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Telstra pledges to help 'vulnerable customers'

Launching a new AU$30 plan and wiping debt are among some initiatives announced by the telco giant.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Telstra chief executive Andy Penn has announced that the telco giant would commit to a series of changes in a move to provide "vulnerable customers" access to services, while taking into consideration their current financial position.

During his speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne on Thursday, Penn said the telco would launch "over the next few months" a new mobile plan aimed at low income customers, which is in addition to pensioner discounts and Access to Everyone offers.

"For customers who qualify, they will be able to connect to the Telstra network on a AU$30 plan with no excess data charges and a no lock in contract," he said.

"This plan, put together with one of our affordable AU$99 "blue tick" smartphones will provide an affordable option for low income Australians to connect to Australia's largest mobile network."

He also pledged that the company will wipe "many of the debts" of customers in "high risk postcodes".

"In essence, areas where our data told us there were higher rates of defaults on bill payments," he said.

See also: Westpac tracking vulnerable customers to escalate service level

It's part of continued work by Telstra to buy back and waive thousands of debts, Penn said.

Where appropriate, Penn said the company is also "actively helping customers move to more affordable or potentially more beneficial plans where that works for them".

The chief executive added the company has rolled out tools and training around cultural awareness to assist frontline staff in their interactions with "vulnerable customers", including the needs of Indigenous Australians.

At the same time, the company, according to Penn, has worked with licensees to remove any frontline staff that have not followed processes for understanding whether customers could afford their contracts, while reviewing how licensees are incentivised.

Other focus areas for the company, Penn said, will be to improve credit processes and controls; the way customer data is used to detect potential issues with sales and service practices; and its ability to identify and respond to the needs of those it considers vulnerable customers.

"We have profiled around 465,000 Telstra customer accounts which we believe potentially involve some form of vulnerability or hardship such as disability, an adverse financial position, or geographic remoteness," he said.

"These customers are now excluded from all direct email, SMS, mail, and telemarketing and we are providing guidance to our frontline staff as to how best to serve these customers."

Penn added as part of adopting the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, which came into effect in August last year, the company would make changes to its credit management processes. These changes include introducing system-imposed restrictions on the sale of devices on repayment arrangements to customers who have limited or fixed incomes.

The slew of announcements come as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) continues to investigate Telstra on whether its sales practices violated consumer law.

As first reported by the ABC, there were instances where Indigenous Australians were being targeted for larger plans, which when coupled with excess data fees, are hitting some of Australia's poorest people with bills reaching almost AU$8,000.

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