COVID -19: utilities, telcos and rates

This is a guide about what assistance is available from utility providers (electricity, gas and water companies), telecommunications companies and councils if you have been financially impacted by the pandemic.

This page provides information about what assistance is available and what to do if you have been impacted by the pandemic and are struggling to pay your electricity, gas, water or telecommunications bills or council rates because you are experiencing financial difficulty.

For more information about negotiating affordable arrangements if you are struggling to pay your utility bills, see our Debt Problems:  Electricity, Gas and Water page.

For more information about negotiating affordable arrangements if you are struggling to pay your telecommunications bills, see our Debt Problems:  Phone and Internet page.

Information on this page:
Please click the links below to visit each section

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Financial Difficulty

When you are unable to pay your bills as they fall due this is called financial difficulty or financial hardship.

There are various laws and guidelines requiring utility providers (electricity, gas and water companies), telecommunications companies and councils to have customer hardship policies in place. These are put in place by government and regulators to help people manage their bills on an ongoing basis.

So, if you continue to be financially impacted by COVID-19 and are struggling to pay your bills, you should contact your energy, water, telecommunications provider or local council early to discuss your options for financial hardship assistance.

Financial hardship assistance available

Energy

If you live in Tasmania, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and New South Wales:

Support is available under the National Energy Retail Law (Retail Law) for customers experiencing financial difficulty.

Under the Retail Law, your energy provider must have a hardship policy that tells you how they can assist you if you are having trouble paying your energy bills due to financial hardship. Your energy provider is also required to publish their customer hardship policy on their website.

This is to ensure that customers who are experiencing payment difficulties due to hardship and need support are assisted early by their energy provider.

If you live in Victoria, the Northern Territory or Western Australia:

Energy consumer protections, including hardship support requirements, are provided through local legislation. For example: Victorian energy consumers come under the separate protections of the Essential Services Commission – Payment Difficulties Framework.

 

Types of assistance available

Regardless of which state or territory you live in, if you are in financial hardship and having difficulty paying your bills, your energy provider should work with you and offer you assistance, including flexible payment options, and set up a payment plan that works for you.

Types of payment options and assistance that may be available include:

  • Payment extensions: This may be suitable if you have a cashflow issue. You will get an extension of time, usually up to a month, to pay your bill.
  • Short term payment plans: if you have a bill due and can’t pay it in full then your provider can assist you to make an arrangement to pay it over a number of equal repayments before your next bill becomes due.
  • Long term payment plans: if you have an outstanding bill your provider can offer arrangements for you to repay it by instalments each week or fortnight. The instalment amount covers both the amount owing and an estimate for how much energy you will use each week. This type of payment plan usually covers multiple billing periods.
  • Individualised support: if you need more intensive support then your provider should work with you to develop a tailored payment plan that suits your needs. This can include a long-term payment plan and other support measures to reduce energy costs, incentivise payment, or help replacing energy inefficient appliances.
  • If you live in Victoria, your energy provider must contact you to offer help if you miss a bill and owe more than $55 (inc. GST). Also, your energy provider cannot disconnect your service if you owe less than $300 or are currently on a payment plan.

Your energy provider must also be able to identify and tell you about any government concession programs you may be eligible for and appropriate financial counselling services you may wish to access.  In Victoria, your energy provider can also help you complete and lodge a utility relief grant application.


What you need to do

  • Call your provider and talk to them about what hardship assistance they can offer you
  • Check that you are on the right energy plan or if there is a better plan for you
  • Check that you are receiving all concessions, rebates, energy relief grants and other bill support you may be eligible for
  • Most state governments offer utility relief grants for customers in hardship having difficulty paying their energy bills. If you are eligible for this assistance, it usually means a one-off payment, paid directly to your utility provider, to help reduce your bills.
  • Choose the type of assistance and payment plan that best suits your needs
  • Only agree to a repayment amount you can afford
  • Tell your energy provider if you need your energy as a priority
  • Always ask for late fees or penalties not to be charged
  • If your energy provider will not help, or will not negotiate a payment plan that you can afford, consider lodging a dispute in the free dispute resolution scheme, or Energy and Water Ombudsman, in your State or Territory. See Complaints and Disputes.

 

Water

Types of assistance available

Water utility providers provide a range of assistance for customers experiencing financial hardship.

