Telco providers are far less likely than other essential services to provide hardship assistance to Australians when they find themselves in financial crisis and here’s the proof: last year 406,428 customers had their services disconnected while more than 2.4 million people struggled to pay their telco bills.
That’s according to a shocking report today from the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA), which follows another recent ACMA investigation that found Telstra wrongfully disconnected 5,400 of its customers.
“This is a truly scathing report, and clearly shows that the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code (TCP Code) -a self-regulating code for the industry- doesn’t work,” Consumer Action CEO, Stephanie Tonkin said.
“We need rules for the telco industry that have consequences when breached and I call on Minister Michelle Rowland to introduce direct regulations to force telcos to identify and deal with customer hardship seriously.”
Ms Tonkin said urgency was crucial as we are going through the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, a situation that is only likely to get worse.
“Telecommunications are an essential service like energy and water, vital for every aspect of our lives; work, health, education, and safety. Disconnections should not happen or be the absolutely last resort,” Ms Tonkin said.
Of those surveyed by ACMA 11% in financial difficulty had their telco services cut off – compared to just 3% for energy and 1% for water, industries that both have stronger consumer protections in place.
“What astounds me is that telcos reported only a tiny fraction of customers (4,388) in financial hardship while 406,428 were disconnected and 2.4 million had difficulty paying their bills. Something is not right with this picture and demonstrates clearly that telcos voluntarily regulating themselves is not protecting consumers,” she added.
“People we help report the profoundly negative impact being disconnected has on their lives and emotional wellbeing,” said CEO of WEstjustice, Melissa Hardham.
“Work, health appointments, education, and access to social security or services for their kids are all affected, and result in people being forced to cut back, even on food.
“The large number of disconnections we are seeing is unacceptable and not the way to treat customers when they are struggling to make payments. We need stronger regulations for telcos in this country,” she said.
ACMA has come out strongly saying telecommunications are essential to every aspect of our lives, and this report details the shame and hopeless situations customers are left in when their telco provider keeps failing them.
Media contact: Mark Pearce, Media and Communications Adviser, 0413 299 567, email@example.com