Navigating bill stress Cost of Living
Navigating bill stress
Many Victorians are battling to pay high energy bills. If you’re one of them, you don’t have to struggle alone. You’re entitled to help from your energy company.
And here’s even more good news: your rights are much stronger, thanks to changes that took effect at the start of 2019.
Here’s the quick VCOSS guide to navigating bill stress.
$55 or more owing on your bill?
If you owe $55 or more and are finding it difficult to pay, you can contact your energy company and arrange to pay over two years or less. During this time you’ll still have to pay for the other energy bills that come in the door.
Be honest with your energy company about what you can afford to pay. You can’t be pressured into paying unaffordable amounts. Choose a realistic amount that suits you.
Depending on your individual circumstances, you might be given longer than two years to pay, but this isn’t guaranteed.
If you need help working out an affordable payment plan, or have other debts you need help with, contact the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007. They provide a free and confidential financial counselling service.
Finding it difficult to pay ongoing energy bills?
If you can’t keep up with ongoing energy bills, the debt you owe can be put on hold for at least six months. This provides some breathing space. During this time you’re entitled to:
- pay less than the full amount of your bills
- practical assistance from your energy company to help reduce energy costs (for example, energy efficient appliances), while keeping your home healthy and comfortable
- information about cheaper energy deals.
Eligible for concession discounts or payment help?
People with a Health Care Card are eligible for a 17.5 per cent discount on their electricity bills year round, and their winter gas bills. Check with your energy company to make sure you’re getting a concession discount.
The Utility Relief Grant can help you pay outstanding energy bills. It’s worth up to $650 and is available if you’re having temporary financial difficulty, because of things like job loss or high housing or energy costs. You can apply for this grant by contacting your energy company.
Disconnection? Not so fast!
You can’t be disconnected if you’ve arranged a payment plan and are making payments. If you miss a payment, your energy company must contact you and help arrange a payment plan that works for you.
Energy companies can only disconnect you as a last resort. They first need to consider your individual circumstances, which might include family violence, job loss, ‘up and down’ income, unexpected expenses or severe hardship. They must act fairly and reasonably, having regard to your circumstances.
If you’ve been disconnected and your energy company refuses to reconnect your power or gas, call the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV) without delay. EWOV will arrange for power or gas to be reconnected on the same day wherever possible, and help you find a fair and reasonable way to keep the lights on.
Still not happy?
Contact the Consumer Action Law Centre if you’re not happy with your energy company’s response. They’ve created an easy-to-use form for reporting poor service, and are keen to hear whether energy companies are following the law.
You can also complain to EWOV, a free, independent service for Victorians. EWOV can be contacted on 1800 500 509.