Telcos Will Now Have to Be More Supportive of Vulnerable Customers

Telcos Will Now Have to Be More Supportive of Vulnerable Customers
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Under new rules, telcos in Australia must consider if their customers are in vulnerable circumstances and proactively tailor their service accordingly.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, telecommunications providers will be expected to already identify customers in vulnerable circumstances and take that into consideration before demanding a payment they may not be able to make. It means that the way telcos deal with customers in such vulnerable situations has to have a little more care. That is, they have to make things easier, not harder, and can’t go around pushing a higher-priced product (as one example).

The directive comes via a new industry Statement of Expectations released today by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The expectations cover all key aspects of customer interactions, from selling practices and customer service to the provision of financial hardship support.

The idea is that people experiencing vulnerability should be supported and not further disadvantaged.

“Many Australians will experience vulnerable circumstances in some form or another during their lifetime. The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters such as fires and floods show just how quickly and unexpectedly people’s circumstances can change,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.

“It’s important that telcos have processes in place to recognise and provide appropriate customer care and service to people in these situations.”

The rules follow an audit the ACMA conducted last year that found some telcos were not training staff regularly enough to recognise or deal appropriately with vulnerable consumers. O’Loughlin hopes the rules being set in stone will go a long way to addressing this.

The statement is 22 pages long and covers five priority areas. The first one tackles culture within the telco itself. The ACMA is asking that telcos embed a “culture and operating environment that encourages an increased focus on and support for identifying, interacting with and assisting consumers experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, vulnerability”.

The second requires telcos to only sell products appropriate to their needs and circumstances, while the third asks for a more “accessible and inclusive telecommunications market”, one where telcos understand, identify and assist consumers who may benefit from additional or specialised support.

Rather than sending debt collectors, or being heavy with requests for payment, the fourth priority requires telcos to be supportive of consumers struggling with their bills, with the goal of still having access to services even if hardship is being experienced. Lastly, the ACMA wants credit and debt management processes to be “fair, accurate, flexible and proportionate”, with disconnection as a last resort.