The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code defines financial hardship as:
"A situation where a Customer is unable, reasonably, because of illness, unemployment or other reasonable cause, to discharge their financial obligations under their contract with the Supplier, and the Customer reasonably expects to be able to discharge those obligations if payment and/or Service arrangements were changed. Financial hardship can be of limited or long-term duration."
Financial hardship basically involves a customer's inability to pay bills, rather than an unwillingness to do so. Customer hardship can arise from a variety of situations. Hardship can be either of limited duration or long term. To illustrate, several of the common causes are listed below.
The Code requires a service provider to have a financial hardship policy to assist customers who are experiencing financial hardship. The policy must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the individual circumstances of customers and include options for the management of a customer's situation.
A payment arrangement may be made if evidence of a hardship claim, can be supported with appropriate documentation. If documentation cannot be delivered to justify the claim, a payment extension may be offered of between 2 and 5 business days (depending on the customer's tenure and payment history).
A payment arrangement is an agreement between a service provider and a customer, where an outstanding balance may be broken into smaller repayments which are more manageable for the customer.
The repayment amounts arranged should be sufficient to cover expected future use of the service (as adjusted to ensure the customer's financial position does not worsen over a reasonable timeframe), as well as providing continued reduction of debt at a reasonable level, that is, the customer should not incur further debt under the arrangement.
Judgment as to whether a customer is experiencing genuine financial hardship rather than simply seeking to defer payment lies with SpinTel. We will require proof of a customer claim with documentation such as:
Upon request or suggestion, we may restrict your services. This includes, but not limited to:
Once the appropriate evidence is provided to call centre representatives, the request is assessed by SpinTel's Credit Department. This process typically takes between one to three business days. The customer will then be notified by phone or email whether the request has been denied or approved. If the request is approved, details of the payment arrangements and the specifications of the agreement will be advised.
Under the Code, SpinTel cannot take any credit management action (referral of the debt to a collection agent, charging late fees, default listing, etc) while a financial arrangement is being actively discussed, or during the course of the arrangement unless the customer breaches the terms of the arrangement or such action would be reasonable in the circumstances. Other Code requirements on SpinTel are that we must:
If the customer does not adhere to the terms of the arrangement, and does not contact SpinTel to re-negotiate, we will take reasonable steps to contact the customer or their authorised representative (e.g. financial counsellor) before taking further action.
If any further financial difficulty is experienced, immediately notify us so that the arrangement can be reviewed.
Any security deposits taken at time of signup, may be forfeited to indemnify SpinTel against further loss.
After reasonable unsuccessful attempts have been made by SpinTel to contact our customer (or representative), or if the customer refuses to honour the arrangement, the outstanding payable amount may be referred to a third party debt collection agency.
Any renewed credit management action must be in accordance with our credit management policies and must comply with the ACIF C541:2006 Credit Management Industry Code.
For customers experiencing financial problems, there are organisations who offer financial counselling as a free community service. A financial counsellor is a worker who acts without a conflict of interest, as a negotiator and an advocate on behalf of people who are at financial risk.
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A copy of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code can be found here.