Energy and Gas Debt

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Utility companies are businesses that supply gas, electricity and water. Those that operate in Victoria are legally obliged to adopt hardship policies to support Victorians who have experienced unexpected financial hardship during the past 12 months.

When to use this sheet

  • If you are having trouble paying your electricity or gas bill; or
  • If you want information about payment arrangements and your rights.

You do have rights under the Energy Retail Code or other consumer protections. If you want to apply to pay by instalments, you can see our sample letter available here.

Case Study

William is a low income earner supporting his young family of four. A few months into Winter he received a gas bill of $1000.  He could not afford to pay this amount by the due date  because of increased costs of living and family expenses.  His energy company, BUZZ electricity, are demanding he pay all of it otherwise it will disconnect him.

What should William do if he can’t pay his bill on time?

Step 1. Tell your energy company and ask for information

  • You must tell the company that you are having payment difficulties.
  • If you tell the company that you are in hardship, it must provide you with information about concessions, Utility Relief Grants, energy efficiency and the availability of financial counsellors in your area.

Step 2. Ask for a payment plan that you can afford

  • You can apply over the phone or put your request in writing using our template letter.
  • The company must offer you a payment plan (such as to pay the bill in instalments) unless you have already been on two or more instalment plans in the last year and you did not stick to them.
  • You also have the right to a plan that takes into account your capacity to pay (what you can afford to pay each week or fortnight), not just want the company wants you to pay.
  • If the company won’t offer you an affordable plan, you can ask to see their calculations about what they think you can afford. You should check that these calculations are correct.

Step 3. Ask about the company’s financial hardship policy

  • You may be entitled to assistance under the company’s financial hardship policy.
  • All companies are required to have a financial hardship policy that is available on their website.
  • Financial hardship policies must include flexible options for payment of bills, provisions for auditing of customer’s usage, flexible options for the purchase of replacement energy appliances, and processes for early response to payment difficulties.
  • If you are complying with a financial hardship policy, you cannot be disconnected.

Step 4. Get some advice and/or financial assistance

  • You may be entitled to a concession on your bills if you hold a Pensioner or Health Care Card.
  • Ask the company how to apply for a concession.
  • You may want to apply for a once-off Utility Relief Grant (URG) to help you pay your current bill.
  • Ask the company how to apply for an URG.
  • The company must not disconnect you if you have applied for an URG and are waiting for a decision.

Step 5.    What if the Company does not provide me with a Payment arrangement?

  • You can make a complaint to the Energy and Water Ombudsman (Victoria) (EWOV).

EWOV is a free and independent dispute resolution body. You can the template letter below as the basis for your complaint along with a completed complaint form.

Further information

MoneyHelp 1800 007 007
Consumer Affairs Victoria 1300 558 181
Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria 1800 500 509
Consumer Action Law Centre 1800 466 477

Sources

The funding for this fact sheet was provided by the Victorian and Australian Governments.

The information on this fact sheet is general and does not constitute legal advice.

MoneyHelp’s products and services have been prepared for the information of Victorians who are experiencing financial difficulty. Phone 1800 007 007 to speak to a MoneyHelp financial counsellor. A financial counsellor will discuss a range of debt payment options based on an individual’s circumstances.

© Copyright MoneyHelp and Consumer Action Law Centre

Last updated April 2016