Telco customers experiencing financial hardship will have improved safeguards, thanks to new industry rules to be introduced from late March.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has announced it will begin to hold telcos to new financial hardship standards from March 29, in response to a direction from the Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP.
These new rules will require telcos to establish and have clearly accessible written financial hardship policies, along with being more proactive in identifying customers who could be experiencing financial hardship to keep these customers connected to services.
This also comes after an ACMA investigation in 2023, which found that telcos weren’t doing enough to support customers experiencing financial hardship.
Currently, it can be difficult for customers to find financial hardship policies and assistance options available to them, especially as many telcos bury their policies and information pages on their website. The ACMA’s findings in 2023 showed that only 57% of Australians were aware that they could contact their telco for help when experiencing financial difficulties.
“These new rules address a range of identified gaps in financial support for telco consumers. Telcos must do a better job of identifying those in need of payment assistance and provide a stronger range of support options,” ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.
What are the new financial hardship rules?
These new rules replace and enhance the previous financial hardship measures set out in the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code. These new rules will include:
- Expanding the definition of financial hardship to a wider set of circumstances for consumers and telcos to better understand when assistance should be available
- Improved promotion of financial hardship assistance, which can include providing direct information to customers and potential customers who could be experiencing difficulty
- Requirement to offer a minimum of six different options for assistance, including payment plans and options to extend or postpone payments
- Stronger protections for customers facing credit management action, including stricter requirements before customers can be disconnected from their service and an extended disconnection notice period from five working days up to 10 working days
It’s hoped that these new rules will make it easier for Aussies to access financial assistance from their phone or internet provider, and that disconnection from service is really a last resort for telcos.
“Telecommunications services are essential to everyday living and at a time when a lot of Australians are doing it tough, it’s important customers are provided with real support to keep their services connected,” Ms O’Loughlin said.
Once the new rules are in place, the ACMA will be actively monitoring compliance from providers. The ACMA will also have enforcement options for telcos found breaching the rules, which can include financial penalties.
While providers, such as Telstra, have been found to breach the TCP code in the past, hopefully these new rules will see telcos take more responsibility for assisting customers who are doing it tough. Internet and mobile providers Tangerine and More Telecom told Canstar Blue in a statement that they are in full support of the new rules, and are updating their existing hardship policies ahead of the March 29 changes.
“Ensuring Australians can access affordable telco services remains our top priority. We recognise the importance of telecommunications in modern society, ensuring Australians remain connected to family, friends, work and essential services, ” Andrew Branson, CEO of More and Tangerine said.
“We encourage any customer who is experiencing difficulties paying their bills to contact us and they will be connected with one of our specially trained staff members to find a solution.”
Struggling with your phone or internet bills? Compare cheap phone and internet plans
If your budget isn’t coping with the costs of your telco bills — especially as many NBN providers have increased prices for some NBN plans — it might be worth looking in to cheaper options from other telcos.
Finding a cheaper phone plan could involve switching from one of the big three telcos to a smaller provider for a SIM-only phone plan, or switching to a cheaper plan with a smaller data inclusion. For NBN services, this could involve moving to a slower speed tier (which is typically cheaper) than your current plan, such as switching from an NBN 100 plan to an NBN 50 plan.
The below tables compare a range of cheaper phone and NBN plans. You can also compare a wider range of plans and providers using our free phone plan comparison tool and free internet plan comparison tool.
Prepaid Plans Under $20
Here is a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database for $20 or less, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by standard data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our mobile phone comparison tool to see a wider range of prepaid plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.
Postpaid Plans Under $20
Here is a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database for $20 or less, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by standard data allowance, largest to smallest. Compare postpaid mobile plans from a wider range of providers using our comparison tool. This table includes products with links to referral partners.
Unlimited Home Basic I Speed (NBN 12) Plans
The following table shows a selection of published BYO modem Basic I Speed (NBN 12) plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from the lowest to highest, and then by alphabetical order of provider. Use our comparison tool above to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.
Unlimited Home Basic II Speed (NBN 25) Plans
The following table shows a selection of published BYO modem Basic II Speed (NBN 25) plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from the lowest to highest, and then by alphabetical order of provider. Use our comparison tool above to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.
Unlimited Home Standard Speed (NBN 50) Plans
The following table shows a selection of published BYO modem Home Standard Speed (NBN 50) plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from lowest to highest, and then by alphabetical order of provider. Use our comparison tool above to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.