Jana called the TIO in mid-2010 for help with a payment arrangement dispute. She said that during the previous year she had accrued a debt of $2,500 that she could not afford to pay without a long term payment arrangement. Although she had been paying $50 every fortnight from her pension, she claimed her provider repeatedly contacted her to increase her payments, and that it had threatened to suspend her services when she said she could not afford to.
With resolution attempts unsuccessful through referral and conciliation, the TIO investigated Jana’s complaint formally. At that stage, we made a series of findings based on the available evidence.
Despite Jana telling her service provider that she was a pensioner, could not keep up with her bills and could not increase payments, as well as her history of needing payment extensions and arrangements, the service provider failed to recognise that she was experiencing financial hardship. This meant that the service provider failed to discuss its financial hardship policy with Jana, a breach of clause 7.5.2 of the TCP Code.
The service provider told us that it could not have known Jana was experiencing financial hardship because she did not specifically say so. We found that the service provider’s financial hardship policy was insufficiently flexible and that its staff were not adequately trained. This was a breach of clause 7.5.1 of the TCP Code.
The original debt was the result of several unusually high bills that Jana had received. We found that the provider had failed to recognise and prevent Jana from becoming financially over-committed, acting in breach of clause 7.3.4 of the TCP Code.
Although Jana had demonstrated a willingness to honour the payment arrangement, her provider repeatedly contacted her to demand that she pay more. It also charged late payment fees and threatened to suspend her service while she kept to her agreed payment arrangement. From our perspective this was a breach of clause 7.8.1 of the TCP Code.
As a result, the provider responded to our investigation with an offer to refund all the payments Jana had made since June 2009 (minus credits already provided), a total of $1,700. The provider acknowledged it should have noticed that Jana was experiencing financial difficulty..