Types of assistance available will vary from provider to provider but may include:

  • Flexible payment options
  • Pensioner rebates, financial assistance grants or other payment assistance
  • Not disconnecting or restricting supply
  • Deferring debt recovery proceedings and credit default listings
  • Waiving some or all of your debt if you are in extreme financial hardship

Your water provider may also offer other options for hardship assistance.

If your water provider is your local council then see the section on rates below.


What you need to do

  • Call your water provider and talk to them about what assistance they can offer you
  • Always ask for fees or interest not to be charged
  • Check if you are eligible for any rates concessions. If you are then ask that this be applied from the date you were eligible
  • Check what water bill assistance may be available from your water provider or from your state or territory government
  • Choose the type of assistance that best meets your needs and make a repayment arrangement you can afford
  • If your water provider will not help, consider lodging a dispute in the free dispute resolution scheme in your State or Territory. SeeComplaints and Disputes.

 

Rates

Types of assistance available

Most local councils have hardship policies that recognise some ratepayers will experience financial hardship in paying their rates.  These policies and the systems of hardship relief are not necessarily consistent and can vary from council to council.

Types of assistance that may be available from your local council include:

  • Flexible payment options to catch up with arrears and ongoing rate notices
  • Deferring debt recovery proceedings and credit default listings
  • Waiving late fees and interest charges on debt
  • Rates concession scheme for eligible ratepayers. For example, you may receive a 50% discount on rates if you hold a Pensioner Concession Card or a DVA Gold Card, such as people with an age or a disability support pension.

Your council may also offer other options for hardship assistance.


What you need to do

  • Call your council and talk to them about what assistance they can offer you
  • Check if you are eligible for any rates concessions. If you are then ask that this be applied from the date you were eligible
  • Always ask for fees or interest not to be charged
  • Choose the type of assistance that best meets your needs and make a repayment arrangement you can afford
  • Ask if they will write off or reduce any part of the amount outstanding, such as the interest already accrued, if you comply with your payment arrangement.
  • If your council will not help, consider lodging a complaint with your State or Territory Ombudsman.

 

Telecommunications (phone, internet)

The Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP Code) sets out the rules that telecommunications providers must follow in assisting a customer experiencing financial hardship.

Under the TCP Code, your telecommunications provider must:

  • Have a financial hardship policy that tells you how they can assist you if you are having trouble paying your bills due to financial hardship.
  • Tell you about their financial hardship policy and publish it on their website.
  • Offer flexible hardship / repayment options to meet your individual circumstances.
  • Not disconnect customers in agreed financial hardship agreements without their consent
  • Not refer customers in an agreed payment plan to a debt collection agency
  • Offer basic access to the customer’s telecommunications service while a hardship arrangement is being discussed or in place. This may also involve reconnecting a disconnected service at no charge.


Types of assistance available

Telco providers must work with their customers, who are in financial difficulty, to offer assistance, including flexible repayment options, to meet their customer’s individual circumstances.

Types of options for keeping the customer connected may include:

  • Spend controls;
  • Restriction of specific services;
  • Transferring to a pre-paid service;
  • Transferring to a contract which includes hard caps; or
  • Low-cost interim plan options until the customer can resume original plan payments.

Types of options for suitable payment / financial arrangements may include:

  • Temporarily postponing or deferring payments;
  • Agreeing on an alternative arrangement, plan, or contract, including pre-paid services, that are more affordable to the customer;
  • Discounting or waiving of the debt;
  • Waiving late payment fees;
  • Waiving cancellation fees; or
  • Incentives for making payments, for example payment matching.

Your telecommunications provider may also offer other options for hardship assistance.


What you need to do

  • Call your telecommunications providers’ hardship department. This is a dedicated customer support team which specialises in helping people experiencing financial hardship.
  • Talk to them about your situation and ask about what hardship options and assistance they can offer you
  • Explain what you can afford and why
  • Discuss what parts of your service you really need
  • Change your plan to one you can afford and that meets your needs or move to prepaid.
  • Only agree to a payment arrangement you can afford
  • Ask for any late or collection fees to be waived
  • Ask for a written record of what was agreed
  • If you need to hand back your device and cancel your plan, ask for cancellation fees not to be charged and any shortfall to be waived.
  • If your telecommunications provider will not help, mention the TCP Code and if you still get no help, consider lodging a dispute in the free Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, which is a dispute resolution body.

For further information about how to get your phone and internet bills under control see Phone and Internet Bills.

