COVID -19 changes: utilities, telcos and rates

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a challenging time for everyone in Australia (and the world). This is a guide to the changes applying to utility providers (electricity, gas and water companies), telecommunications companies as well as Council rates to assist people that are financially impacted by the pandemic.

This page is about steps you can take to look after yourself and your family financially during the COVID-19 pandemic

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

Three changes you need to know about

  1. The National Cabinet (Heads of the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments) have issued a set of principles for energy, water and rates.
  2. The principles include offering flexible payment options and not disconnecting people in financial stress.
  3. Telecommunication providers have issued a joint statement that includes financial hardship assistance and not disconnecting people in repayment arrangements.

What do the changes mean?

It means that if you are struggling, you need to contact your utility, telecommunications provider or Council early to make a repayment arrangement you can afford. Make sure you ask that fees (including late fees) and interest are not charged.

State and Territory Government Assistance

Your State or Territory may also provide extra assistance for your utilities. Call us for assistance or details can be found at:

Australian Capital Territory +

ACT Government – COVID-19 economic survival package

New South Wales +

There is a COVID-19 assistance finder tool at this link NSW Government – COVID-19

Northern Territory residents +

There is no special assistance in place. Emergency relief services however may be able to assist. There is general information about various services here.

Queensland +

Queensland Government – COVID-19 economic relief package

South Australia +

South Australian Government – COVID-19

Tasmania +

Discounts and concessions may be available. This link here will take you to Tasmanian government information and support for coronavirus.

Victoria +

Department of Health and Human Services Victoria – COVID-19

Western Australia +

WA Government – Coronavirus COVID-19

The changes in detail

Energy

The Australian Energy Regulator has issued an updated Statement of Expectations for energy companies.

The Statement acknowledges that energy is an essential service. There is also an expectation that people who can pay their energy bills must continue to do so.

The current expectations of energy businesses are that they:

  1. Offer all residential and small business customers who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement. This may include agreeing a period in which no payment will be made.

  2. Before 31 March 2021 (and potentially beyond), not disconnect, other that at their request, any residential or small business customer who may be in financial stress who:

    1. is in contact with the energy provider or responded to communications; or

    2. is accessing any retailer support

  3. If a customer has not initiated or responded to any contact and has been disconnected for non-engagement, the retailer must process an order for reconnection immediately on contact from the customer and waive disconnection, reconnection and break fees.

  4. Defer referrals of a retailer’s customers to debt collection agencies for recovery actions, or credit default listing until at least 31 March 2021, and potentially beyond.

  5. Modify existing payment plans if a customer’s changed circumstances make this necessary.

  6. Waive disconnection, reconnection and/or contract break fees for small businesses that have ceased operation, along with daily supply charges to retailers, during any period of disconnection until at least 31 March 2021.

  7. Prioritise the safety of customers who require life support equipment and continue to meet responsibilities to new life support customers.

  8. Prioritise clear, up-to-date communications to customers about these expectations.

  9. Minimise the frequency and duration of planned outages for critical works and provide as much notice as possible.

Range of assistance available

Energy providers must work with their customers, who are in financial difficulty, to offer assistance and set up a payment plan that works for them.  This can 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.
  • Government assistance: Most state governments offer emergency relief for customers in hardship. 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. For example, in Victoria, the Utility Relief Grant provides a maximum payment of $650 every two-year period for each utility. For example, in NSW, the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance Scheme provides a maximum payment of $800 every 12 month period for each utility.

What you need to do

  • Call your provider and talk to them about what assistance they can offer you
  • 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 fees not to be charged
  • If your energy provider will not help, or will not negotiate a payment plan that you can afford, mention the Statement of Expectations and if you still get no help, consider lodging a dispute in the free dispute resolution scheme in your State or Territory. See Complaints and Disputes.

 

Water

The National Cabinet (Heads of the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments) announced hardship provisions for water. The principles included:

  • Offering flexible payment options to all households in financial distress
  • Not disconnecting or restricting supply to those in financial stress
  • Deferring debt recovery proceedings and credit default listings
  • A waiver of late fees and interest charges on debt
  • Minimising planned outages for critical works and for households and businesses to be given as much notice as possible during any outage

Your water provider may also offer further assistance.

What you need to do

  • Call and make a repayment arrangement you can afford.
  • Always ask for fees or interest not to be charged
  • If your water provider will not help, mention the National Cabinet principles and if you still get no help, consider lodging a dispute in the free dispute resolution scheme in your State or Territory. See Complaints and Disputes.

For further information about how to get your electricity, gas and water bills under control see Electricity, Gas and Water Bills.

 

Rates

The National Cabinet (Heads of the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments) announced hardship provisions for rates. The principles included:

  • Offering flexible payment options to all households in financial distress
  • Deferring debt recovery proceedings and credit default listings
  • A waiver of late fees and interest charges on debt

Your Council may also offer further assistance.

What you need to do

  • Call and make a repayment arrangement you can afford.
  • Always ask for fees or interest not to be charged

 

Telecommunications (phone, internet)

A Joint Statement has been issued by telecommunications providers that includes:

  • Financial hardship assistance including being prepared to waive late fees, interest charges, collection charges and flexibility with modifying existing financial hardship plans if the person’s circumstances have changed
  • Not disconnecting people in agreed repayment arrangements
  • Not referring people in an agreed payment plan to a debt collection agency
  • Acknowledging the need to ensure everyone, including vulnerable people, remain connected
  • Priority given to connections, service restoration, repairs and prioritising connection for those who need it most, such as Priority Assist customers

Your telecommunications provider may also offer further assistance.

What you need to do

  • Call and make a repayment arrangement you can afford
  • Change your plan to one you can afford or move to prepaid. Ask for cancellation fees not to be charged.
  • Always ask for fees or interest not to be charged
  • If your telecommunications provider will not help, mention the joint statement 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.

Speak to one of our financial counsellors

If your problem still hasn’t been solved, or you’re feeling overwhelmed, call us on 1800 007 007 to speak with one of our financial counsellors.

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