Consumer groups call for an end to telco rip offs

Consumer groups* have shared harrowing stories of telco companies mistreating people around Australia and are calling on the Federal Government to fix the system so people are treated fairly.

The calls are part of a submission that has been made by Consumer Action, WEstjustice and and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service to the Government’s review of choice and fairness in the telco industry.

“We have provided evidence and case studies that illustrate the devastating results of unaffordable telecommunications debt and the callous way some telcos are dealing with people,” said Gerard Brody, CEO Consumer Action.

“Telcos are providing an essential service. They should be focused on ensuring products are suitable, with good customer service and that people are connected—not just increasing sales margins and flogging products.

“COVID has shown us that being connected is absolutely essential—not just for working from home—but for access to health and Government services. Telcos should not be able to cut people off during a health crisis and put them at risk,” he said.

Mr Brody said the submission presents a powerful case for the need for direct regulation of the telco sector by an empowered regulator.

“Self-regulation of the telco industry has patently failed. We need to empower the regulator to create rules through a transparent, consultative process with consumer interests at heart,” he said.

“When telcos do the wrong thing, whether it is overselling products to people who can’t afford them or refusing to help out with payment plans when people hit hard times, it is important the regulator has the power to take enforcement action swiftly.

“The rules for internet and phones are stuck in the 1990s. It’s time the sector caught up to energy, water and other essential services,” said Mr Brody.

“Phones are an essential service – not a luxury. If this wasn’t clear to all before COVID, it should be now. Our clients are people living in the western suburbs – young people, newly-arrived migrants and refugees, people who are economically vulnerable, victim-survivors of family violence – and they’re often totally reliant on their phone to access services, deal with Centrelink or keep connected to social supports. Our clients’ experiences show that stronger consumer protections are essential,” said Melissa Hardham, CEO WEstjustice.

“It is important the regulator has the power to take enforcement action swiftly when telcos do the wrong thing by community and oversell to them products they don’t need or didn’t ask for, or refuse to help them with payment plans when they hit hard times,” said Nerita Haight, CEO Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.

*Endorsed by WEstjustice, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network, Financial Counselling Australia, Financial Counselling Victoria, Housing for the Aged Action Group, Barwon Community Legal Service, Hume Riverina Community Legal Service, Community Legal Services Australia.

ENDS

 

Media contact: Mark Pearce, Media and Communications Adviser | Consumer Action Law Centre | 0413 299 567 | media@consumeraction.org.au

 

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