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Government To Pay Phone Bills During COVID-19

CANBERRA: The Morrison Government has joined forces with the communications industry to help users get through problems associated with the COVID-19, ensuring that all Aussies can remain connected during the crisis – even if they haven’t paid their phone or NBN bill lately.

A government statement published at the weekend said (among other things) that: “Keeping Australians connected, including those who experience hardship and may be unable to pay their bills due to the COVID-19 crisis, is a key priority for telecommunications providers and the Government.” 

It added: “The Morrison Government and the industry have agreed on a set of principles, as a minimum baseline across industry, to ensure all Australians can remain connected. 

“This includes putting in place hardship measures for those unable to pay their bills, for example due to having suddenly lost their jobs.

“It also includes prioritising the connection and restoration of services for customers who are vulnerable, or where there is no other fixed or mobile service at the premises.”

John Stanton, CEO of Communications Alliance, said the agreement reaffirms that industry and government have a shared commitment to keep Australians connected and have the services they need.

The agreement provides that operators should be prepared to: waive late fees, interest charges and charges for collection of overdue amounts for consumers and small business customers on a payment plan or hardship agreement; modify financial hardship plans if a customer’s changed circumstances make this necessary; and not disconnect consumers who are in financial hardship.

Other clauses include agreement by the telcos to:

• Not to disconnect overdue consumers or small business customers;

• Provide appropriate “hibernation options”, which could include waiving disconnection, reconnection or contract break fees, for small business customers.

• Provide clear information about available arrangements for customers in financial hardship. 

The Government says these measures will be reviewed on June 30, or earlier if social distancing restrictions are eased.

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