only a small proportion of customers receiving hardship support.
  • Industry is required to inform customers about hardship arrangements. However, many customers are still unaware they can contact their telco for help.
  • Financial hardship arrangements are not being adequately tailored to individual circumstances, with limited options for how and when payments can be made.

Telecommunications are now essential, if not, critical services. There is a need to have effective safeguards that support consumers to get connected, stay connected, and ensure they receive appropriate customer service and assistance, especially those in financial hardship.

The Government is actively considering the consumer safeguards framework to determine whether it remains fit for purpose. This includes adequate protections to ensure telcos provide appropriate financial hardship assistance, credit management and billing processes, and to stamp out mis-selling and other practices that result in financial hardship.

The Government held a consumer roundtable with key stakeholders on 23 March 2023 to discuss the retail-level consumer protection framework. Participants included consumer and industry representatives, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and the ACMA. Minister Rowland is considering advice provided at the Roundtable, including calls for greater use of directly enforceable regulation and penalty reform.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP:

“The telco industry must do better.

"Telecommunications should enrich peoples’ lives, not cause inconvenience, frustration or detriment.

“I am looking closely at the consumer safeguards framework to ensure it is fit for purpose and prevents any mismanagement of financial hardship issues.

“If a consumer is experiencing financial hardship and needs help with their telco bill, I encourage them to contact their service provider to discuss what arrangements are available. However, if a consumer is unable to come to a satisfactory arrangement directly with their provider, they should then contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) for assistance.”