Australia to strengthen services to telco consumers

The Minister for Communications will instruct the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to formulate an industry standard that is legally enforceable to guarantee that consumers of telecommunications companies who are going through difficult financial times will receive the assistance they need.

Staying linked to the outside world is no longer a luxury but rather a requirement in order to support education, employment, and access to necessary services because telecommunications are an essential component of everyday life.

The Australian people are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living, and the Albanese government is determined to ensuring that they have access to sufficient safeguards.

This judgment reflects that objective by elevating duties related to financial hardship to the level of direct and enforceable regulation, which will deliver better outcomes for customers in a more timely manner.

In May of 2023, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) published Financial hardship in the telco sector: Keeping the customer connected. Using data obtained from several telecommunications companies as well as results from independent polls conducted by Roy Morgan and OmniPoll Pty Ltd, the report found the following information:

There is a substantial amount of customers that are placed in a difficult financial situation by telecommunications companies, yet only a minority of those customers obtain assistance.

In the past 12 months, 25% of Australians had difficulties making payments for their essential service bills, and 48% of those had problems making payments for their telecom bills. As of the 30th of June in 2022, industry data from the major telcos showed that only 4,388 customers were participating in financial hardship programs. This represented 0.03% of the total number of residential customers.

Although the industry is supposed to educate customers about hardship arrangements, many customers are still unaware that they can call their telco for aid despite the fact that the industry is required to do so.

Only 57% of persons in Australia were aware that they could call their telecom provider for assistance in managing financial issues, while 64% of those who had experienced financial hardship in the preceding 12 months were aware of this option.

The findings of the research coincided with those of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), and other consumer advocacy organizations, such as the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and the Consumer Action Law Centre. The government recognizes and appreciates the contributions made by all parties involved in this arena.

Despite the fact that an increase in household expenditure has not been driven primarily by an increase in spending on telecommunications services, this decision is being made to ensure that customers who are having financial difficulties can maintain their connection to necessary telecommunications services.

The government strongly recommends that business and consumer groups collaborate fruitfully with the ACMA on the process of formulating the financial hardship standard.

Today, Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA) also published a position paper that explains clearly the expectations it has for the sector to address a variety of concerns through the ongoing review of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, which is scheduled to be finished in 2024.

The government will keep actively considering the consumer safeguards framework and will continue to engage with stakeholders on tangible steps that can be taken to improve consumer outcomes. This includes considering calls for reform of penalties and code enforcement, establishing a retailer registration scheme, and providing better information to consumers. In addition, government has decided to continue to actively consider the consumer safeguards framework.

“Telecommunications are a fundamental component of daily life,” said the Minister for Communications, the Honorable Michelle Rowland MP. It is essential that we establish standards that are both explicit and enforceable in order to ensure that telecommunications companies provide adequate assistance to consumers who are having a hard time in light of the present cost of living constraints that many people in Australia are experiencing. Because of this, I have given instructions to the ACMA to make certain that the right safeguards are in place, and I will continue to take a close look at the consumer safeguards framework to make certain that it is suitable for its intended use.

“I am pleased that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has published a position paper today that outlines the required adjustments that need to be made to the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code and related industry practice. I would also like to thank the ACMA for the preparation work it did for the TCP Code review, and I would also like to thank Communications Alliance for the efforts it made to lead the process.

If a customer is having financial difficulties as well as needs assistance with their telecommunications bill, they should get in touch with their service provider to explore the several payment options that are available to them. In the event that a customer and their service provider is unable to reach to an agreement that is satisfactory to both parties, the customer should seek assistance from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).

 

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