Wednesday, 09 December 2020 00:37

Telcos face challenges when meeting needs of consumers impacted by family violence, says Ombudsman Featured

TIO addresses issue of family violence TIO addresses issue of family violence

Difficulties recognising consumers impacted by family violence, and a better understanding of what a consumer needs to feel safe, are some of the challenges facing telcos when resolving phone and Internet problems, according to a report by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

“Meeting the needs of consumers impacted by family violence”, the report by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, provides the findings of a systemic investigation.  

The investigation found the needs of consumers experiencing family violence were not always met by the telcos’ standard systems and processes. 

The report details how the unauthorised disclosure of personal information can have dangerous consequences, and also reveals the impact of how an inflexible approach to providing the right financial help can contribute to financial hardship.

The TIO says five telcos shared their experiences and insights in supplying phone and Internet services to consumers impacted by family violence - with one telco highlighting the difficulties when asking questions of a vulnerable customer while avoiding potentially triggering statements.

Another reported the difficulties hearing from consumers who are scared for their imminent physical safety and that of their children.

Ombudsman Judi Jones says her organisation is here to help both consumers and telcos.

“Our understanding and approach to the impact of phone and internet complaints in family violence continues to evolve. While the number of these complaints is relatively low, the detriment suffered is often disproportionately high,” Jones said.

“This report makes recommendations for telcos wanting to improve their service to better meet the needs of their customers experiencing this vulnerability. I encourage providers to think deeply about changes they can make to best support consumers impacted by family violence.

“We acknowledge the good work of family violence specialists, the telco industry and consumer advocates in this space. We are all on the same journey as many organisations in improving our understanding of the impacts of family violence. We will continue to monitor and evaluate our approach as our understanding evolves.”

The report provides tips to help phone and Internet consumers and telcos, including:

  • Tell your telco if you think your safety is at risk and ask them about their privacy processes
  • Ask your telco for ways you can make your account more secure
  • Tell your telco if you are in financial hardship.

Tips for telcos include:

  • Work with family violence experts to develop training for staff
  • Allow staff to offer highly flexible payment arrangements
  • Review account securities and listen to consumers about what they need to stay safe.

If the phone or Internet problem can’t be fixed with the telco, "we’re here to help", the TIO said.

And, if you need support because you or someone you know is experiencing family violence call 1800 RESPECT.

Telecoms Industry welcomes TIO report

The telecommunications industry has welcomed the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s publication of their research into assisting consumers impacted by family violence.

“Family violence impacts far too many Australians, and all industries and individuals have a role to play to help keep people safe. Telecommunications services are vital to keeping people connected, and there are steps telcos can take to support consumers,” said telecoms industry peak body, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton.

“In 2018, Communications Alliance published the Assisting Consumers Experiencing Domestic and Family Violence Guideline, and we are currently working with industry and consumer advocates to update and expand that Guideline. The work the TIO has done in this space is valuable and the recommendations they have made align closely with the improvements we are making to our Guideline.”

Communications Alliance notes that the Guideline includes recommendations on staff training, changing account procedures to increase safety, and assisting customers experiencing financial hardship, among others - and prioritises empowering consumers by informing them of their options and checking with them how they wish to proceed, as every circumstance is unique.

“Many telcos have gone above and beyond developing staff training and innovative processes to support impacted consumers and keep them safe, and we are working across the industry to ensure all telcos are enabled to put the right systems, processes and training in place to help consumers,” Stanton said.

“Along with the TIO, we emphasise the importance for telcos to prioritise a consumer’s safety at all times.”

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