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Review reveals financial hardship complaints to the TIO remain steady

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) today released a thematic review on financial hardship complaints. The review shows between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2023, the TIO received over 3,000 complaints from consumers experiencing financial hardship.

Read the full thematic review

Over the past 12 months, financial hardship complaints increased as a proportion of the overall complaint base. While the volume of these complaints is lower than pre-pandemic levels, financial hardship remains a significant concern for consumers and its impacts can be severe. 

In the reporting period, 67 per cent of new complaints about financial hardship involved a mobile service. This means more financial hardship complaints involved debts and charges for mobile services than for every other service type combined. 

Other key points include: 

  • It is becoming increasingly common for consumers to pay for their services using automatic payments debited directly from their bank account, sometimes without receiving a bill before the payment occurs. This can add a layer of difficulty for consumers experiencing financial hardship, as it may reduce their capacity to control their payments. 
  • Some telcos are moving away from charging fees for excess data usage on broadband internet services, and from charging termination fees if a consumer cancels their plan early. Many telcos now only charge the consumer for the remaining value of any equipment that was tied to their plan. 
  • Device payout fees can present difficulty for a consumer in hardship if they wish to change their plan or telco to a more affordable option, or if their telco cancels their service for non-payment of charges. 

Quote attributable to Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert: 

“Financial hardship is becoming a reality for more and more Australians. With the rising cost of living, some people who are struggling financially will need to make difficult choices about how they pay for their essential telco services. 

“Financial hardship complaints remain an important focus for my office because the impact on consumers is significant, and these problems often affect some of the most vulnerable Australians. 

“If you’re struggling to pay a bill, let your telco know. Ask them for a payment plan or financial hardship assistance. If you and your telco can’t find a way forward together, contact my office for help.”