The ACMA asks telecom operators for better support for vulnerable people – Telco/ISP

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has reminded telecom operators to better support their most vulnerable customers.

Today’s release of its expectations of telecom providers follows a series of findings showing that industry-wide practices have had a negative impact on disadvantaged customers.

The media and telecommunications watchdog said in a statement that the expectations were not “a compliance and enforcement tool”, but guidelines on how the industry can respond The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code (TCP).

TCP, first introduced in 2012, was revised in 2019 include specific obligations to protect vulnerable consumers, such as ensuring that “sales representatives and staff who interact with consumers are able to interact appropriately with disadvantaged or vulnerable consumers”.

The ACMA said examples of vulnerable consumers included customers affected by natural disasters, serious illnesses, domestic violence, financial hardship and the impacts of covid.

“There have been indications that the practices of some telecom operators have disadvantaged consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable.”

In April 2021, Financial Counseling Australia released a report based on interviews with 228 financial advisers, who indicated that between a third and more than half of their clients were struggling with telecommunications debt.

In November 2020, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network reported poor telecoms sales practices resulted in systemic debt for First Australian telecom consumers in regional and remote communities.

According to a Consumer Policy Research Center report between May and October 2021, 43% of telecom consumers with disabilities said they had a negative experience.

Australian telecom operators have already taken steps to better support users with disabilities. For example, in 2013 Optus partnered with non-profit MVNO Jeenee Mobile, a division of Community Connections Australia, to launch a range of mobile plans backed by a support network for people with disabilities and their families.

This included a service designed to combat bill surprises by disabling data access once the user reaches their limit. The functionality is predefined with the authorization of the user and his family.

The ACMA included four general expectations to support vulnerable consumers and a number of practical suggestions for meeting them.

Expectations included that telecommunications operators “treat all consumers fairly and reasonably so that consumers are less likely to be vulnerable and suffer harm when accessing and maintaining communications services.

“Be proactive in identifying and responding to vulnerable consumers.

“Have best practice policies and processes in place to help vulnerable consumers obtain and maintain access to telecommunications services that meet their needs and circumstances.

“Include support for vulnerable consumers in their business strategy/planning.

The agency’s practical guidance for protecting vulnerable consumers included suggestions such as training support staff and sales representatives to better identify signs that consumers are vulnerable or disadvantaged.

“While there are many legitimate reasons for both, multiple contracts under the same name, or the account holder not being the end user, can be an indicator of financial abuse.”

The ACMA also recommended using “automated decision support software (with appropriate human oversight) to help identify vulnerable consumers” and “embedding ‘inclusive by design’ principles into development. new products”.

“Make websites and smartphone apps compliant with the latest web content accessibility guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative.”

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