Fewer people are asking for help with mobile phone bills

The number of internet and mobile plan customers experiencing financial difficulties has fallen over the past year, but more needs to be done to alert people to available assistance, the communications regulator said.

A report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority found that 28,000 residential customers and more than 2,000 small business customers took part in a financial hardship settlement with their telephone company in fiscal year 2020/ 21.

The data showed a 50% drop in the number of people in financial difficulty, with 3.57 per 10,000 customers in June 2021, compared to a peak of 7.64 the previous year.

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But ACMA member Fiona Cameron says that while the downward trend is positive, telecoms operators need to do more to support struggling customers.

Ms Cameron says this means providers need to understand their customers’ situation and that disconnection should be a last resort.

“Telecom operators should highlight available options when contacting customers and reassure them that their service will not be disconnected while they are paying off their debt,” she said.

“Being disconnected can make a difficult time worse, with phone and internet access being essential to everyday life. When customers have the ability, they can pay off their debts and stay connected.”

Mobile services accounted for 97% of hardship agreements, with 75% related to a mobile-only service and 22% related to both mobile and fixed service.

The report also found that more customers started with lower levels of debt and that 63% of residential customers in financial difficulty were able to terminate their contracts, compared to 47% in 2019/20.

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