Expectations for telcos dealing with vulnerable consumers

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is looking to improve the way the telco sector supports consumers in vulnerable circumstances, with a proposed Statement of Expectations for the industry released for consultation today.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said its Statement of Expectations covers key aspects of customer interactions, from selling practices and customer service, to the provision of financial hardship support.

“Anyone can experience vulnerable circumstances at some stage of their life, as we saw at the start of last year during the bushfires and more recently during COVID lockdowns. It’s important telcos take extra care when dealing with these customers,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

“Telecommunications is now an essential service for everyday life. When consumers find themselves in difficult circumstances, we want to see telcos providing genuine and constructive support that, to the greatest extent possible, avoids disconnection of services.”

The ACMA has also released an audit report looking at how a small cross-section of telcos, including a number of market leaders, were meeting their regulatory obligations in dealing with disadvantaged and vulnerable consumers.

Ms O’Loughlin said the audit report recognises the positive practices of a number of providers. However, it also flagged areas of concern.

“Our audit found that some telcos were not training staff at appropriate intervals (within 12 months) to recognise or deal appropriately with vulnerable consumers,” she said.

“We also found that the telco sector would benefit from more consistent sales staff monitoring at more senior levels to improve outcomes for vulnerable consumers.”

“Vulnerability is fluid, especially in these unpredictable times. The release of this audit and our Statement of Expectations aims to set out better policies and practices for telcos to identify and assist consumers deal with complicated technology and complex pricing models.

“We look forward to engagement from the sector on these matters,” she said.

The full audit report, Assisting and protecting vulnerable consumers: Audit of telco approaches to compliance with Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code rules, is available on the ACMA website.

Those with views on the draft Statement of Expectations are invited to make a submission to the consultation through the ACMA website. Submissions close on Wednesday 8 September.

Protecting vulnerable telco customers is one of the ACMA’s compliance priorities for 2021-22.

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