CODE: FELIX50

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Telcos aren’t doing enough to support customers experiencing financial hardship

Cost of living pressures have been front of mind for many Aussies in the past year or so, with increasing costs hitting household budgets from all angles. Some Aussies may even find themselves in the position of not being able to pay or afford essential household services and bills, such as phone and internet plans.

In instances where you’re unable to pay your phone or internet bill, your telco should have a financial hardship policy in place in order to help you manage your payments, whatever that help may be.

However, a new report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has found that only 57% of Australians were aware that they could contact their telco for help managing their phone and/or internet bills. It also showed that of the people who experienced financial difficulties in the past 12 months, just 64% knew they could contact their telco for help.

With this many Aussies being unaware that their telco is able to help them manage payments during financial difficulties, the ACMA has called on telcos to do more to inform and help customers who might be experiencing financial hardship.

“With the current cost of living pressures, telcos need to be even more attuned to the needs of customers who may be doing it hard. This report identifies areas where we expect the telco industry to lift its game, ” ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.

“Telecommunications is an essential service. Being connected and having access to a reliable and affordable phone and internet service has become crucial for many people to work and connect to education, health and government services.”

The report identified that younger Australians aged between 18-34 were less likely to be aware that financial hardship assistance is available from their phone or internet provider. Telcos were also considered as being less well-equipped than water and electricity providers to offer assistance options.

Telcos were seen as less flexible than other service providers when customers were experiencing financial hardship, with the ACMA concerned that direct debit payments could become problematic during times of financial hardship.

Canstar Blue Utilities Editor, Tara Donnelly, said that despite the public perception of telcos, customers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for assistance in tough times.

“If you do find yourself falling behind on your phone or internet bill, it’s better to give your provider a heads-up sooner rather than later,” Ms Donnelly said. “Telcos are obligated to work with you to find a solution, and keeping your provider in the loop can help avoid your service being cut-off. At the end of the day, telcos want to keep you on as a customer, so they’ll generally try to find a way to help you if you’re struggling.”

ACMA aims to raise awareness that Aussies can contact their telco for support

The ACMA has made financial hardship a top priority for 2023. This report comes after the ACMA announced a campaign in March 2023, aimed at raising awareness that Aussies experiencing financial difficulties can, and should, reach out to their telco for help.

The ACMA’s campaign hopes to help customers understand what options are available to them if they find themselves in financial hardship, which can include situations where you are:

  • Unwell
  • Experiencing loss or change of income (including unemployment)
  • Experiencing homelessness
  • Affected by a natural disaster
  • Experiencing domestic or family violence
  • Unable to pay your bill for other reasons

However, while the campaign aims to teach customers about the help that should be available to them from their telco in difficult situations, the telcos themselves also need to ensure they’re complying with consumer protection rules. Last month, the ACMA issued a formal warning to Telstra over breaches to the policy, which saw services of over 5,000 Telstra customers restricted without notice.

Consumer advocate group the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has expressed support for the ACMA’s report, which aligns with its own research findings that current cost of living pressures are having a significant impact on consumers being able to afford their telco bills.

ACCAN CEO, Andrew Williams voiced concerns that telcos weren’t doing enough to support the large number of Aussies struggling to pay their phone and internet bills.

“It is a significant concern to ACCAN that as many as 2.4 million Australians had difficulty or struggled to pay their telco bill in the last 12 months. I would urge consumers who are struggling to pay their phone or internet bills, to speak with their telco, as they are obligated to help their customers and there is a range of options available for those experiencing financial difficulty,” said Mr. Williams.

“We want to see telcos doing better and the report provides an excellent summary of customer expectations. Put simply, customers want telcos to be transparent, honest, and more in tune with their needs.”

What can telcos do to help if you can’t pay your phone or internet bill?

If you’re struggling to pay your phone or internet bill, the first thing you should do is speak to your provider about what assistance may be available to you if you’re experiencing financial hardship. You can also visit your provider’s website to view their financial hardship/financial assistance policy and for further information.

The assistance available may vary from telco to telco, but can include:

  • Payment extensions
  • Switching to a more affordable service
  • Setting up a flexible payment plan
  • Waiving any cancellation or late-payment fees
  • Offering data-capped plans
  • Restricting or holding services
  • Releasing you from your contract

If you want to find out more about financial hardship and what your telco can do to help, you can read our guide on what to do if you can’t pay your phone or internet bill.

Compare cheap phone and NBN plans

If you’re struggling to pay your phone or internet bills, or you’re looking to cut costs on your telco bills, it’s always worth comparing a range of plans and providers to see if you can find a cheaper plan that will suit your needs.

The below table compares a range of cheap prepaid and postpaid plans for $20 or less, and you can switch between the tabs to view prepaid or postpaid plans. You can also use our free phone plan comparison tool to compare a wider range of plans and providers.

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.

The below table compares a range of NBN plans across the NBN 12, 25 and 50 speed tiers. Keep in mind that cheaper speed tiers like NBN 12 and NBN 25 are best suited for lighter internet usage (emails, web browsing and standard definition video streaming) and smaller households. If you’re looking to save on your NBN plan costs, you may need to compromise with slower speeds and adjust how you use the internet at home. You can use our free NBN plan comparison tool to compare a wider range of plans, speeds and providers.

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.

Emma Bradstock
Telco Specialist
Emma Bradstock has been an authority on consumer phone, internet, technology and streaming markets in Australia for the last 5 years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Media from Macquarie University and has a decade of professional writing experience in print and digital media.

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