A young mother feared she would be sent to jail after failing to pay a $2,200 phone bill she had racked up with Telstra after being sold an unaffordable contract.
Broome woman and mother of one Caitlyn Roe, 21, was contacted by her local Telstra store informing her she was eligible for a ‘free phone’ if she signed up to a contract with the company.
She had used a pre-paid Telstra phone for years but was convinced to switch to a phone plan after she felt it had been correctly explained to her, ABC News reported.
Young mother Caitlyn Roe, 21, (pictured) feared she would be sent to jail after failing to pay a $2,200 phone bill she had racked up with Telstra after being sold an unaffordable contract
The first months went along smoothly but then she was hit with excess data charges to the tune of $2,200.
‘Using all that data, it skyrocketed. Some of the people who supported me spoke to Telstra to try and lower the price, but they said no,’ Ms Roe said.
‘That was pretty difficult at the time because I was struggling with other stuff as well, like trying to feed my daughter.’
After not being able to cover the debt Ms Roe received a letter from a debt collection agency, which had taken on her bill from Telstra, and she was threatened with legal action.
She told ABC she feared she would have to go to jail over the debt.
A Telstra spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia the company offered Ms Roe a full debt waiver and default removal as a possible resolution.
‘Regrettably, in this instance there was a break down in the debt waiver process that resulted in this account being referred for collections,’ the spokesperson said.
‘This has since been rectified. We apologise unreservedly to Ms Roe, and remain deeply committed to our customers in vulnerable circumstances.’
The spokesperson said the company receives half a million applications for phone and data plans in any given year and the vast majority have positive outcomes.
After not being able to cover the debt Ms Roe received a letter from a debt collection agency, which had taken on her bill from Telstra, and she was threatened with legal action (pictured)
‘Telstra works hard to provide services and products in a responsible way to all customers and we proactively engage with consumer bodies regularly to discuss pressing matters that are affecting consumers,’ the spokesman said.
‘That said, we are aware of a small number of incidents where improper sales have been made resulting in contracts for mobile plans being offered to people who may not be able to pay.’
In those cases the company moves to address the issue right away the spokesperson said.
The company has also introduced a range of improvements including new performance monitoring tools and additional training for their sales teams on correct practices.
On Tuesday Telstra announced new mobile and data plans which are designed to give customers better protection.
However Ms Roe is one of many Australians with similar stories of being hit with massive excess data charges.
Ms Roe is only one of a sea of people across Australia with similar stories of being hit with massive excess data charges
As a result the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has launched an investigation into whether Telstra breached consumer law by selling unaffordable contracts to vulnerable people.
‘The ACCC is investigating allegations involving Telstra Corporation Ltd regarding its selling practices associated with the supply of mobile phones, plans and ancillary goods and services to some vulnerable Indigenous Australian people,’ an ACCC statement read.
‘The assessment of the alleged conduct is ongoing, including as to any implications under the Australian Consumer Law.
‘Conduct impacting Indigenous Australians is an enduring priority for the ACCC.’
A Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s annual report found Telstra received 82,528 complaints for 2017/18, an increase of 7.7 per cent.
Complaints centred on mobile phone services constituted 4,405 (21.6 per cent) of those complaints and 4.1 per cent were for excess data charges.
The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 states excess charges are not to be excessive.
Telstra consumer and business executive Michael Ackland apologised on behalf of the company and explained a clerical error was to blame for the incident with Ms Roe (pictured)