National community welfare agencies have reported a sharp increase in people seeking relief from Telstra bills due to financial hardship.
New statistics from Telstra released today [PDF] showed nine out of ten agencies had reported increased demand for Telstra's bill assistance program.
The program waived bills to the value of $4.17 million in 2008-9.
Figures for the first six months of this financial year showed requests are already 33 percent above where they were last year.
"The good news is that our budget for [the program] will cover the 33 percent increase in assistance calls," a Telstra spokesman told iTnews.
Half of the agencies independently surveyed said the demand for bill assistance had increased "significantly" - to a point where they'd been "unable to meet this increased demand".
Agencies also said that they were being presented with hardship cases from "newer client groups" including struggling employed, families down to a single income due to a redundancy, mortgage payers and young singles "forced into contracting situations."
Most people approaching welfare agencies were seeking emergency relief from debt, the increased cost of living or because they had lost their job.
But just under two in ten agencies said telecommunications bills were a major reasons for their clients to seek relief.
"Interestingly, the same number of customers said they increased their usage of telecommunications, as those who said they reduced their usage to lessen the bill, due to the global financial crisis," said Telstra's group managing director of public policy and communications David Quilty in a blog post.
"This increased usage was to look for work and contact family, the doctor and other support services."