Well, this seems overdue. While some mobile providers have long offered free calls to 13, 1300 and 1800 numbers, in their plans, many others haven't. Regulator the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) had originally planned to introduce legislation in January 2015 making fee-free calls compulsory, but now the major telcos have agreed to make at least some of those calls free ahead of that deadline.
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ACMA today announced that it has reached agreements with all carriers to offer free calls to 1800 numbers on their networks. That means you'll be able to call a 1800 number even if you're on a prepaid plan and have no credit. You'll have to wait until your carrier notifies you that your plan includes free calls to 1800 numbers (if it doesn't do so already). 1800 numbers were always intended to be free to call, so this shift is welcome.
The news for 13 and 1300 numbers is less pleasing. Carriers have agreed to introduce so-called "13-Friendly" plans, where calls to 13 or 1300 numbers will be charged from existing call credit, rather than itemised separately as happens now. That's an improvement, but not as good as being able to call those numbers for free, which does happen on unlimited plans. You'll also need to opt to switch to one of those plans — it won't happen automatically.
This shift in approach means no regulations around those freecall numbers will now be introduced. While this means the change has happened faster, it also means that carriers who choose to ignore the agreement will be difficult to punish.
The lesson for consumers? You still should check the conditions relating to 13 and 1300 numbers whenever you choose a plan, whether that's prepaid or postpaid. But for 1800, you no longer need to worry.