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Investigation finds more flexibility and empathy required by telcos when dealing with financial hardship

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s latest systemic investigation reveals while most telcos have robust policies for dealing with financial hardship, the policies are not always applied consistently. Consumers in vulnerable circumstances continue to experience barriers when accessing support.

The investigation reviewed the data from just over 8,000 financial hardship complaints received between July 2018 and March 2021. Most complaints were from consumers who said they were financially vulnerable or that their provider was not taking enough action to support consumers experiencing vulnerability. 

“Responding to consumers in financial hardship”, published today (Wednesday 1 September 2021) highlights what the telco industry can do to better support consumers who are experiencing vulnerability.

The report identifies four key areas of improvement for providers in responding to consumers in financial hardship:

Tips for phone and internet consumers

  • Accessible, proactive and timely hardship assistance
  • Effective hardship arrangements that factor in consumers’ circumstances
  • Payment plans recorded and applied accurately
  • Regular engagement with consumers to support better outcomes

Tips for phone and internet providers

Providers surveyed for this investigation expressed challenges when engaging with consumers experiencing hardship. These included consumers not openly discussing their financial position, and consumers not saying when their circumstances changed.

Ombudsman Judi Jones said, “Even when a consumer is aware they are in hardship, they may feel shame or stigma about their financial position. This stigma can very easily delay a consumer from seeking help.

“Empathy can make the conversation easier. One provider said it trained staff to build rapport and trust with vulnerable consumers. Once this trust is in place, the provider can then ask questions and begin offering further guidance and support.

“Being proactive in identifying hardship and being flexible with payment plans can be the early course correction that can help minimise harm for consumers and increase the likelihood of telcos being paid.

“The impact on individuals facing vulnerability can be significant. I encourage providers to use the insights in this report to improve the delivery of their hardship policies.”


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Download the report

Download the tips for consumers

Download the tips for providers