In general terms, you are considered to be in financial hardship if you want to pay your bills but have insufficient money to do so.
Suppliers of essential services in Victoria are legally obliged to assist you (if you are experiencing financial difficulty) with flexible payment arrangements. Banks and other lenders are required to consider offering you flexible payment arrangements. Other service providers, like insurance and phone companies, may provide their customers with financial hardship arrangements for bill and debt payment.
It is worthwhile contacting your creditors when you are having difficulty paying and asking if you can negotiate changed payment arrangements while you are in financial difficulty. As long as you have contacted them and are working with them to make payments you should not be hassled by debt collectors, though your outstanding payments may be reported to one of the credit-reporting agencies.
- Credit hardship variations
- Hardship programs for gas, electricity and water bills
- Hardship programs for phone and internet bills
- Hardship programs for other household bills and debts
Credit hardship variations
Providers of finance for personal and household purposes (including mortgages, car loans, personal loans and credit cards) are required under the consumer credit law to consider hardship variations (flexible payment arrangements) to your loan if you are experiencing financial hardship. This requirement also applies to debt collectors attempting to recover the debt. If your circumstances have changed but you think you could manage your loan if the monthly payments were reduced, or otherwise changed, you can request a credit hardship variation.
Hardship programs for gas, electricity and water bills
If you are having difficulty paying your gas, electricity or water bills, you should contact your utility company and ask for flexible payments and details of any other assistance programs to make payment more affordable for your current circumstances.
Providers of your gas, electricity and water supply services are required by law to offer:
- processes for early response to payment difficulties; and
- flexible bill payment options; and
- audits of customer usage; and
- flexible options for the purchase of replacement energy appliances.
Hardship programs for phone and internet bills
Phone and internet service providers are required to have processes in place to assist people experiencing financial hardship. Most will allow you extra time to pay your account if you let them know about your changed circumstances.
You should contact them and ask for assistance to manage your phone expenses. They will usually offer to customise your service so you can only access those phone service options you can afford.
Find out more about phone hardship programs.
Hardship programs for other household bills and debts
You may be able to negotiate hardship payment arrangements with other organisations, such as your local council. If you have household bills and debts that you cannot pay, you should never ignore them and hope they’ll sort themselves out. They won’t.
Notify creditors about your financial difficulty as soon as you know you can’t afford to pay and ask for an affordable payment option in your circumstances. But be aware that they have a right to sue you for payment.
Find out more about approaching your local council for their hardship program.