State and Territory Government Assistance

It is worth keeping up to date with financial assistance measures that may be available to support individuals, households and small businesses in your state or territory.  Click on the relevant link below to find out more.

Australian Capital Territory

Cost of Living support:  The ACT Government has a range of discounts, rebates and subsidies to relieve cost of living pressures in areas like housing, transport, bills and dental care. Use the Savings Finder for a list of the savings that may be relevant to you and information on how to apply.

New South Wales

Cost of Living support:  The NSW Government has a range of rebates and savings available to help ease the cost of living for NSW residents.  These include Toll Relief, Energy Rebates, Energy Accounts Payment Assistance (EAPA) vouchers, the NSW Spectacles program and more. See NSW Government – Cost of Living for more information or to use the Savings Finder to find rebates and savings you may be eligible for.

COVID-19 support:  The NSW Government is providing additional financial assistance and support to help individuals waiting for a COVID-19 test result, businesses, landlords and tenants who have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and are experiencing financial difficulty.  Details on all assistance available can be accessed by calling the NSW Government COVID-19 hotline 13 77 88 or at NSW Government COVID-19 Support

Northern Territory

Cost of Living support:  The NT Concession Scheme provides concessions on a range of essential goods and services to help with living expenses.  See NT Government – Concession Scheme for more information.  You can also find information about emergency financial aid on the Northern Territory Government’s ShelterMe website.

COVID-19 support:  Details on assistance available can be accessed by calling the NT COVID-19 hotline 1800 490 484 or at NT Government COVID-19 Wellbeing Support.

Queensland

Cost of Living support:  The QLD Government has a range of concessions and savings available to help ease the cost of living for QLD residents.  These include the Electricity Rebate Scheme, Home Energy Emergency Assistance Scheme, Bond loans and rental grants, Spectacle Supply Scheme, Oral health Scheme, and more.  See QLD Government – Cost of Living Support for more information.

COVID-19 support:  The QLD Government is providing a range of financial assistance to individuals.  See QLD Government COVID-19 Support for more information.

South Australia

Cost of Living support:  The SA Government has a range of concessions, benefits and grants available to help ease the cost of living for SA residents. These include energy bill concessions, School Card scheme, FuneralAssistanceSA, GlassesSA, and more. See SA Government – Concessions and Grants for more information.

COVID-19 support:  Details of assistance available can be accessed by calling the SA COVID-19 Information line on 1800 253 787 or at SA Government COVID-19 Support.

Tasmania

Cost of Living support:  The Tasmanian government offers a wide range of discounts and concessions to individuals and households to help with the cost of living and access to essential services. These include annual electricity concession, private rental assistance, Student Assistance Scheme, Spectacles Assistance Scheme, and more. See TAS Government – Discounts and Concessions for more information.

COVID-19 support:  Details of assistance available can be accessed by calling the Tasmanian Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 or at Tasmanian Government COVID-19 Financial Services and Support.

There is more information here for temporary visa holders, including about Pandemic Isolation Assistance Grants and other emergency relief and assistance.

Victoria

Cost of Living support:  A range of concessions and grants are available to Victorians who are on low incomes or experiencing hardship and need help meeting the cost of living. These include the Utility Relief Grant Scheme, MyPost Concession Account, Victorian Eyecare Service, Bereavement assistance, and more. See VIC Government – Concessions and Benefits for more information.

COVID-19 support:  The Victorian Government is providing additional financial assistance and support to help individuals waiting for a COVID-19 test result, businesses, landlords and tenants who have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and are experiencing financial difficulty.  Details on all assistance available can be accessed at Service Victoria COVID-19.

Western Australia

Cost of Living support:  The WA government offers a range of rebates, concessions and financial assistance to individuals to help meet the cost of certain household bills and other essential services.   See WA Government – ConcessionsWA for more information.

Speak to one of our financial counsellors

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some help in dealing with your financial stress, please contact one of our financial counsellors.

Financial counsellors aren’t judgmental about your circumstances – they’re here to offer you free, confidential and independent support and advice.

To speak to a financial counsellor you can:

  • Call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 – open Weekdays from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.
  • Use our live chat service by clicking the chat icon in the bottom right corner of your screen. Live chat is available 9:30am-4:30pm weekdays. If you send a message outside these hours a financial counsellor will get back to you.
  • Make an appointment to see a financial counsellor in your local area. Find a local financial counsellor on this map.