Phone, Internet and Pay TV

Home phone, mobile phone and internet services are usually billed monthly and, when your income is reduced, you may find it a struggle to pay them on time. But these are important tools today, especially if you are looking for work. So you may need to find a way to make these bills and debts affordable if possible in your current circumstances.

Phone and internet service providers are obliged to assist people in financial hardship. Most will allow you extra time to pay your account if you let them know about your changed circumstances.

Your service provider’s obligations and disconnection

All Australians have the right to have reasonable access to a standard home telephone service or pay phone. (Note there is no right to access a mobile phone service under this requirement).

In meeting this responsibility, phone and internet service providers operate hardship programs to assist people experiencing financial hardship to manage their debts.

If you have insufficient money to pay your bill because of financial hardship, your home phone service provider may disconnect your service after they have done all of the following:

  • advised you that they may disconnect your service if you don’t pay;
  • discussed your repayment options, and the services of financial counsellors and consumer advocates for managing debt;
  • given you at least seven days notice of their intention to disconnect your service;
  • advised you in writing that they plan to disconnect your service; and
  • informed you of the earliest date upon which disconnection will occur.

If any of these requirements have not been satisfied and you are disconnected for not paying a phone or internet debt you can lodge a complaint with your service provider and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). All providers or resellers of telecommunications services must belong to the TIO.

If you are disconnected, you usually have to pay a reconnection fee as well as the outstanding debt to restore your service.

If you are receiving Centrelink benefits, you can ask for the reconnection fee to be waived.

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Options to manage your phone debt

If there’s a home phone and other mobile phones in your household, you may be able to reduce your expenses during periods of financial hardship by cancelling some service contracts and sharing the costs for the services you retain. Be mindful there are usually cancellation costs.

Pre-paid services may make your phone service more manageable.

For difficulty paying mobile phone bills, contact your service provider, explain the reason for your financial difficulty, and ask to speak to the hardship department. When you are speaking to their hardship specialists, ask about how they can assist you to minimise your costs in your current circumstances.

Your phone service provider may offer you one or more of the following arrangements to help make your bills more affordable:

  • changing your billing cycle from monthly to fortnightly
  • offering an instalment payment plan for outstanding bills
  • agreeing to wait a specified time for a payment
  • restricting your access to some more costly services
  • If you are a Telstra customer and your main income is a government allowance and you are in hardship, you may be eligible for Telstra’s InContact Service. This service allows people to receive calls but restricts all outgoing calls other than free calls to emergency telephone numbers and Lifeline, and does not charge monthly rental fees.
  • If you are with another phone service provider, you may also be able to restrict your service to incoming calls only keeping access to emergency services and the service provider’s enquiry line.

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If your main income is a government allowance

Check whether you are receiving the Department of Human Services (DHS) telephone allowance on your home phone bill by calling DHS or visiting a DHS Service Centre.

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If you’re having difficulty paying Internet bills, contact your internet service provider and ask for a payment plan. Your provider may be willing to offer a payment plan, but you’ll have to pay your current bills as well as arrears under any payment plan.

If your main income is a government allowance, check whether you are eligible for the Department of Human Services (DHS) higher rate telephone allowance for your internet connection by calling DHS or visiting a DHS Service Centre.

You might also reduce your internet expenses by:

  • changing to a more affordable plan;
  • accessing the internet at your library, which is usually a free service; or
  • entering a pre-pay agreement for your internet access.

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Pay TV

Your rights in relation to your Pay TV account are limited to the terms and conditions in your Pay TV contract. You can contact your Pay TV service provider, explain you are in financial difficulty, and ask for a more affordable payment arrangement. Contacting them as soon as possible to discuss possible payment options, will give you a greater chance of consideration. They may be willing to suspend the service for a number of months with no charge.

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If your communications services are “bundled”

“Bundling” refers to the provision by a single provider of multiple telecommunications services – such as home phone, mobile phone, Internet and Pay TV – and the method of billing for these services.

Offers of bundling typically promise overall discounts or other benefits if a number of the services are combined on a single billing account. The discounts often work in conjunction with existing discount schemes, and understanding exactly what is and is not included in the various discount offers can be confusing.

If you have bundled your communications services you may find that changing plans for any individual service (such as your mobile phone) may incur costs or other changes for your home phone of internet service because a bundling discount no longer applies.

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Contracts signed through a door-to-door sale

If a door-to-door representative convinced you to sign a phone, internet and Pay TV contract in your home you may be able to cancel the contract:

  • during the 10-day “cooling off” period for unsolicited contracts entered in your home; or
  • the three or six month “cooling off” period that may apply if the sale does not comply with the law; or
  • if you have been misled by a high-pressure sales pitch that is not true.

The representative may have claimed their service will save you money. However, any discount claim by the new service provider may be offset if you are required to pay cancellation fees to your old service provider.

If you can’t afford a contract you signed in your home for phone, internet or Pay TV services, and the service provider refuses to cancel the service, you should contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman seek legal advice or contact a financial counsellor.

Find out more about debt collection procedures.

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When you have a dispute with your service provider

If you have been unsuccessful at trying to resolve a dispute with a telephone service provider over billing, financial hardship or some other issue, or you are unsatisfied with the outcome of a dispute, you can take your complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) for resolution. The TIO is unable to consider disputes in relation to your Pay TV service.

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