Telstra to 'smooth' low-income bills ... finally

An optional Telstra feature implemented three years after it was announced will spread the estimated total cost of a low-income earner's yearly phone bill across equal monthly or fortnightly instalments.The technique -- officially dubbed BudgetPay and known informally as 'bill smoothing' -- is expected to allow those on a tight budget to more easily project future bills.

An optional Telstra feature implemented three years after it was announced will spread the estimated total cost of a low-income earner's yearly phone bill across equal monthly or fortnightly instalments.

The technique -- officially dubbed BudgetPay and known informally as 'bill smoothing' -- is expected to allow those on a tight budget to more easily project future bills.

BudgetPay will be part of Telstra's Access for Everyone programme designed to ensure disadvantaged Australians have access to telecommunications. Consumers will be able to access it from June 30 or even earlier, a Telstra spokesperson said.

BudgetPay will mainly be targeted at low or fixed income earners, for example those on government pensions or the unemployed. Those who take up the option will simply choose for Telstra to debit a regular amount from their bank account or Centrelink welfare payment.

"Telstra will monitor the account for either under or over payment and contact the customer if necessary," the spokesperson said. "Customers continue to receive their bill, with payments and charges listed."

The telco will use data from the previous 12 months of each customer's history to estimate the annual spend.

BudgetPay was originally slated for 2002, when then Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Senator Richard Alston launched the Access for Everyone program.

However, Telstra said the implementation of the system required substantial changes to be made to its billing systems.

The telco will write to approximately 3,000 welfare and community agencies advising them of BudgetPay's launch. Information about the Access for Everyone programs will also be updated to reflect the new option.