Life is unpredictable and there are many unexpected reasons why you might find yourself unable to pay your phone or internet bill. While it might be a difficult time, there is help available if you find yourself in this situation. Read on to find out what you can do if you are unable to pay your internet or phone bill.
On this page:
- What can you do if you can’t pay your phone or internet bill?
- Who can claim financial hardship?
- How do I claim financial hardship?
- Financial hardship with Telstra
- Financial hardship with Optus
- Financial hardship with Vodafone
- Financial hardship with TPG
- Compare cheap phone plans
- Compare cheap NBN plans
- More financial hardship help
What can you do if you can’t pay your phone or internet bill?
Most telcos will have what’s called a financial hardship or financial assistance policy. These policies generally apply to postpaid services where you receive a bill, including phone plans (both SIM-only and phone-on-a-plan) and internet plans. Generally, you’ll be required to get in touch with the telco, either by calling or by filling out an online form, to apply for financial hardship assistance.
In general, a financial hardship policy might be able to assist you with:
- Receiving a payment extension
- 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
- Offering data-capped plans
- Restricting services
- Holding your service
- Returning a device and releasing you from your contract
It’s important to remember that every phone and internet provider is different. For example, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone offer postpaid and prepaid phone plans, so you may be offered a switch 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.
In the case of internet plans, moving you to a lower cost internet plan could include switching your service from a faster speed tier plan to a slower speed tier. The downside to this could mean that you may be unable to use your home internet as you were previously for certain high-intensity activities, such as video streaming or online gaming. It could also limit how many people/devices in the household can use the internet at the same time.
Who can claim financial hardship?
Claiming financial hardship with your internet or phone provider is in place to help customers in difficult circumstances where they find they are struggling to, or unable to pay their phone and/or internet bill.
Each telco may have different definitions or situations where you can claim financial hardship, but the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) lists several reasons. These could include:
- If you or a family member is unwell, such as an illness, hospitalisation, mental illness or physical incapacity
- If you or a family member is unemployed
- Loss or change of income
- A death in the family
- Natural disaster such as fire, flood or drought
- If you’re experiencing domestic or family violence
- Family breakdown, separation or divorce
- If you’re unable to pay your bill for other reasons
Before contacting your phone or internet provider for hardship assistance, take a look at the telco’s financial hardship policy (which should be located on the telco’s website) to see whether your circumstances are included. If you’re unsure, you can always get in touch with your telco and discuss the situation.
How do I claim financial hardship?
The first step is to visit the website of your phone or internet provider to find what their financial hardship policy includes, and what the provider 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 (if there is one) or give your telco a call to discuss next steps.
In many cases, your telco will need to discuss the situation with you, so it’s best to be prepared with all the information that your phone or internet provider may need before making a call.
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:
- Determine what you can afford to pay by working out a budget
- Get in touch with your service provider to see what options are available
- 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 counsellor — 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
What do I do if I’m unhappy with what my telco is offering?
If you are unhappy with the resolution or experience with your phone or internet provider, you can either lodge a complaint with your telco, or seek support and advice from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).
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 1800 531 951.
In some instances, you can use the My Telstra app and Telstra website to request certain services without making a call. Through the app or website, you might be able to request a payment extension, request to change or downgrade your plan (to a cheaper plan) or request an suspension of your service for up to 90 days without plan fees.
Telstra may be able to assist with a range of options including service or payment options. These can include:
- Flexible payments over an extended period of time
- Waive late payment or cancellation fees
- Transferring your phone plan to a prepaid service
- Reducing your download speed (in the case of internet services)
- Restricting service
- Transferring your service 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 (Mon-Sat, 9am-8:30pm AEST), and follow the prompts.
You can also manage some payments with the My Optus app or by logging into your Optus account on the website.
Some solutions Optus offers, depending on your circumstances, include:
- Finding a most cost-effective plan
- Considering a prepaid phone plan if you’re currently on a postpaid 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
- Reviewing your account to find alternative solutions
Financial hardship with Vodafone
Vodafone also offers solutions if you find yourself in financial hardship. You can either send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1800 185 289 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm AEST). In order for Vodafone to assess your situation, the telco recommends you have your account number, contact information, reason for financial hardship, income details and total expenses, and you may be asked for 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
- Waiving of fees such as late payment fees, and even bill waivers in exceptional circumstances
Financial hardship with TPG
While TPG might be part of the same umbrella company as Vodafone, this internet-focused telco has its own policies around financial hardship. You can choose to either make an online enquiry by filling in a Financial Hardship form on the TPG website, or by calling 1300 056 356.
Assistance options TPG offers can include:
- Placing restrictions on some or all of your services
- Applying spend controls
- Moving your service to a lower cost plan
- Putting a payment plan in place
- Postponing or deferring payments
Compare cheap phone plans
If you’re struggling with the costs of your current phone plan, you may wish to compare a range of phone plans to see if you can get a cheaper deal elsewhere. The following tables show a range of prepaid and postpaid SIM-only phone plans for $20 or less. Switch between the tabs to view prepaid and postpaid plans. You can also use our free phone plan comparison tool to find a range of cheap mobile plans.
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.
Compare cheap NBN plans
Switching to a cheaper NBN plan is slightly more complicated. Unlike a phone plan, where you can limit how much data you use if needed, with NBN speed tiers, slower speeds — and therefore cheaper plans — limit how you can use the internet.
If you’re looking to switch to a cheap NBN plan, you might need to compromise on the speed tier you sign up to or even look at plans with data caps, and therefore might need to make some adjustments to how you use the internet at home. Keep in mind that faster speeds will usually result in more expensive internet bills.
The below tables compare cheaper plans on the NBN 12, NBN 25 and NBN 50 speed tiers. Switch between the tabs to compare plans on the different speed tiers. You can also use our free NBN plan comparison tool to compare a range of cheap NBN plans.
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.
Need more help?
If you’re experiencing financial hardship and aren’t sure what to do, you can find more information from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the ACMA. You can also get in touch with the National Debt Helpline (NDL) or read more about phone and internet bill support on the NDL website.