Telstra has been slapped with formal warning by Australia’s communications regulator, after the telco was caught restricting the services of over five thousand customers without notice.
An Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigation found that between May and July of 2022, Telstra limited or suspended the services of customers who’d failed to pay their phone or mobile bills. However, the telco didn’t give those customers the required five business days’ notice before shutting off services – a breach of its obligations under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code.
The ACMA says that Telstra’s actions caused significant disruption to the lives of impacted customers, with affected Telstra users only able to make outbound calls to emergency services or to Telstra. Some customers were also prevented from receiving calls, again with the exception of emergency numbers or from Telstra directly.
“Phone and internet connections are essential for our everyday lives. We use them for work, education, banking, health services and social connection,” ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.
“With the current cost of living pressures, many Australians are doing it tough. By limiting peoples’ services without notice Telstra likely caused these people significant additional stress.”
Telstra: system errors caused compliance chaos
According to the ACMA’s investigation, 5,410 customers were not given at least five working days’ notice by Telstra before their services were restricted for credit or debit management reasons. Of those 5,410 customers, 5,245 had their services restricted, and 165 had services suspended.
Over 4,200 of these customers had services reinstated, on average, seven days after the initial restriction, generally because those customers paid their outstanding bills. However, more than 1,030 customers were without service for an average of 31 days.
A Telstra spokesperson told Canstar Blue that the compliance failure was due to system errors, and that the telco self-reported the problem to the ACMA.
“Last year we identified and reported to ACMA that a small number of customers – with unpaid bills – didn’t get the required notice before having their services either restricted or suspended,” the spokesperson said.
“We quickly identified a system error that meant customers without an email address on credit management didn’t receive a letter letting them know that their service would be restricted unless payment was made. We fixed the issue in our system and contacted the impacted customers.
“It should be noted that all customers during this time were still able to call Triple Zero in the event of an emergency. We take this matter seriously and understand this breakdown in process caused frustration for customers.”
While Telstra has previously been hit with financial penalties for TCP Code breaches, the telco won’t be fined for this latest misstep. Instead, the ACMA has issued Telstra with a formal warning, and a direction to comply with industry rules going forward.
How to get help if you can’t pay your telco bill
The ACMA has made protecting customers undergoing financial hardship ones of its 2023 compliance priorities, and has vowed to crack down on telcos who aren’t meeting TCP Code guidelines.
If you’re struggling to stay on top of your phone or internet bill, your provider can help. You can call your telco directly to see what options are available, or apply for financial hardship assistance online. Your provider may offer you the following options:
- Switching to a more affordable plan, such as prepaid or a lower-cost service
- 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.
Read more: What to do if you can’t pay your phone bill
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