Telcos share challenges when dealing with family violence victims

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Telcos share challenges when dealing with family violence victims

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has suggested that current telco systems and processes are failing to fulfil the needs of consumers experiencing family violence.

An investigation from the industry ombudsman found the telcos were not always able to meet the needs of victims of family violence, especially with the handling of personal information and financial assistance.

The report, named “Meeting the needs of consumers impacted by family violence”, found that unauthorised disclosure of personal information had dangerous consequences for customers at risk from family violence, and that an inflexible approach to providing the right financial help can contribute to financial hardship.

Phone and internet providers face four key challenges in meeting the needs of consumers impacted by family violence:

  • Recognising and responding to consumers experiencing family violence
  • Understanding what a consumer needs to stay connected and safe
  • Weaknesses in account security processes can lead to privacy risks
  • Offering the right financial assistance

"The agency’s investigation found the telco industry was not always able to fulfil the needs of consumers experiencing family violence, especially with the handling of personal information and financial assistance," the TIO stated in the report.

The report also included the experiences and insights shared by five local telcos when supplying phone and internet services to consumers impacted by family violence.

"We found a concerning trend of complaints where the needs of consumers experiencing family violence were not being met by providers’ standard systems and process," the TIO wrote.

One telco said it found it difficult to ask questions of a vulnerable customer while avoiding potentially triggering statements. Another reported difficulties hearing from consumers who are scared for their imminent physical safety and that of their children.

“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,” Ombudsman Judi 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 TIO also provided suggestions for both affected customers and telcos:

Tips for consumers:

  • 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:

  • 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.
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