Better support for telco customers experiencing financial hardship

The Minister for Communications has directed the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to make an enforceable industry standard to ensure appropriate support is provided to telecommunications customers experiencing financial hardship.


The move will improve safeguards for the many Australians struggling with the increased cost of living to ensure they are able to stay connected – an essential part of everyday life.


The Direction has been developed in consultation with stakeholders, with constructive feedback received, ensuring the Direction is robust and positions the ACMA well to make effective financial hardship rules.


The ACMA will now formally commence its work with stakeholders on drafting the industry standard in line with the broad parameters set out in the Direction.

The Government’s decision to directly regulate the rules on financial hardship is in response to the serious issues being faced by vulnerable consumers in accessing financial support when they need it.   


It also follows the findings from the ACMA’s Financial hardship in the telco sector: Keeping the customer connected report, released in May 2023, which highlighted disproportionately low rates of consumers receiving formal financial hardship assistance from their telco compared to the number of Australians experiencing difficulty paying their telco bill.


The report showed that while around 2.4 million Australians experienced difficulty or concern regarding their telco bills over the 12-month reporting period, industry data from the main telcos identified only 4,388 residential financial hardship customers as at June 2022.


The report also found that only 64 per cent of Australians who had experienced financial hardship in the reporting period were aware that they could contact their telco provider for help in managing their bill payments, indicating that telcos are not doing enough to proactively engage and assist customers in need.


While telecommunications services have not been a central contributor to the increase in cost of living pressures, this decision looks to ensure that consumers doing it tough can stay connected to essential telco services.


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


“Staying connected to a telecommunications service is not a luxury – it’s central to our everyday lives.


“With so many Australians doing it tough, clear and enforceable rules to make sure that people are getting appropriate support are needed now more than ever.


“I would like to acknowledge the constructive engagement of all stakeholders during consultation on the Direction, setting a positive tone for the development of the industry standard and positioning the ACMA well to make rules that will work for everyone.


“If a consumer is experiencing financial hardship and needs help with their telco bill, they should contact their service provider to discuss what arrangements are available. 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.”