What happens if I can’t pay my phone bill?


Life is unpredictable, and there are many unexpected reasons why you might find yourself unable to pay your phone bill. For the majority of us, having a phone is a necessity. If you find yourself without a job, you’ll need that phone for calls with potential employers, and for keeping in touch with loved ones. You might even be relying on your phone plan’s data allowance to search and apply for jobs, along with checking and responding to emails.

What can you do if you can’t pay your phone bill?

Most telcos will have what’s called a financial hardship or financial assistance policy, which is generally applied to postpaid mobile services (both SIM-only and phone-on-a-plan options). Generally, you’ll be required to get in touch with the telco, either by calling or through filling out an online form, to apply for financial hardship assistance.

In general, a financial hardship policy might be able to assist you with:

  • Setting up a flexible payment plan over a set period of time
  • Switching you to a prepaid mobile service or other plan
  • Waiving any cancellation or late-payment fees
  • Restricting services
  • Holding your service
  • Returning a device and releasing you from your contract

Every telco is different. Telstra, Optus and Vodafone offer postpaid and prepaid phone plans, so generally they are able to offer to switch you to a more affordable prepaid service. However, smaller telcos that only offer postpaid phone plans may not be able to move you to a prepaid service, but they might look at cheaper plans available to transfer you to.

Prepaid phone plan providers might not offer financial hardship policies, as you’ve essentially already paid for your plan in advance. If you’re with a provider that recharges your plan automatically, you may need to get in touch with them about either swapping to a cheaper plan, or cancelling altogether.

How do I claim financial hardship?

The first step is to visit the website of your phone plan provider to find what their financial hardship policy includes, and what the telco recommends are the first steps to claiming financial hardship. If you’re having problems visiting the telco’s website, you can always try the app or give your telco a call to discuss next steps.

The National Debt Helpline has suggestions for steps you can take if you are unable to pay your phone or internet bill. It’s recommended that you:

  • Work out what you can afford pay by working out a budget
  • Get in touch with your service provider to see what options there are
  • Ask to speak to the ‘hardship department’ if you feel the general customer service department isn’t helpful
  • If you don’t agree with the solution, you can dispute it with an external dispute resolution service (subject to your state or territory)
  • Speak to a financial councellor

You can visit the National Debt Helpline at ndh.org.au or give them a call to discuss steps and to speak to a free financial counsellor.

Financial hardship with Telstra

Telstra offers a Financial Hardship policy to assist customers dealing with financial hardship due to a range of factors. Because everyone’s situation is different, Telstra manages claims for financial hardship on a case-by-case basis. It’s recommended you get in touch with Telstra by calling 13 22 00 and say ‘financial hardship’ when prompted by the pre-recorded menu options.

Telstra may be able to assist with payment options such as flexible payments over an extended period of time, or to waive late payment or cancellation fees. Other options include transferring your plan to a prepaid service, restricting of service, and transferring to another plan. As everyone’s situation is different, you will need to get in touch with Telstra to determine which option will be best for you.

Financial hardship with Optus

Similar to Telstra, Optus runs its financial hardship on a case-by-case basis, so getting in touch with Optus will help you to find a solution that suits your individual circumstances.  You can give them a call on 1300 308 839, and follow the prompts.

Some solutions Optus offers, depending on your circumstances, include: finding a most cost-effecting plan including a prepaid plan, reviewing your current services to see if restricting services could be of benefit, waiving late payment fees if incurred, granting a temporary hold so you don’t have to pay bills on due date, and reviewing your account to find alternative solutions.

Financial hardship with Vodafone

Vodafone also offers solutions if you find yourself in financial hardship, however the telco recommends you download the financial hardship form (which you can find on the Vodafone website) and fill in details, rather than calling up to assess your case. You can either send the form in the post, via email, or fill in the form on the Vodafone website, then someone from Vodafone should be in touch if they require more information and supporting documentation.

Some of the ways that Vodafone may be able to assist you are: restriction of service, spend controls, payment arrangements and extensions, data-capped plans and waiving of fees such as late payment fees, and even bill waivers in exceptional circumstances.

Cheap prepaid phone plans

Prepaid phone plans are generally quite cheap, and you won’t be locked into a contract like a postpaid phone plan. If you’re looking for an affordable prepaid phone plan, the following table includes a selection of prepaid SIM-only plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

There are plenty of prepaid options for under $20, however keep in mind that prepaid plans have different expiry periods, so if a plan only runs for seven days, you’ll need to recharge more often than a plan running over 28 or 30 days. The following table includes a selection of prepaid SIM-only plans for under $20 on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

What are the telcos doing to help during the COVID-19 crisis?

If you’re struggling with payments, or you find you’re using more data during the current COVID-19 pandemic, several telcos have introduced some initiatives to help during this time.

Share this article