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FOR RELEASE: 21 September 2020

Telco Woes Plague Nation – Australians Living With Disability Experiencing Worst Service From Providers During COVID Stress

For the fourth month running in the Consumer Policy Research Centre nationwide research initiative, consumers have reported telecommunications providers as delivering the worst customer service of all essential service providers.

August results released today paint a deeply concerning picture for Australians living with disability.

  • 5.7 million Australians reported having a recent negative experience with their telecommunications provider in August, up from 4.1 million in July.
  • Most commonly reported problems by consumers when contacting telecommunications providers included long wait times (17%), unhelpful service (9%), difficulty navigating the website or phone system (8%) or a general lack of ability to resolve challenges (7%).
  • Almost half of consumers with disability (43%) reported having negative experiences with telecommunications providers – with 22% reporting long wait times, 16% had difficulty navigating the website or phone system, 13% had unhelpful service, and 12% reported unfair terms or conditions in their contract.
  • People living with disability were more likely to ask for payment assistance than Australians overall in August, with 20% seeking assistance from their lender/mortgage provider (7% nationally), 9% seeking payment assistance from their landlord (6% nationally), 9% asking for payment help from their insurer (4% nationally) and 9% seeking help from their credit or personal loan provider (4% nationally)
  • Slightly larger proportion of Australians living with disability dipped into savings (34%) or using credit cards or buy now pay later services (34%) to manage basic household expenses.

CPRC’s research initiative Consumers and COVID-19: from crisis to recovery is collecting and analysing the experiences, behaviours, expectations and challenges of Australians throughout the COVID19 pandemic with monthly quantitative surveys conducted by Roy Morgan Research from May to October.

“Nationwide results for August show disproportionate financial challenges facing people living with disabilities” said CPRC CEO, Lauren Solomon. “Poor telco customer service is a standout issue. While many people are battling confusing telco websites and long call wait times, people with disability are being pushed further behind by inadequate systems and support.”

“The irony of the telecommunications sector being the most difficult to contact and navigate is not lost on us” Ms Solomon said. “Our technologies are advancing rapidly, but we don’t seem to be using them to ensure consumers across the nation are able to access basic support, regardless of their circumstances.”

“We know that the impacts of this crisis are not being evenly felt. People living with a disability have been drawing down on savings (34%), using credit cards or buy-now-pay-later (34%), borrowing from family and friends (12%) and accessing early super (11%) at higher proportions than the rest of the population to manage basic household expenses. We’re also seeing people living with disability turn to emergency relief agencies like St Vincent de Paul Society or Foodbank at more than double the rate (10%) of the Australian population (4%)”.

Despite more consumers seeking help from landlords and government concessions, people living with a disability were still the most likely group to miss a payment across many key expenses, including mortgage providers (13%), rental (10%), telco (9%) and credit (6%).

“What’s most concerning is that three-quarters of people who sought payment assistance from their telecommunications providers reported having negative experiences. People are reaching out for help, but something is going very wrong in terms of companies delivering support.”

“Essential service providers must step up to ensure customers facing financial difficulties due to COVID-19 can resolve any issues and access the support they need.”

“Consumer protections can be strengthened, and support programs need to be designed for all Australians trying to access them. We need to be inclusive of people with disability when we design support programs and systems. It shouldn’t be an afterthought.” In May, CPRC released a research report – Consumers and COVID-19: from crisis to recovery – exploring the global response to COVID-19 which reflected on historical lessons, exploring local and global interventions to protect consumers through the crisis. The report presented building blocks for policymakers and businesses supporting consumers on an uncertain path towards recovery, where policy choices made now will have long-term consequences.


CPRC CEO, Lauren Solomon is available for interview on request.

For more information: Please contact Darren Saffin 0411 089 209 or Jodie Artis 0414 699 186 at Progressive PR for interviews or further data sets.

Key Report Findings – August 2020
Consumers Living with Disability

In August, consumers with disability were more likely than Australian consumers overall to be drawing on both formal and informal resources to manage household expenses, including:

  • 34% dipped into savings (29% nationally)
  • 34% used credit cards or buy now pay later (29% nationally)
  • 12% borrowed money from family friends (7% nationally)
  • 11% applied for early access to superannuation (8% nationally)
  • 10% accessed community help and relief (4% nationally)
  • And more consumers with disability took out a payday loan (7% – compared with national rate of 3%) than a personal loan (4% – in line with 4% nationally)

Increased financial challenges could be contributing to consumers with disability being more active in switching plans or cancelling services:

  • 11% refinanced their mortgage with their current bank (8% nationally) and 10% refinanced with a different bank (4% nationally)
  • 10% switched a mobile or internet plan with the same provider (8% nationally) and 11% switched to a different telco provider (6% nationally)
  • 9% cancelled a credit card, personal loan or buy now pay later (5% nationally)
  • 7% switched their insurance plan with their current provider (5% nationally rate) and 13% switched to a different insurance provider (7% nationally)

Consumers with disability were more likely to ask for payment assistance than Australian consumers overall:

  • 20% asked for payment assistance from their lender/mortgage provider (7% nationally)
  • 9% sought payment assistance from their landlord (6% nationally)
  • 9% asked their credit provider or buy now pay later provider for payment help (4% nationally)
  • 9% asked their insurer for payment assistance (4% nationally)
  • 7% asked their telco provider for payment assistance (5% nationally)

However, a larger number of consumers with disability were also more likely than Australian consumers overall to miss a payment across many key expenses:

  • 13% missed a mortgage payment (4% nationally)
  • 10% missed a rental payment (6% nationally)
  • 9% missed a telco payment (5% nationally), and
  • 6% missed a credit payment (5% nationally)

Service Providers

Consumers across the board continue to report negative experiences when contacting service providers. However, telecommunications providers lead the pack, with significant growth in negative experiences and issues reported in August.

There was a slight overall increase in the percentage of consumers taking action to manage their telco expenses in August (20% up from 18% in July). However, the proportion of consumers reporting negative experiences in contacting their telco providers jumped from one in five in July (21%) to nearly one in three (29%) in August.

Increases in negative experiences include:

  • Long wait times (17% up from 12% in July)
  • Unhelpful /poor service (9% up from 6%)
  • Could not navigate website phone system (8% up from 4% in July)
  • Could not understand how to contact/resolve issue (7% up from 4% in July)
  • Felt misled by information provided (6% up from 3% in July)

As part of the Consumer Safeguards Review, market stewards might consider whether the current consumer protections arrangements are appropriate in ensuring telco providers offer adequate support and customer service.

These barriers and negative experiences disproportionately affect some consumer groups. Just under half of consumers with disability (43%) reported a negative experience with a telecommunications provider in August (29% national average), including:

  • 22% reported wait times on the phone or email were too long (17% nationally)
  • 16% reported difficulties navigating the website or phone system (8% nationally)
  • 13% reported their provider was unhelpful or poor service (9% nationally)
  • 12% reported difficulties understanding how to contact their telco (7% nationally)
  • 12% reported unfair terms or conditions (4% nationally)
  • 10% reported misleading information provided by their telco (6% nationally)

While telecommunications caused the most issues in August, consumers with disability also reported more difficulties contacting providers across different sectors than Australians overall:

  • 25% reported negative experiences in contacting credit or personal loan providers (13% nationally)
  • 23% reported negative experiences in contacting insurers (13% nationally)
  • 20% reported negative experiences in contacting energy retailers (12% nationally)

Service providers and market stewards should consider adopting an inclusive design approach to their systems, staff training and websites so that all consumers can more easily navigate and manage the essential services.

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