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New telco rules will soon help people in hardship: What are they?

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Establishing stricter telco rules around financial hardship assistance will be a relief for struggling households.

New telco rules put in place by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACM) will officially come into effect on 29 March 2024. These will help more people benefit from financial hardship programs.

ACMA will be closely monitoring the compliance of the new rules, especially given the cost of living still has a strong grip hold on many people.

According to an ACMA report from May 2023, 2.4 million Australian adults were struggling financially or were worried about their telco bill in the previous 12 months.

However, separate industry data from 30 June 2022 showed only 4,388 residential customers had financial hardship assistance in place with their telco.

What are the new telco rules by ACMA?

ACMA has released 4 key points that capture how the new telco rules will help more Aussies with their phone and/or internet bills:

  • The definition of financial hardship will be broadened to capture more instances of when someone is struggling financially. This will help both telcos and customers understand their requirements and eligibility.
  • Telcos will need to proactively make customers aware that they offer financial hardship assistance. Telcos should also reach out to people they think may be struggling.
  • Telcos will be required to offer 6 different options for assistance. This can include payment plans or the option to extend or defer payment.
  • There will be stricter protections in place for customers facing credit management action. For instance, stricter measures will be required before a customer is disconnected. The notice period for disconnection will also be moved up from 5 to 10 working days.

We reached out to a telco directly to understand how they'd be implementing the changes.

Andrew Branson, CEO of More and Tangerine was positive about the upcoming changes.

"We are supportive of the additional assistance measures that will be available to customers under the new Telecommunications (Financial Hardship) Industry Standard 2024," Branson said.

"The new Standard comes into effect on 29 March 2024, and we are currently making changes to our existing financial hardship processes and policies to meet this timeline. Information about our updated financial hardship assistance program will be available on our websites in late March.

"Ensuring Australians can access affordable telco services remains our top priority."

New rules are great, but it might also be time to switch and save

The theme of the last 12 to 24 months has been to shop around for a better, cheaper plan. Whether that's mobile, energy, broadband or insurance.

Finder's research found Aussies paid a collective $4.5 billion in loyalty tax for mobile, broadband and energy in 2023.

It's backed by the fact that there's a massive price gap between the cheapest and most expensive providers regardless of which utility you're comparing.

When you don't shop around, you're potentially paying more than you realise.

For example, we calculated potential savings by analysing the prices of the cheapest and most expensive unlimited data NBN 50 and NBN 100 plans in our database over 12 months.

The price differences we found are:

  • NBN 50: $343 over 12 months
  • NBN 100: $421 over 12 months

The potential savings are not insignificant.

Compare mobile and internet plans to start saving, especially if you've found it harder to handle your monthly bills.

Image: @Sneksy via Canva.com

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