Eight of Australia’s biggest and most well-known telcos have been slapped with formal warnings from the communications regulator, after failing to give customers adequate notice before restricting their service.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has found Telstra (Belong), Optus, TPG Telecom (Vodafone), Foxtel, SpinTel, Southern Phone, My Republic and Exetel all in breach of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP Code), which outlines the rules telcos must follow when selling phone, internet and mobile services.
An ACMA investigation determined that all of the above providers had failed to provide customers with essential information, or with sufficient notice, before cancelling, limiting or suspending their services.
How telcos failed struggling customers
Seven of the eight offending telcos — excluding TPG-owned Vodafone — did not give some customers the required five working days’ notice before enacting service disruptions, including disconnections. Foxtel, Southern Phone and SpinTel also failed to give customers information on their respective financial hardship policies when issuing bill reminder notices.
The ACMA also found that Belong Foxtel, MyRepublic, Southern Phone, SpinTel and Vodafone had failed to include information in service disruption notices that would help customers experiencing hardship gain a better understanding of their situation. This included information on debt collection, on the consequences of non-payment, and on the impact that restrictions may have on other services.
While these code breaches only affected a minority of each telco’s customers, phone or internet service disruptions can have a major impact on households — particularly those that are already struggling to keep up with rising bills.
“Limiting an essential service like phone and internet access has the potential to cause significant distress, making it difficult for people to access their work, education, health and banking services,” said AMCA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin.
“With the current cost of living pressures, I expect all telcos to take the utmost care with customers who are struggling with bills. Telcos need to lift their game to help their customers or face further regulation.”
While none of the eight telcos has been fined, the ACMA has given each provider a formal warning and a direction to comply with the TCP Code going forward. Future breaches could incur potential penalties of up to $250,000 for each telco.
The ACMA’s investigation is the latest in a recent string of rule breaches from Australian telcos. Telstra was previously hit with a formal direction in April, after the provider restricted the services of more than 5,000 customers without notice.
As a result, the ACMA has made protecting vulnerable customers a key 2023 priority. The regulator’s May report found that only 57% of Australians were aware of the hardship assistance available to them from their phone or internet provider, despite telcos being obligated to help customers who reach out.
Financial hardship policies: What if I can’t pay my bill?
With bills rising non-stop, Australians are feeling the pinch — but if you’re finding it hard to keep up with your phone or internet bill, help is available. All telcos offer a financial hardship or customer hardship policy, which is designed to help you manage the situation without losing essential communications services.
You can find out more by calling your telco directly, or applying online for hardship assistance. Some of the solutions you may be offered include:
- Switching you to a more appropriate plan, such as prepaid or a lower-cost service
- Extending your bill deadline
- Setting up flexible payment options
- Waiving cancellation or late payment fees
- Restricting your service
- Releasing you from your contract and allowing you to return a device without penalty
If you’re in need of further assistance, you can also get in contact with the National Debt Helpline at ndh.org.au or on 1800 007 007.
Find a cheap prepaid plan
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