ACMA shines light on telco credit assessments

Telcos will need to take on board lessons from a new Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) study that shows in-store sales staff may not be adequately checking that customers have the capacity to pay for the services they are purchasing.

The ACMA commissioned a shadow shopping study to look at how Australia’s three biggest telcos have responded to strengthened industry rules that came into effect in 2019.

The rules, set out in the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, are designed to protect customers from financially over committing themselves by requiring telcos to perform credit assessments and to assess a new customer’s ability to pay.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the study indicated that telcos had taken the new rules on board, but there were potential issues with in-store sign-up practices when compared to online or telephone sales channels.

“This is a small but helpful study that shows telcos may need to do more to educate their in-store staff about their responsibilities to ensure people have the capacity to pay for the products for which they are signing up,” said Ms O’Loughlin.

“These safeguards are even more important in protecting people who are financially vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The ACMA study recorded the experience of 37 customers who had recently purchased post-paid telco products worth at least $1,000. It found that:

  • 16 per cent were not asked about their capacity to pay for the product
  • a further 16 per cent were asked only whether they work full or part-time, which is not sufficient information for a credit check under the code
  • all instances of insufficient credit-check questions being asked occurred during in-store purchases
  • almost half of in-store customers reported either no questions about their capacity to pay, or just one question on their employment status
  • an external credit check was obtained by the relevant telco for all but one of the customer purchases in the study.

“We will work with telcos over the coming months to build full compliance across all sales channels within the next 12 months before taking any more formal action for non-compliance,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

The Shadow shopping study of telco consumer credit checks can be found on the ACMA website.

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